MobileMonday, MoMo, is a networking organisation for mobile industry professionals focusing on business development through virtual and live events to share ideas, best practices and trends. The platform was founded in 2000, in Helsinki, and now has over 100 chapters worldwide. In Kampala, the platform is run by Daniel Stern, who isn't on Facebook yet, but has given the platform a decent website, though it's the global MoMo website, which obviously has the reach.
If you were in tech before the bubble burst a decade ago, you probably realise that the MoMo meetings derive from the wildly successful First Tuesday meetings, started in 1998 and still going strong in some 10 chapters across Europe, where tech startups mingled with VC funders.
Both have survived, but it's MoMo which seems to be the more extensive one.
Here in Kampala, Monday night's meeting saw four speakers and some 80 attendees, most of them locals, coming together at the Google offices close to downtown Kampala.
MC for the evening was the jovial Simon Kaheru, @skaheru, from SMS Media, with speakers Michael Niyitegeka, @niyimic, a lecturer at Makerere University, Denis Ruhero, director of DMark Mobile, Elijah Kitaka from Google Uganda and the Dutchman Reinier Battenberg, @batje, who is responsible for UgandaWatch, an online platform for monitoring the Ugandan elections.
On the whole, the evening was interesting, though the most interesting talk came from the Dutchman, simply because his was the only talk which referenced a tangible real-world solution, even though I'm not sure as to what extent a platform like UgandaWatch, which allows for plotting a host of data around the election sent in by citizens using mobile phones, can provide sound and valuable data. Similar to Ushahidi's solutions surrounding elections or disasters, the collected information can be indicative, but, by design, remains anecdotal.
This, perhaps, is underscored by Battenberg's mentioning that on the day of the presidential election, his website had some 1700 visitors, which I don't find too many, given the context.
Nevertheless, the implied power of having ad hoc real time geographical information at your disposal remains fascinating.
Battenberg was the only one who delivered some true insights, giving the crowd his guidelines for running UgandaWatch:
Show your source.
Show your original message.
Make messages tweetable.
Show if you have followed up.
A location is not a set of coordinates, but has a name.
And he shared some lessons learned:
Twitter is not a source of information.
Facebook beats Twitter.
Taggers (those that verify incoming messages) are volunteers, so review their data.
No news means nothing. (Though I would like to add that receiving news might also not mean anything.)
We need to work on base data. This, to give value to the information coming in.
Niyitegeka, the Makerere lecturer, talked about how his students grew up in a wired world but are taught using analog methods. Mildly interesting, in my view, but also something that I find hard to consider relevant for Uganda, where some 90% of the population doesn't have access to electrification. The best part of Niyitegeka's presentation was him saying that students' attention is lost after 15 minutes, that students can't be reached with just a Powerpoint, but that video is required. This, of course, was supported by his Powerpoint (though, truth be told, his presentation was only 15 minutes long).
Ruhero, with his company providing news updates to mobile subscribers, kicked off a long debate on why so few mobile apps are built and used in Uganda. Later, Kitaka divulged that it's estimated that only 1% of Uganda's phones are Android or iPhone, which, to me, makes it clear that the market is way too small to support locally relevant apps which have no international context. Kitaka suggested that, to monetize usage of mobile applications for the 95% of basic cell phones, it wasn't necessary that the end user paid, as there are other sources of income, suggesting the telcos should play a role in financing new apps and applications.
Though this was received reasonably well by the crowd, both in the room and for those using the hashtag #momokla, I was hearing a description of the model perpetuated by many of the world's NGOs for the last half century, which by many individuals are not considered to have been too successful.
Ruhero, whom I can't find on Twitter, said he wanted an app that would mix location based services and social networking. For a second, then, I was wondering if I had stepped back in time, myself being an avid FourSquare user, the only location based social network with some, though very limited, traction here in Uganda.
I's good to see events like this raking off in Kampala. Listening to what the speakers have to say is nice, but the mingling and networking afterwards is what's important, and lots of that happened as well.
With the Linux User Group and the Google Technologies User Group, both facilitated by Google, it's nice to see there truly is a tech buzz in Uganda.
After obtaining an M. Sc in maths, Babak Fakhamzadeh started with an office job at a major blue chip company but soon realised he'd do better on his own. Babak is a traveling web guru with a penchant for doing good and a love for visual and experimental art. Together with Eduardo Cachucho, he won the World Summit Award in the m-Tourism and Culture category in 2012 for Dérive app. With Ismail Farouk, he won the Highway Africa new media award in 2007 for Soweto Uprisings . com. Check out Babak's CV.