Cloud computing enabling entrepreneurship in Africa

In 2007, 33-year-old Vuyile moved to Cape Town from rural South Africa in search of work. Unable to complete high school, he worked as a night shift security guard earning $500/month to support his family. During the rush hour commute from his home in Khayelitsha, Vuyile realized that he could earn extra income by selling prepaid mobile airtime vouchers to other commuters on the train.

In rural areas, it’s common to use prepaid vouchers to pay for basic services such as electricity, insurance and airtime for mobile phones. But it’s often difficult to distribute physical vouchers because of the risk of theft and fraud.

Nomanini, a startup based in South Africa, built a device that enables local entrepreneurs like Vuyile to sell prepaid mobile services in their communities. The Lula (which means “easy” in colloquial Zulu), is a portable voucher sales terminal that is used on-the-go by people ranging from taxi drivers to street vendors. It generates and prints codes which people purchase to add minutes to their mobile phones.

Today, Vuyile sells vouchers on the train for cash payment, and earns a commission weekly. Since he started using the Lula, he’s seen his monthly income increase by 20 percent.

Vuyile prints a voucher from his Lula

Nomanini founders Vahid and Ali Monadjem wanted to make mobile services widely available in areas where they had been inaccessible, or where—in a region where the average person makes less than $200/month—people simply couldn’t afford them. By creating a low-cost and easy-to-use product, Nomanini could enable entrepreneurs in Africa to go to deep rural areas and create businesses for themselves.

In order to build a scalable and reliable backend system to keep the Lula running, Nomanini chose to run on Google App Engine. Their development team doesn’t have to spend time setting up their own servers and can instead run on the same infrastructure that powers Google’s own applications. They can focus on building their backend systems and easily deploy code to Google’s data centers. When Vuyile makes a sale, he presses a few buttons, App Engine processes the request, and the voucher prints in seconds.

Last month, 40,000 people bought airtime through the Lula, and Nomanini hopes to grow this number to 1 million per month next year. While platforms like App Engine are typically used to build web or smartphone apps, entrepreneurs like Vahid and Ali are finding innovative ways to leverage this technology by building their own devices and connecting them to App Engine. Vahid tells us: “We’re a uniquely born and bred African solution, and we have great potential to take this to the rest of Africa and wider emerging markets. We could not easily scale this fast without running on Google App Engine.”

To learn more about the technical implementation used by Nomanini, read their guest post on the Google App Engine blog.

Announcing the Africa News Innovation Challenge winners

Digital tools are an increasing impetus for innovation across African newsrooms. From crowdsourcing content to using infographics to tell stories, journalists are finding new ways to report the news. We're excited to be supporting these innovators through the $1 million Africa News Innovation Challenge, announced in May this year—the latest in a series of projects to spur innovation in African journalism.

Run by the the African Media Initiative, other partners include Omidyar Network, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the U.S. State Department, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). The response to the challenge was really enthusiastic, with more than 500 proposals submitted.

The 20 winners are all exciting digital journalism projects that will contribute to solving some of the biggest challenges facing the African media industry. They range from mobile apps to mobilise citizens against corruption and improved infographics to communicate complex issues, to developing new platforms for sharing content on buses and taxis. Key themes among the projects include a growing concern about manipulated online content, the security of communications with whistleblowers and sources, and the need to improve engagement with audiences.

The projects have the potential to be replicated by media elsewhere in Africa, or to be scaled up across the continent, to create wide and sustained impact. Some projects will also develop new tools to support newsrooms and boost media revenues to support sustainable journalism. Winners will receive cash grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000; technology support from a team of four developers at AMI’s jAccelerator lab in Kenya, and business development support from top media strategists affiliated with the World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers. Ten of the winners will also be flown to the Knight Foundation’s annual M.I.T. Civic Media Conference in the U.S., while the rest will be showcased at other important industry events.

The ANIC winners are:
  • actNOW (Ghana)
  • AdBooker (South Africa)
  • Africa Check (South Africa / Nigeria)
  • skyCAM (Kenya / Nigeria)
  • Africa’s Wealth (renamed NewsStack) (Nigeria / Namibia)
  • Citizen Desk (Mozambique)
  • Code4Ghana (Ghana)
  • ConvergeCMS (Kenya / Tanzania / Uganda)
  • CorruptionNET (South Africa)
  • DataWrapper (Nigeria / Senegal / Tanzania)
  • End-to-End (renamed LastMile Crowdmapping) (Liberia / Ghana / Kenya)
  • FlashCast (Kenya)
  • Green Hornet (South Africa)
  • ListeningPost (South Africa)
  • MoJo: Keeping media honest by monitoring online journalism (South Africa)
  • openAFRICA (Kenya / Nigeria / Rwanda / South Africa)
  • ODADI (renamed Code4SouthAfrica) (South Africa)
  • Oxpeckers (South Africa)
  • Wikipedia Zero (Cameroon / Ivory Coast / Tunisia / Uganda)
  • ZeroNews (pan-African)

You can learn more about the winners’ projects on the ANIC website.

