06.24.22

Twitter Notes: A Long-form challenge by Twitter to the Media establishment

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

“This is where the writers are, Of past,Present, And Future “ this was Elon Musks answer to the question: Why Twitter?. In a matter of days after that Musk tweet, the social media platform launched Twitter Notes (in pilot form in Canada, Ghana, UK, and US) which is the platform’s answer to longform content. Twitter is trialing a new feature allowing users to share “notes” as long as 2,500 words. Currently, Twitter limits posts to 280 characters. Twitter Notes is the first sign that Musk is wielding his influence over the social media platform. This is not to say that Twitter was not working on some form of long-form tweets before the intervention by its majority shareholder.

What has just happened is that an instruction has been issued to unleash the most lethal part of this media giant. To understand the significance of this change you have to consider that the short form of writing was baked into the Twitter design architecture. The change is not only about Twitter, it’s the beginning of Twitter’s challenge to the media establishment. The new feature aims to keep audiences in the Twitter eco-system, with readers able to see a headline and access the longer note by clicking on a link. It’s Twitter’s answer to platforms like Substack where most independent writers have flocked. Twitter is taking micro out of microblogging in a way that has never been seen before. How should society welcome the long-form version of Twitter when it’s fully implemented? If the social media platform goes ahead with a long-form content plan, should it not be considered a publisher?

There are two ways of looking at current developments. One has more to do with the fact that more people will have similar tools as media companies to communicate. Depending on the accuracy of the information being shared this will be a two-edged sword with limited regulation. It will now be easier for people to share more inaccurate information and add fuel to an already toxic environment of misinformation.

On the other hand, some will look at current developments and celebrate a new entrant into the media ecosystem. Those who share such a view will see this as an opportunity for independent writers and journalists to expand their craft and thereby add new voices. If this catches on, Twitter will become one of the most important media platforms of our times.

What this means for media companies is that the ground has shifted even further. When social media entered the media space it became a thorn in the media industry. Then, social media was just enabling the distribution of news and content through its platforms. In addition, some tech companies ate the bigger chunk of advertising spending. Twitter alone with short-form tweets did not hurt the media sector. Now that Twitter will adopt some form of long-form tweets it will not only eat more of the advertising slice but more attention from readers from mainstream media platforms. The fact that Musk will be at the helm will not make life easier for media companies. He is one of the greatest innovators of our times and he is about to inject innovation at Twitter. The future Twitter will be a thorn in the media industry even more.

It will be the most exciting time for writers and independent journalists. Twitter will become a platform for writing, content distribution, and income generation for thinkers and thought leaders. It will also be a moment that will require some form of caution.

What should media companies do about the upcoming attack by technology companies? Part of the answer by media companies has to include less reliance on technology companies for their existence. Currently, media companies rely on social media companies for distribution which is a form of self-destruction by them. It is not impossible for media companies to stand on their own. Recent indications are that social media companies are not keen to share their advertising revenues. The New York Times has figured out how to play this game and Disney is also proving to be smart about its response. More media companies need to learn from their approaches. Disney instead of relying on Netflix and Apple to distribute their content they have created its own streaming platform. This is how a content creation machine can respond to tech giants. The New York Times is responding by being a product company. All of these efforts are adding resilience to these media companies.

Media companies play a critical role for society to just allow their existence to be controlled by tech companies. Their responsibility to ensure that society has access to quality and accurate information cannot be carried out by any other entity. This responsibility should inspire media companies to innovate and come up with ways of surviving in the 21st century instead of being dictated to by tech giants. Currently, tech companies are slowly taking over the role of media companies without taking the full responsibility that comes with being a publisher. To allow this is to lay the ground for anarchy. If Twitter implements long-form content fully, it may be necessary to start treating Twitter as a publisher. New rules will have to be formulated to manage the risks that will come with a Twitter that wields a mighty pen of a publisher.

It will be a tough task but a necessary one if society is to preserve what is left of journalism.

06.10.22

Tech Incubators in Townships: An Opportunity to build Impactful Tech for local issues

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

SA townships were not designed to become engines of economic development. Nothing much was expected from them. They were built to be spaces for people to dwell while working in the cities. Most of them currently are faced with major challenges in society.

In view of these challenges the South African government keeps trying to develop solutions that are designed to make a difference in these environments and most are failing.

This time around through the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), the government has issued a call for technology incubators and digital hubs to be built in townships. This approach is modelled after a Chinese government model that used tech incubators as a catalyst for change.

Sadly in South Africa, some will see this call as an opportunity to take advantage of the situation in townships to develop incubators that have an appearance of solving local challenges but masking selfish interests.This call by SEDA is an opportunity for the South African tech community to work together with local communities in developing solutions that can truly make a difference. Here’s how this can be done.

