Google's big African Internet ambitions: while the mobile market in Africa is breaking records year on year, Internet penetration is only around 10%. Connectivity costs seem to be the biggest hurdle. But this could soon change, especially with Google's ambitious entry into the continent. Valerie Noury reports.

Author:Noury, Valerie
Position:TECHNOLOGY - Statistical data
 
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In 2010, the Internet penetration rate on the continent is only around 10.9%. Yet, the numbers have increased very rapidly, rising 25% in the last year. In 2009, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimated that 8.8% of the population in Africa used the Internet--20 times the number in 2000.

Google understands this growing potential. Whilst the company's vice-president of development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Nelson Mattos, says that globally there are approximately 94 domains registered for every 10,000 users; in Africa that ratio is currently one for every 10,000 users.

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Google's decision to open its latest Point of Presence (POP) in Nigeria, home to Africa's largest population of Internet users, some 43m, shows the biggest Internet giant's ambitions are growing. Nigeria has surpassed South Africa, the largest economy on the continent, in terms of Internet users. A report released by the ITU in August showed Google products in Nigeria were the most visited by the 150m strong population. Nigeria's Google POP will be Africa's second, after South Africa.

Lured by Africa's growth potential and impatient for the market to mature, Google aims to convince entrepreneurs, students and the general Internet user to make use of its search, mapping and mobile-phone technologies. At the centre of its strategy is an effort to counter the lack of relevant online content--which is especially challenging due to the diversity on the continent.

In October Google launched Baraza, which means 'council' in Swahili. Baraza is a free service in the form of a question-and-answer search engine allowing French-and English-speaking Internet users to turn to each other for answers regarding localised questions.

Q&A sites have been on the market for some time: pioneers include Ask.com and Yahoo! Answers--the latter, in particular, enjoying much success. These models are likely influences on Google's initiative in launching a site similar to Baraza for the Russian market three years ago. With no specifically African Q&A site, and with millions of Africans already with Google accounts, this was an obvious niche for the company to fill. Baraza means that, for the first time, localised questions will be organised into answers on the net: 'How does the stock exchange operate in Johannesburg?'; 'Are there successful African software development companies in Africa?'; 'What is the best company for car insurance in Kenya?'. The...

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