Most Kenyans accessing the non-mobile Internet do so through local cyber cafes scattered throughout the country, some even in the smallest and most remote of villages. This unprecedented level of specific-location access allows someone approaching the internet as an income generating activity to tap an enormous demographic. Yet as far as I can tell, most cybers follow the same model, mostly do to lack of hardware and lack of skills: three or four ten-year-old computers connected through either an archaic Telkom line, or for thoseentrepreneursahead of the curve, a cellular modem.
People love to tout the fiber-optic cables recently laid (or sunk?) as the beginnings of a data revolution. People tout higher speeds, Kenya as a potential source of untapped digital service providers and support, or any number of other ideas. Yet all of these things require much better training than most curricula provide and will take at least a decade to fully realize as an economic impact. Am I making broad statements? Sure. But nobody is paying me, so I don’t have to be correct, I just get to talk and it’s up to you listen.
I propose an interim solution that leverages existing cyber infrastructure. Don’t interpret it as a niche market, but instead as a model that all cybers should work to implement. I propose that cybers become passive content-consumption education centers. I hope the hyphenation clearly delineates where I am going.
As the capability and power of even modest used computers available in local markets increases through laws of trickle-down theory, we should begin to utilize them to act as content caches, fed from both online content and through (legally grey) locally available digital files. That’s right, I want streaming video and music servers in cybers around Kenya.
Take all of those old computers and make them web browser dumb boxes. Provide each user with a locally-served web site that aggregates the most popular YouTube videos from around the world, as well as locally-popular content; create streaming music web services through the use of such lightweight, user-friendly services as MPD, the Music Player Daemon, and wrap it up into a nice, easily distributed disc that can one-click install both server and client.
People talk about education and change in the known ecosystem, but my proposal is based on the idea that ease-of-use is the best tool for eliminating inhibition. The Kenyan government, as far as I know, did not drive around to villages and teach people how to use mobile phones; instead, mobile phones taught themselves, or friends taught friends, without either friend needing an engineering degree. Phones are easy. So too the content can be.
Making content easily available and locally stored has seemingly small per-use benefit, but represents huge cost-savings over the long term. Connections will seem “faster” (a huge selling point here) when each member is streaming their YouTube video locally and not over the shared 256 Kbps dedicated line. Also, allowing people to become absorbed in their workflow by providing personally crafted sound tracks (with provided headphones!) while they work will entice users to stay for more minutes, and in this business, minutes is a direct translation into money. Not to mention the savings owners will have when not using their credit to download the same content over and over again.
In the same interface, provide links to the major sources of content on the web, thus allowing a gradual adoption of the less user-friendly sites. A savvy cyber owner will monitor the content viewed online and maintain a download queue to move it to a locally stored cache.
All the technology has been developed, and is here in Kenya, and I have seen Kenyan techs using it on their own. Why not put it together in a nice package for all to benefit?
Hey Mkahawa, are you listening!?