Firstly, this should not only be seen as an opportunity to just build a building to offer an office for tech startups. This is an opportunity to build a technology operating system that can be used by communities in townships and other areas to better manage local issues such as fire outbreaks, education, crime and any other issues that are troubling society.

Incubators should be platforms that support and equip local people to develop local solutions for the community and the world.

Secondly, this is a major opportunity for South Africa to use technology to address the unemployment challenge. Young people in townships should be introduced to all forms of technology skills that will emanate from solutions developed through the incubators. The experience hurdle should be removed and interested young people be given an opportunity to learn. Mathematics should not be used as an excuse to exclude those who are interested in pursuing a career in technology. It’s a myth that all careers in tech require mathematics. Multidisciplinary skills are necessary in tech to solve societal challenges.

Thirdly, the call from SEDA cites the 4th industrial revolution as one of the reasons why this has to be done, which is understandable but should not distract from local issues. Decision makers should be careful of being driven mainly by tech interests but by real challenges. Challenges with education, housing, crime and economy should inform the types of solutions that will be developed in such incubators.

At the end of the day when society looks back in 5 years time the following questions should be asked: how many technology solutions have been developed from the incubators, what impact are those tech solutions making in society. These are some of the critical measuring sticks that should be used to determine the success of these incubators. South Africa should avoid the errors committed in the first version of tech incubators that just became office spaces. To avoid this, tech incubators should work closely with universities, local businesses and local governments to develop solutions that will make a difference for the economy and society.

Lastly, South Africa should be careful of modelling itself against countries that are already advanced in tech. Some solutions in their current form may not make sense in the local environment. South Africa will have to start with the basics as long as they are advancing society. Not all cutting edge technologies are necessary for current circumstances in South Africa. It would be a great mistake to copy the Silicon valley model or even the Shenzhen model if SA is not ready for them. Although some tech solutions are truly innovative they are not always ideal for local social conditions.

Here’s the final and last point and it is about what should be avoided at all cost if the plan to build incubators is to succeed. The enterprise development space is filled by professionals who consider themselves as veterans of the sector. The South African experience tells us that most of them have failed in building successful incubators that truly deliver. At the same time there are corporations in South Africa that have incubated companies that are leading the way today. There are also startups that have done well for themselves. Decision makers would do well to collaborate with those that have produced tangible results in the form of operating businesses that have scaled.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of FastCompany (SA) magazine.

06.03.22

There’s no such thing as “Township Tech”

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

A few years ago, a technology incubator in Cape Town decided to establish a version of itself in a township based on pressure to advance transformation in the technology sector and potential to access funding.

This incubator became just another entrepreneurship programme and office space for all kinds of businesses and less about advancing technology in a township environment.

Lately, it has (together with other so called tech startup organisations), coined the term “township tech”, to potentially access funding targeted for tech projects designed to serve township communities.

How do you even begin to term a part of tech as just tech for a certain sector of society. It is disrespectful to single out tech-solving township challenges as “township tech” as if it’s different from solving the same issues for the country, continent and the world.

Here’s why such a term is problematic.

Firstly, it limits the ability of a startup labelled as township tech to grow and access funding from investors. Which investor in his right mind will invest seriously in a startup that is labelled “township tech”.

Whoever coined this may have done so with good intentions, unfortunately, the unintended consequences will not do justice to young people in townships solving real challenges in society.

The truth of the matter is that there’s no such thing called township tech in the same way that there’s no “yuppie tech”.

What we have are edu tech, health tech, fintech startups that are solving education, health and financial challenges in the township environment.

A health or education challenge in a township may have minor differences with a similar challenge elsewhere but it is still a health or education issue. To categorise health solutions with a health tech label irrespective of where they occur is the correct way to label such solutions.

Economic development practitioners should be careful of marginalising people and entrepreneurs around historical terms in the interest of accessing short term funding.

Technological innovations coming out of townships should be categorised correctly to receive global recognition and support. Local townships should be considered hotbeds of innovation.

Many in the startup ecosystem have ignored townships instead they focused on corporate business challenges to solve. This approach is limiting the quality of innovation coming out of South Africa.

If this part of the world is to be truly innovative it will have to solve local challenges that may also be present in other parts of the world. This is not just a challenge for startups, it is a challenge for universities with tech startup programmes designed to turn research into commercially viable startups and products.

The University of Stellenbosch is a great example in this regard. Is there any reason why Stellenbosch University LaunchLab is not integrating itself into local townships to develop technology solutions with local communities? University of Johannesburg has done this via a programme led by Dr Thami Mazwai with a Soweto-based campus focused on entrepreneurship. More academic institutions should follow this fine example of being engaged institutions that are solving local challenges.

