We must build better

Nov. 8th 2016 – Nairobi, Kenya. I was done with the work for the day volunteering for Ushahidi US Election watch and had gone to bed… woke up to the news that Donald Trump was going to be the next president of the United States. In between messages with friends in the valley and reading through the many explanations of how and why this happened…. I had one exchange with Aza Raskin that has stayed with me since. As we talked of the filter bubbles, a broken attention economy and questionable incentives for valuing startups. Below are just a few questions that I think builders of platforms need to take a moment to contemplate.

1. What are the values that underpin your technology? Have a think through questions like how did your company come about? What non-techie words can be used to describe what your technology encourages? What are the unforeseen uses of your technology and how are you going to deal with that?  The design and architecture choices; how do they complement those values?

I had the privilege of sharing some of the thoughts around this at the Internet Dagarna conference in Stockholm.

Summary: I think Ushahidi encouraged the following things to happen. Collaboration, Cooperation, Community, These are values that encourage participation, inclusion and feedback. iHub encouraged community, innovation and serendipity, BRCK encourages connection and opportunity (read more about the year at BRCK)

2. How does your company culture complement those values? Pauline Shamola was doing her work and unbeknownst to her, pictures of her service to a disabled customer of Safaricom’s made the rounds in social media. It was a fantastic story and one that I think shows that the values that Safaricom stand for are not just tag lines but something that is internalized and in line with Bob Collymore’s leadership.

3. Prediction model vs manipulation model – Sean Gourley was rather prescient in this 2013 post “Prediction is a parlor trick, manipulation is much more interesting” 
What are the passive things that your company/org does? What are the levers you as a company are pushing on to reach your company goals? Are they just transactional? Transformational? What is the cycle? How are you listening to the pulse of what is going on on the ground? Do you have a mechanism for that? Bottom up flow of information… is it happening through certain filter bubbles? What is your filter bubble?

4. Who is your customer? Community? How closely do you understand them? How do they move you and how do you move them? How are you participating in the greater network? Could big data and analytics play a role?
Who do you serve?

These are just a few questions to think through as you build whatever you build. It is increasingly clear that we need to look at the consequences of our technologies and companies on society. We can do better, and indeed we must.

Resources: Look out for Stephane Eloise’ Gras’s paper on computational ethics… more on that conversation on a future blogpost.


Broadband In Kenya: Small Businesses, Big Pipes

**free flow thoughts on Broadband in general and the advent of SEACOM cable in Kenya**

The 3 SAT3 countries of South Africa, Egypt and Senegal could be said to have fibre optic connections to the rest of the world or what others may call ‘true broadband’, the rest of the countries in Africa have to contend with VSAT connections or have their internet traffic routed through the above named SAT3 countries.

In the case of Kenya, fibre has been laid by companies such as Kenya Data Networks for communication within the country. The problem has been connecting Kenya to the rest of the world. That is where the bottleneck has been. The government of Kenya has been laying cable in many parts of the country, so is just a matter of time before high speed internet access is made available to urban areas and even smaller towns.

Do note the VSAT connections can have broadband-like speeds, so what we should look at is the connection costs and amount of bandwidth available.
For example, an E1 line (equivalent to the American T1) of 2 Mbps to ISPs costs 4000 USD in Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, 7000 USD in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, 32,000 USD in Cameroon, 25,000 USD in SA.

In residential access Telkom Orange charges about 5990 Ksh (approx. 75 dollars) for home access line of 256 kpbs downloads and 128 kpbs uploads per month. Many people use the Huawei wireless modems E220, E160 particularly in Nairobi with the 3G connections, utilizing a pay-as-you-go plan. Kenyan readers, how much do you pay for your internet access? what kind of speed do you get? Do you have a preferred service provider?

By and large, broadband access is very expensive. There are also other projects like TEAMS and EASSY (Quasi-Govt. consortium: Telkom Kenya/Orange is a member, as is Safaricom and Econet) that plan to connect parts of Africa to the rest of the world by Fibre optic Cable. So far SEACOM has arrived first and the prospect of having more competition could result in the cost coming down. Though that may indeed take time. For now, companies herald the arrival of SEACOM’s fibre optic line because it would mean an increase in productivity for businesses that depend on the internet. For example, there is a young businessman in Nairobi with an IT outsourcing company, with his relatively decent connection, he still has to wait for more than 5 minutes to download a 26MB file. In a few months with the SEACOM cable reaching Nairobi, the same download could take less than a minute and he can move on to other tasks. He has employees who often have to upload files via ftp to servers in the US. With the faster speeds it will make their jobs that much easier. He is not even too concerned about the cost right now, the overarching benefit is well…broadband.

There are other factors such as open access, latency, and reliability, but talking about that would be tantamount to counting chicks before they hatch no?

As always, feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments or via twitter if you prefer to be pithy.