We can’t wait to see how these innovations unfold and we look forward to working with more African journalists to help them use technologies to tell important stories.

(Cross-posted from the Africa Blog)

YouTube now speaks IsiZulu and Afrikaans

Cross posted from the Google Africa Blog.

For many Africans online, the Internet is something created by other people which we simply consume. We see this with many African languages that have a dominant presence offline (on radio, TV, newspapers), yet are underrepresented on the web today. Seeing your language appear on global services like Google Search, YouTube, or Gmail can help change that. Suddenly, you become part of the conversation.

Last November we launched YouTube in Kiswahili and Amharic with precisely this in mind. We soon began to see many people enjoying the new versions, and also saw an increase in searches, video uploads and comments in both languages.

Today, we are excited to release 2 more African language versions of YouTube - in Afrikaans and isiZulu.

This is important for several reasons. First, the new language versions create awareness among new users who are not fluent in English and have not been able to fully enjoy or understand YouTube. Second, it’s a reminder of the great local content in both languages that is increasingly finding its way to YouTube in South Africa, a country blessed with creative talent - for a taste, sample and subscribe to MduComics, JusGorilla, Die Heuwels Fantasties, and Jack Parow. There’s a lot more out there. Lastly, YouTube in South Africa is already over a year old, and with YouTube views increasing by 175% in the past year, we were eager to introduce these new features on the local domain.

If you are a native Afrikaans or IsiZulu speaker, we invite you to join this celebration, and here’s how:
  • Visit At the bottom of the page, click on language and select Afrikaans or Zulu.
  • Upload a video!
  • Share it on Google+ or Twitter with #YoutubeIsiZulu or #YoutubeAfrikaans.
Ian Parsons & Mthokozisi Dlalisa - Afrikaans & IsiZulu specialists, Google South Africa, recently watched "Nicholis Louw - Baby Baby."

Aid for Africa: YouTube partners rally to provide relief for famine

As a devastating famine continues to spread across the Horn of Africa, news outlets, nonprofits and musicians are turning to YouTube to raise awareness and funds for the more than 12 million people who are in severe need of food and water. We wanted to share with you an overview of the situation as we’re seeing it on YouTube, as well as several ways you can get involved.

News of the famine
According to the AFP, the Horn of Africa is facing the worst drought in over 60 years and tens of thousands of people have already died as a result. This video from the AFP YouTube channel offers a overview of the situation:

Nonprofits are also using video to share the voices of those afflicted with the world. Here’s a video diary from a World Food Program worker who is stationed in Dadaab, an area in Kenya near the Somali border experiencing the brunt of the crisis:

How you can help
The WFP’s videos currently all feature a direct link you can click to donate to relief efforts. Other organizations like UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders are also producing videos that help explain the extent of suffering caused by the famine.

Global nonprofit Save the Children has even teamed up with a host of Universal Music Group artists like Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Coldplay to launch the “I’m Gonna Be Your Friend” campaign to help. The featured video on the Bob Marley YouTube channel supports this campaign, and you can donate to the “I’m Gonna Be Your Friend” campaign here.

To stay updated with the latest news on this crisis, visit our CitizenTube channel where we are watching for all of the latest video from this region.

Ramya Raghavan, News and Politics Manager, recently watched “Dadaab: Get There or Die Trying.”

Using the power of mapping to support South Sudan

Last Thursday, the Google Map Maker team, along with the World Bank and UNITAR/UNOSAT, held a unique event at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and a satellite event in Nairobi at the same time. More than 70 members of the Sudanese diaspora, along with regional experts from the World Bank, Sudan Institute, Voices for Sudan, The Enough Project and other organizations gathered together to map what is expected to become the world’s newest country later this year: the Republic of South Sudan. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked the international community “to assist all Sudanese towards greater stability and development” during and beyond this period of transition.

South Sudan is a large but under-mapped region, and there are very few high-quality maps that display essential features like roads, hospitals and schools. Up-to-date maps are particularly important to humanitarian aid groups, as they help responders target their efforts and mobilize their resources of equipment, personnel and supplies. More generally, maps are an important foundation for the development of the infrastructure and economy of the country and region.

The Map Maker community—a wide-ranging group of volunteers that help build more comprehensive maps of the world using our online mapping tool, Google Map Maker—has been contributing to the mapping effort for Sudan since the referendum on January 9. To aid their work, we’ve published updated satellite imagery of the region, covering 125,000 square kilometers and 40 percent of the U.N.’s priority areas, to Google Earth and Maps.