In Stellenbosch there are communities in Kayamandi, Idas Valley and Cloetesville that can benefit from local tech startups that can develop tech and solve local challenges. Ideally these tech startups should come from local communities and supported by local institutions such as the university, local government and more importantly businesses.

This approach will not only enable South Africa to develop cutting edge solutions but innovations that will make the world a better place.

Kenya showed the world what it means to solve a local banking challenge through the development of a fintech solution, M-Pesa. This solution, although inspired by Kenya challenges, became a solution that could be applied in other parts of the world.

Instead of just labelling tech solutions coming out of townships as township tech we should embrace townships and innovations that will come out of these environments.

As a starting point, it’s time we start remaking a single township in South Africa to become an example of what it takes to use technology to solve challenges in society. This township can serve as a lab for tech innovations not just for townships but for society as a whole.

This process will require some form of participation by local universities, municipalities and business. Once this is accomplished it can then be replicated to other townships and communities.

This would be a meaningful way of embracing townships through technology instead of just branding some startups as “township tech” for short term benefits.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of FastCompany (SA) magazine.

He hosts weekly @TwitterSpaces on technology and innovation, you can follow him on Twitter via: @WesleyDiphoko

05.27.22

How to build an African Metaverse?

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

Tony Fadell, the person who played a critical role in creating the iPod together with the iPhone, raised concerns about the focus on creating the metaverse. Instead, he suggested that there should be more focus on solving the physical world problems. This view is correct as far as the manner in which global (mainly US) tech companies are building the metaverse. His warning should serve as the red light to African entities and others that are replicating the US Tech approach in building the metaverse. Some who claim to be building the metaverse in the African continent are missing critical elements in the process of building the African metaverse. Here’s what needs to be considered in the process of building the African metaverse:

For the first time in the history of technology, the African continent has an opportunity to build and make a dent in the technological space. Currently, global tech companies dominate this space in terms of critical technologies that are required to build the metaverse. Meta has hardware and social platforms to leverage. Apple has software, hardware capability, and an ecosystem of users. Microsoft has hardware and software as well as market products in the gaming space that can be converted into becoming a critical foundation in building the metaverse. No one of them can claim to own or possess the African market yet.

This means African tech companies can shape a tech platform for the continent without facing the challenge of a global tech giant. The physical world matters in building the metaverse. The African virtual world is up for grabs in this regard. Solving the virtual world part is important however it depends on addressing the physical world. Anyone in Africa who will jump into just building the virtual world will be missing a point. This is what global tech companies can’t touch and what African tech companies can use as leverage to build.

Another key part of building the metaverse is the idea of open vs closed metaverse. In this case, closed refers to a situation where a company like Meta or Microsoft decides to build their own metaverse, and open is a situation where there’s an open platform upon which everyone can build elements of the metaverse to contribute towards building what can be referred to as the universal metaverse. The global internet that we use today is a greater example of what can be referred to as an open platform. Some in Africa are also making the error of creating a club to build the Metaverse which is also similar to creating a closed metaverse. This is not how to build a metaverse for all. Africa has to lead by creating an open metaverse to derive greater benefits.

For any entity to build the real African metaverse it will have to first solve the physical world. Part of this means taking users along the journey starting with getting them to use tech in their lives. There will be a need for townships and rural areas to have an online presence and for people to make use of digital tools for their living. This process will have to start with creating digital identities. The worst thing that can be done about building the metaverse is to create it with fake identities. Once communities have some digital existence it will make sense to exist in the metaverse.

At the same time, it will be important to create better-living conditions in the physical world before we try to transport people to virtual worlds that look different from their real-world and physical environments. We should be careful of building castles in the air in the literal sense by building a virtual world that looks too different from the physical world.

This means solving housing, education, and health conditions. Tech should be used to address these challenges with the goal of developing similar conditions in the virtual world. We should strive to create the physical world in the virtual world. Currently, the African physical world is not in the state of being replicated in the virtual world. We should be careful of making the metaverse another form of escapism or something that distracts us from reality. For the metaverse to be meaningful it will have to form part of addressing physical world challenges such as education, health, and housing.

The tech community has a unique opportunity to contribute to a better world and society through tech. Visions for the metaverse should exist in two forms, first physical and the virtual. We should use the same excitement that we have for building the metaverse to build in the physical world. Understandably, building in the physical is hard and may slow down the process of building the metaverse. To make this a possibility we will have to start small by choosing the physical environment to rebuild and then replicate such a community in the metaverse.

