Local startupÂ Umuntu Media, that came into full operation in September 2011, uses technology within Africa to build world class platforms that deliver relevant local content across Africa. Their latest product, that is currently inÂ closed Beta and expected to launch within a month, is Mimiboard. With Mimiboard, Umuntu Media aim toÂ enable and improve trade and communication on a hyper-local level.
Mimiboard, that gets its name from ‘Mimi’, meaning ‘I’Â in Swahili, is like a traditional noticeboard in a 3.0 virtual version that anyone can create. Users of Mimiboard can easilyÂ add categories to it, transact, add notes and enable a community on a hyper-local level to communicate effectively. This communication can occur via SMS,Â Android, Web and J2ME, which are ideal for the African market at which Mimiboard is aimed. Umuntu developed Mimiboard to solve a problem that most publishers face on a daily basis – the challenge of creating engaging and relevant content for their target market that will ultimately add value and make a difference to people’s lives. Mimiboard, accomplishes just that by providing a platform with which users can share content and communicate with one another.
Essentially, Mimiboard serves to help publishers create relevant content as well as the community members who engage with it likeÂ helping Simon in Mombasa sell fish, Dave in Cape Town to find great surfing spots and Jason the restaurant owner in Luanda to communicate his daily specials.
In order to spreadÂ the technology to other publishers across the continent Umuntu Media developed a “publish” function in the system that allows them to generate and share content to their readers and maintain the community by creating a number of Mimiboards. This may include traffic tips, classifieds, restaurant reviews, news or chat which the publisher will save as a stack. The Mimiboards are then exported and embedded so that the publisher has a fully embedded Mimiboard within their website. At the click of a buttonÂ the site has a fully integrated SMS, Android, J2ME and rich web communication channels for its readers.
In addition, Umuntu Media has developed print and display “publishing” functions. Johan Nel, founder and CEO says that the additional publishing functions were “Inspired by the worldâ€™s only analogue blogger Alfred Sirleaf from Liberia and we knew that if we combine SMS, data and print we are filling a unique gap in the market and empowering anyone to create real classified styled newspapers in seconds.” The wizard allows a publisher toÂ choose a customised layout, paper size, amount of notes to display (last 7 days or only today) and then print it. This printed format can then be distributed to community members who can also add, communicate and comment.
As for the challenges experienced by Umumtu Media of running a startup in Africa Johan said that “Running a start-up is a challenge in itself, running a start-up across Africa is just on another level. Our challenges range from power outages, to slow internet or cables systems that are down. We deal with a vast array of cultures across the continent so learning and adapting our business principles happens on a daily basis. All of this makes our lives very interesting and exactly why I wake up each morning with a smile.”
When asked to reveal any future developments for Mimiboard and Umuntu Media, Johan commented that Â “I always have to ask myself one question when we decide on the future and future developments: Are we ticking the local content box? If that is a yes we do it. This gap in Africa in digital is huge, but everyone knows this so we have to be super fast, nimble and always stay relevant.” Umuntu Media’s big plans for the immediate future is get their operations live in East and West Africa, integrate Mimiboard into all our portals and then partnering with one or two large media players in each market to start using it. These negotiations are done and we have some very interesting players that will launch this across the continent in the next few weeks.Â We’ll be watching!