Wesley Diphoko is Editor-In-Chief of FastCompany (SA) magazine.

05.20.22

In Search of better Future of Work for drivers on Uber

BY Wesley Diphoko 4 MINUTE READ

In the same week that Uber showcased a piloted a robot to deliver food in the US, the ride hailing/food delivery company hosted a “Future of Work” event in South Africa. During the same period FairWork in Austria unveiled a report that rated Uber as one of the poor performing platforms to work for in terms of working conditions.

These activities capture issues (automation,changing nature of work and working conditions) that need to be taken into account as we reflect about the future of work in the world that is technology driven. We are headed towards a future that will make use of robots and this has raised questions about the role of human beings in the workplace. When Uber was showcasing the robots pilot programme, the company indicated that “it will be some time before this technology is operated at scale” this is true in the African continent where adoption of technology takes time. For now, the issue that everyone is grappling with is the condition of work for drivers/owners who are using the ride hailing platform.

On one hand, some car owners are complaining about an unbalanced relationship between Uber and drivers/owners. In addressing the challenges related to work with tech companies there’s a need to take into account the different schools of thought to arrive at a conclusion that assists with solutions.

One school of thought was very well articulated by Prof Mthunzi Mdwaba who was the keynote speaker at the “Future of Work” event organised by Uber. He pointed out that there’s a need to embrace technology in view of our current SA’s unemployment challenge. He said “technology cannot be controlled, innovation will happen whether we like it or not”.

He indicated that Uber is providing work that should be appreciated.

In this regard, Prof Mthunzi is correct about work provided by Uber. When Uber came into the scene it created a platform for people to consider alternative ways of earning an income. Today a student can serve as a driver instead of only a choice of being a waiter. People can work in multiple companies and decide when they want to work. There’s no question about the flexibility provided by working with Uber. Not only has this ride hailing company provided a platform for work, it has also introduced a new model which has been adopted by other companies. Today, just about everyone is trying to apply an Uber type model which can be better referred to as Ubernomics. Today there’s an Uber like product for just about anything you can think of. All of this can be attributed to Uber. Society however has not yet adapted to this model and hence you have a situation where labour activists are raising concerns about the Uber model. Entities that are representing drivers are highlighting another element that needs to be taken into account.

Their school of thought is that drivers should be treated as workers and that their working conditions should be conducive enough for them to execute their tasks with ease.This school of thought is shared by the United Kingdom courts. The Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously that although Uber said it was only a technology platform that connected drivers with passengers, it behaved more like an employer by setting rates, assigning rides, requiring drivers to follow certain routes and using a rating system to discipline them. The decision was a major victory for labour activists in the United States and Europe who are pushing for better wages and stronger protections for workers with services like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Grubhub, which have long been criticised for how they treat their drivers and delivery people. In Africa however drivers are still independent and are not treated as employees.

As a result, labour activists and some unions in Africa who regard the ruling as a victory would like to see the legal principle followed in the continent. In this regard and in relation to demands by labour activists and unions, Mdwaba argued that unions do not represent the entire workforce. This also means that other views should be considered to find a solution to the future of work challenges in the tech driven world.

Another school of thought worthy of our consideration advocates for a middle ground between independence and support. This would mean drivers maintain their independence and engage with Uber as equal.. The tech company would treat drivers and owners as an important stakeholder that is consulted before decisions are taken. This is a school of thought that is embraced by a co-operative ride hailing company like Drivers Co-operative.

They developed Co-op Ride, an app that takes the freedom and independence that Uber and Lyft promised rideshare drivers, and adds in worker ownership. Each driver is also a member who owns one share of the company, with one vote toward leadership and business decisions. Their model includes sharing of profits with driver-owners. The co-op upends the traditional model where the profits generated by workers accrue to executives and shareholders, instead redistributing them back to the drivers. Co-op Ride says that drivers earn more on each trip—8 to 10% more than Uber and Lyft rides, according to the cooperative, because it takes a smaller commission—and all profits go back to the drivers in the form of annual dividends, based on how much labour they contributed; the more trips they complete, the bigger their share of profit.

The three schools of thought should be studied very carefully in the process of shaping the future of work that is driven by technology.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine

05.18.22

Meet the world’s smartest cane

BY Wesley Diphoko 5 MINUTE READ

Over 10,000 people are turning 65 every day, and by 2060, about one in four Americans will be older than that. This brings with it a slew of challenges, from affordable senior housing to abundant caregiving to efficient mobility solutions.

The latter category is where entrepreneur Ahmad Alghazi hopes to make a dent. For Alghazi, the path to greater mobility starts by reinventing the humble cane. Launching today, the Can Go is a high-tech cane equipped with a dozen sensors, GPS and activity tracking, a flashlight, and cellular data for emergency phone calls. It’s a bold new take on an age-old product, but it joins a growing movement of startups that want to take a bite out of the silver market, which could reach $15 trillion by 2030.

Stripping away the stigma

Can Go was designed to cater to three separate groups: those who worry about falling, those with chronic problems related to mobility (like arthritis), and those who need walking aids to recover after a stroke or a hip replacement surgery. It was developed in collaboration with Don Norman, a former Apple VP who spearheaded the field of user-friendly design in his industry bible The Design of Everyday Things. Ironically, Norman’s book, which first came out in 1988, features an entire chapter on the stigma of mobility devices. “I want you to make this chapter obsolete,” Norman told Alghazi when the pair first met over 10 years ago.

The key was to design a cane that wasn’t intimidating. “It had to be really easy to use, and it had to look like it was easy to use,” Norman says. “You want to design something that’s so attractive that everybody would want it.” In 1700s England, he says, the cane was seen as a status symbol. Why couldn’t it be made desirable again?

Research shows that older people are becoming more tech-savvy, but smart products can be intimidating. On the inside, Can Go is as high-tech as it gets. The product comes with a dozen built-in sensors that can track your activity, measure how much weight you’re putting on the cane, and your overall gait speed (more on that later). There’s a built-in sim card, too.

On the outside, however, Can Go looks like a snazzy, yes, but perfectly simple product. Much of that simplicity came down to the number of buttons on the handle. Instead of a single button that could let you perform all the tasks at once (Alghazi was tempted, but Norman warned him it could be too confusing for seniors), the team landed on three separate buttons, each with a clearly defined purpose: one to make a call, another to turn on a flashlight, and a third one to alternate between metrics, which appear on a display screen above it.

Leveraging tech for seniors

The need to connect every device to an app and track every breath we take with acute precision has led to a questionable breed of “smart products” that needn’t always exist. Meanwhile, humans have been using walking aids for centuries. Canes, in particular, exist to perform a simple function, so why the high-tech makeover?

For Alghazi, the mobility industry is long overdue for an update. The country’s birth rate has been declining for a decade, and “we’ll end up with a lot of seniors and no one to take care of them,” he says. A smart cane could help by doing two things: Help people stay independent longer and make the caring process more efficient. The former can be achieved by providing seniors with a range of mobility solutions that are easy to use (the cane is just a start). The latter is a little trickier.

The healthcare industry is racing toward a severe caregiver shortage that was made worse by the pandemic. But instead of one caregiver taking care of one senior, Alghazi believes that a tech-enabled cane can help one caregiver take care of “10, 100, and 1,000 other humans.” That the answer to our caregiver shortage is to replace carers with tech-enabled walking sticks sounds like a pretty dystopian vision of the future. A cane, however smart, can never replace human interaction, but its ability to track certain aspects of your health could certainly make it a helpful tool in a caregiver’s toolbox.

This is where gait speed comes into play. Put simply, gait speed refers to the time it takes for you to walk from point A to point B. In clinical settings, the metric is used to assess your mobility and predict how likely you are to fall, which can be associated with poor quality of life for older people. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 36 million people report falling each year, which makes non-fatal falls a $50 billion problem. Typically, however, you would have to go to a doctor, who would perform a one-off test on the spot.

Thanks to the myriad sensors in Can Go, the same test can be done continuously, and passively, simply by using the cane. It starts collecting data as soon as you activate the cane. (Mercifully, the activation process doesn’t require an app, just a laptop with an internet connection.) In a matter of days, you get an initial gait speed score, which Alghazi says will be updated daily, allowing caregivers to assess how fast your arthritis is progressing, or how fast you’re recovering from that hip replacement surgery. This assessment, of course, would be done at a distance, allowing caregivers to keep track of several patients at once.

Eventually, the score unlocks a series of “care solutions” in partnership with various healthcare providers. If you’re struggling with stability, for example, Can Go might recommend Tai chi lessons. “Think of us as a platform,” says Alghazi. “We believe the medical experience will be a consumer experience.”

That Alghazi sees Can Go as a consumer good isn’t all the surprising, considering Norman’s advice to design a cane that people want, even if they don’t need it. The price tag reflects this, too. The final cost will come out at a whopping $399, though a limited number of canes will be made available for $299 to start, or almost 30 times the price of a wooden $10 Walmart cane. For now, you can reserve one for $20 on the company’s website. And when the company starts shipping them in the fall, you can be the proud owner of what is probably the world’s smartest cane.

The question is: Do you need it, or do you want it?

05.13.22

The End of iPod, the end of an era

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

“This coming Tuesday, Apple invites you to the unveiling of a breakthrough digital device (hint: it’s not a Mac)” those were the words written on an official invitation to the Apple iPod launch event on the 23rd of October, 2001. 22 years later on Tuesday 10 May 2022 Apple announced the end of production for the Apple iPod. The device had proven to be a real breakthrough digital device not just for (1) Apple but for the (2) music and the (3) technology world.

APPLE

For the 25 years since Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had founded Apple, the personal computer had been the centrepiece of the digital revolution. Now experts were predicting that its central role was ending. One veteran tech journalist wrote that “it matured into something boring”. It was during this period that Apple launched a product that became the iPod. Jobs told reporters that “if anybody was ever wondering why Apple is on the earth, I would hold up this as a good example”. It was the first MP3 player to pack a mind-blowing 1,000 songs and a 10-hour battery into a stunning 6.5-ounce package. The iPod became the essence of everything Apple was destined to be according to Walter Issacson: poetry connected to engineering, arts, and creativity intersecting with technology, and design that’s bold and simple. The iPod turned Apple from a nearly bankrupt company to an eventual $3 trillion behemoth. After 22 years since this product was designed and manufactured its chief architect, Tony Fadell, speaking at the Computer History Museum said this about it “Apple iPod is the only reason why Apple is the company it is today”. The device inspired the creation of the iPhone. It also saved the music industry from piracy.

MUSIC

Before the iPod, the music industry was plagued by a bestiary of piracy services – Napster, Grokster, Gnutella, Kazaa – that enabled people to get songs for free. Partly as a result, legal sales of CDs were down 9% in 2002. It was a tough time for music executives which led to them meeting with Steve Jobs and the rest is history. The iTunes store sold one million songs in the first six days after it was introduced in April 2003, the store went on to sell seventy million songs in its first year. The iPod was instrumental in enabling Apple to sell music and thereby make money for the music industry. This device helped turn Silicon Valley into the epicenter of global capitalism.

TECH INDUSTRY

The iPod’s most important contribution was its role as a catalyst for the creation of the iPhone. The iPhone continued to draw on the blend of software and services that made the iPod succeed. The success of iTunes, which allowed customers to back up their iPhones and put music on the device, was mirrored by the development of the App Store, which allowed people to download and pay for software and services. It started with music through the iPod and all of that was applied to other products. To understand this you have to take into account the fact that in the early 2000s the desktop industry was declining and everything changed with the introduction of products that started with the letter “i” the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad. Everything that came with those products, their capability, and industries they created can be attributed to the iPod. Today we have tech companies that are each worth billions of dollars and all of that was made possible by the iPhone which became possible because the iPod was created.

As the iPod bows out, the technology industry has to take lessons from the creation of this revolutionary product. One of those lessons is that it is not enough to just create a product the product has to make a difference. It’s safe to say that the iPod made a difference in the music industry, the tech world, and our society. Since then no tech product has come closer to resembling what Apple created. Who else will create a product so powerful it creates the first trillion-dollar company, it transforms not one industry but multiple industries. The end of the iPod marks the end of an era. What will come next? My reading of the industry tells me that it’s the robot that is currently under development. For now, we have to learn from the iPod to create the next revolutionary product.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of the Fast Company (South Africa) magazine.

05.06.22

Africa needs “one tech product” to win the global tech challenge

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

Continents and countries that have dominated the technology landscape are known for producing one single product or service very well.

Japan has been known for producing electronic devices for decades. Think cameras, most of them came from Japan and mainly from Asia.

Germany is well known for producing well-engineered products. Think about some of their car brands. Switzerland has been known for producing quality watches. As Africa becomes more active in the technology sector, there’s a silent debate about products that are coming out of these tech ecosystems. The dominating debate however tends to focus on the nature of the technology ecosystems.

In South Africa, Cape Town is considered an ecosystem that almost has all the ingredients for developing a thriving tech ecosystem. The region boasts some of the leading academic institutions not only in the country but across the continent. Venture capitalists in Cape Town are more engaged with the broader industry. The region, particularly Stellenbosch, has some of the richest individuals in the continent which is important in enabling funding access for tech startups. Tech culture is thriving in Cape Town with more startup companies being founded in the region. Simple things like tech events, quality coffee, and food are all part of a lifestyle that makes Cape Town one of the most exciting areas to start a tech business.

Gauteng (Johannesburg and Pretoria) is also proving to be another region with a growing startup ecosystem. Universities have become incubators of tech startups and spaces such as Maboneng are adding lifestyle features to an already thriving economic sector. Fintech, edutech, agritech, and health tech are becoming leading verticals within the tech ecosystem.

Across the continent, there’s a similar pattern particularly in Nigeria and Kenya with fintech becoming the kingmaker.

While this activity is commendable, the continent and the surrounding countries still lack that unique product or service by which the region can be known.

This points to a- lack of unity of purpose in the African tech ecosystem. Labels such as “African tech capital” as promoted by one African city are not helping the situation.

The seeming competition between regions is not advancing the cause of the African tech agenda. Disjointed product and service offerings are not contributing to communicating a clear message about Africa’s Unique Selling Proposition. Is it not time that Africa creates a single tech product to dominate globally? Africa needs to start thinking about 2050 and the continent standing in terms of an African tech product. What will be the tech product that will be found only in Africa?

To achieve this objective, African governments together with businesses and the technology ecosystem will have to find a way of reaching a consensus on what the entire continent can contribute towards making a dominant African tech product. Germany achieved its product excellence in engineering through the contribution of many role players including the education system the tech sector and the government. The same is true in Asia.

There’s a need for a pipeline of skills that will contribute to that single product and government intervention to deliberate support a locally produced tech in all spheres of life. From the high school level, such skill has to be cultivated and further developed in higher education and supported in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

In doing this the continent will have to avoid the practice of importing a product that is developed elsewhere. Support from elsewhere can be in the form of skills exchange where they are lacking. The bigger question that requires deep thoughts and decision is, what kind of tech product will Africa produce?

It cannot be another car or anything that exists already. It has to be a product that moves society from 0 to 1, a truly innovative product that will be an African invention. That is a challenge for all Africans who care about the future of technology in the continent.

Every tech startup founder, investor, and innovator should concern themselves with this challenge until an answer is found.

If African innovators cannot come up with such a product this continent will be left behind and continue to play the role of a follower in the global tech ecosystem. This will be one way of producing unique and advanced skills that will be sought after in other parts of the world.

04.29.22

#TwitterFuture: What will Elon Musk do with Twitter?

BY Wesley Diphoko 4 MINUTE READ

When Elon Musk joined Tesla he did so by funding a company that was almost nothing in terms of value. He became its chairman and later a CEO and in the process developed the leading automotive company in the world. In the space sector, he revived an industry that was dormant and in the process propelled the private space industry. Now, he is buying a stagnant social media company, Twitter. Will history repeat itself? What is the future of the bluebird company? How will Twitter impact the future of society if Elon Musk is at the helm of this modern-day media company? To understand what Elon Musk might do with Twitter you have to look at his approach to every company he is currently leading. All of them are informed by the multi-planetary mission, to take human beings to space. Everything Musk is learning at SpaceX is applied and used in his other companies. In return, products of his companies are designed to be used in space. If not the entire product, its features may be useful in space.

To understand the Twitter Future you have to ask, how will Twitter be used in space, and what lessons can be shared from space exploration? In addition, observers of Musk’s business operations will remember that his companies cross-pollinate. The same technology that is used for Tesla cars has been used to build Tesla roofs.

With that understanding, here’s what we are likely to see as Musk takes full control of this social media company.

Some have asked how will Twitter exist in the Metaverse, and will it even be relevant? Answers to those questions depend on the type of Metaverse (Open or Closed). Closed and proprietary metaverse something like the Meta (Facebook) Metaverse and open being non-proprietary and for everyone to build. In the Open Metaverse, Twitter will likely become an audio platform that will make it possible for us to hear each other. This functionality will likely use Twitter Spaces technology. If the Metaverse will somehow use text-based communication to enable us to walk and see texts on the sides of our VR headsets, Twitter will be a possible platform to make such messaging and communication systems possible on the metaverse. All of this depends on whether Twitter will adopt the open model and essentially be an open-source tool for everyone to build on top of Twitter.

This will allow more developers to contribute to the development of this important communication tool. In the process, it will also learn from others who are doing better jobs at certain functions. Signal security is a great example in this regard. Twitter messaging requires security to protect people from being spied upon. Musk has already indicated that this would be an important feature for Twitter. He recently tweeted that “ Twitter DMs should have end to end encryption like Signal, so no one can spy on or hack your messages”.

This is just an example of what could come out of a Twitter that embraces others instead of being closed. This is what Musk will add sooner than later. He will take Twitter to a level we have never seen before. There’s nothing that will stop him from building a Twitter platform that will enable us to exchange thoughts without even talking to one another through one of his companies, Neuralink. This is a neurotechnology company that develops implantable brain-machine interfaces. This entity, if integrated with Twitter, will make it possible for us to tweet by just thinking.

Only Elon Musk can make something like that possible through his involvement in both, Twitter and Neuralink. For now, some of this may not make sense until you understand there’s a robot underway. This combination of Twitter and Neuralink will enable robots that partly carry our thoughts and intentions based on messages from our thoughts and our tweets. Musk is building a Tesla Bot (robot), also known as Optimus, which is a conceptual general-purpose robotic humanoid under development by Tesla.

Of course, all of this raises ethical and free speech concerns that need to be addressed.

Musk is already showing signs of addressing such concerns. He has already indicated that everyone will have to be verified on Twitter to use the tool. This will take care of the bots’ challenge and diminish some free speech challenges. At the same time, it will limit the ability of some who wish to remain anonymous for valid reasons. In this area, Musk may struggle and this challenge should not be left at his door. Leaders of the world have been sleeping on the job by not regulating social media platforms. Long ago there should have been an international body to govern the behaviour of information platforms online. It is not too late to course-correct and establish mechanisms to avoid an information catastrophe that will emerge from the upcoming chaos. While society develops mechanisms to manage risks associated with innovation we should be careful of shooting down innovators. There should be systems in place that follow innovation and design systems on the go to avoid externalities that come with the innovation process.

Twitter and its owners should not be singled out as culprits of disinformation but the entire social media ecosystem. Twitter is not perfect nor is Elon Musk. He should not be denigrated for moving us to the future when there’s stagnation at companies like Twitter. As he has shown us that it’s possible to create profitable electric vehicles and private space industry, he can take Twitter to the next level.

For more on this, you can join Wesley Diphoko on Twitter Space where he will discuss the TwitterFuture on Monday, 02 May 2022 at 7pm. Click here to set a reminder.

04.22.22

Google finally takes Africa seriously

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

Big Tech companies have always treated Africa as just a storefront for their wares. This has been evident when one looks at senior appointments across these companies in the African continent.

Most of the executives in Big Tech African offices came from advertising agencies to mainly serve as stewards of communication within this region. If that is not enough you have to look at the types of products they design. Most of them do not factor the fact that some of their users will be Africans. In the case of Google we’ve seen poor search results for the African continent. Artificial Intelligence agents that struggle with African names. Google Maps products that struggle to pronounce African names. This is now about to change as Big tech companies realise the strategic nature of the African continent. On Tuesday this week Google announced a game changing move for the African continent.

The US based tech company announced its first product development centre in Africa, to be located in Nairobi, Kenya. According to a statement by the tech giant, the new product development centre will help to create transformative products and services for people in Africa and around the world. Part of this means that Google will now need technical and not just communication skills from the continent.

A Google blogspot revealed the type of skills that will be required at the Kenya based centre.

“Alongside great technical knowledge and a passion for solving hard problems together with others, you’ll need to understand how people across the continent use their phones every day and the challenges they face. How might searching for information and accessing entertainment be different in a context where internet connectivity can be challenging and devices and data plans can be expensive? Perhaps you have great ideas for how we can serve relevant and useful information to users just when they need it most? Or do you have a vision for how to reimagine the entire online experience, so it’s better, easier and more individually useful, particularly for first-time smartphone users?” outlined the Google blogpost.

This illustrates the extent to which Google will rely on this centre for its products locally and in other parts of the world. Google could not have chosen a better country to execute on this mandate.

Kenya is one of the few countries in the continent with relevant technology skills that can deliver on Google requirements.

Google has relied on the continent to improve some of its products in the past. Some features in Gmail were tested locally. Unique aspects of the continent makes it an ideal place to develop products that can work anywhere in the world. Google is almost adopting the view that if it works here it can work almost anywhere in the world. This is a positive development for the African continent. It will enable local businesses to develop products that can work on the Android ecosystem aswell.

It will enable tech skills to be absorbed by one of the best tech companies in the world. This is also a positive development for inclusion and diversity on the internet. The tech world cannot continue to build tech products for only one segment of society. For the internet to be truly useful to everyone all its users should be part of building its products. The result of this process by Google will lead to more inclusive AI systems within Google and products that take into account the existence of the African population and other communities that are less represented in Google products. Google is a significant part of the internet. When it improves the internet improves.

This move by Google should inspire other tech companies to consider moving their production parts to the African continent.

Supporting Africa’s digital transformation will require more than just Google.

In the next 8 years, 2030, Africa will have 800 million internet users and one-third of the world’s under-35 population. Google is already leading by example in this regard. In 2021 Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced a plan to invest $1billion over the next five years in projects that will provide fast, reliable, affordable internet across the continent; build helpful, local products; and support the entrepreneurs and small businesses that underpin Africa’s economies. The tech giant also opened a Google AI research centre in Accra, Ghana to help drive useful innovations. The new product development centre is a continuation of that commitment and others should also follow.