The goal of last week’s event was to engage and train members of the Sudanese diaspora in the United States, and others who have lived and worked in the region, to use Google Map Maker so they could contribute their local knowledge of the region to the ongoing mapping effort, particularly in the area of social infrastructure. Our hope is that this event and others like it will help build a self-sufficient mapping community that will contribute their local expertise and remain engaged in Sudan over time.

We were inspired by the group’s enthusiasm. One attendee told us: “I used to live in this small village that before today did not exist on any maps that I know of...a place unknown to the world. Now I can show to my kids, my friends, my community, where I used to live and better tell the story of my people.”

The group worked together to make several hundred edits to the map of Sudan in four hours. As those edits are approved, they’ll appear live in Google Maps, available for all the world to see. But this wasn’t just a one-day undertaking—attendees will now return to their home communities armed with new tools and ready to teach their friends and family how to join the effort. We look forward to seeing the Southern Sudanese mapping community grow and flourish.

Two new Google domains: Iraq and Tunisia

We offer search on different regional domains, such as for France and for Djibouti, in order to provide the most locally-relevant results. We've steadily brought Google to many of the world's domains, and today we announced on our Google Arabia Blog that we're adding two more: for Iraq and for Tunisia. This brings the number of local Google search domains worldwide to 184, with 15 domains in Arab countries.

The new domains will help people in Iraq and Tunisia find locally relevant information, faster. For example, a search for [central bank] on the Iraq domain yields results relevant to someone in Iraq, such as the Central Bank of Iraq. On the other hand, the same search on the Tunisia domain returns slightly different results.

The new domains also make it easier for people in Iraq and Tunisia to access search in their preferred languages. In Iraq, people can now easily access Google search in local languages like Arabic and Kurdish; while in Tunisia, people can find the Google interface in Arabic and French. In the past, people in these regions would need to visit the domain for another country to use Google in an interface they were comfortable with. And when they did, the results would be relevant to a different region.

Local domains are a first step towards making the web more accessible and relevant for people around the world. They’re also an integral part of our vision to make all of our products available in the world's top 40 most spoken languages covering 99 percent of Internet users worldwide. We plan to add more domains in the coming months, so stay tuned!

YouTube Highlights 2/17/2011

This is the latest in our series of YouTube highlights. Every couple of weeks, we bring you regular updates on new product features, interesting programs to watch and tips you can use to grow your audience on YouTube. Just look for the label “YouTube Highlights” and subscribe to the series. – Ed.

A lot has happened since our last update, including protests in Egypt, a major U.S. sporting event, the launch of the Google Art project and the Grammy Music Awards—all portrayed in different ways by YouTube and our global community.

Footage of protests in the Middle East on YouTube
Thousands of videos of the protests in Egypt earlier this month were uploaded to YouTube, giving people access to raw footage shot by Egyptians on the ground. People around the world could access these videos by visiting CitizenTube, YouTube’s news and politics channel, or watching live coverage on Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English YouTube channels, as well as Fox News' and Arabic broadcaster Al-Arabiya’s YouTube channels. We’ve also been working with news curation group Storyful to curate videos from the protest movements in Bahrain, Iran, Yemen, Algeria and Libya—you can check out highlights on CitizenTube.

This week’s trends on YouTube
Each weekday, YouTube Trends takes a look at the most interesting videos and cultural phenomena on YouTube. Here’s a sampling from the past two weeks:

2011 Nonprofit Video Awards
For the second year in a row, we’re working to help nonprofits succeed through the DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards, a celebration of the best nonprofit video on the site. Submit your nonprofit’s video at Prizes include $2,500 grants from the Case Foundation, Flip cams, free admission to the Nonprofit Technology Conference and a spotlight on the YouTube homepage.

Showtime’s “SHORT stories” recruits short filmmakers
Showtime wants to feature cutting-edge web filmmakers through its “SHORT stories” series. If you’re a filmmaker interested in the project, find out more from Showtime's Trevor Noren.

The big game: find out which ads garnered the most views
The halftime ads during the U.S.’s biggest sporting event, the Super Bowl, are notoriously popular—and this past game was no exception. YouTube Trends analyzed which ads were the most-searched commercials in the hours following the big game and compiled the top 10 most-viewed ads the day after.
 We also discovered some fun facts about the big game: Did you know that an estimated 69.6 million pounds of avocados were consumed on that Sunday? Or that this time was the first Super Bowl with no cheerleaders? Check out YouTube AdBlitz to watch any ads you may have missed.

Events worth watching
In case you missed them live, you can still catch up on some of the big happenings of the past few weeks on YouTube:

We’ll update you again in a few weeks. In the meantime, visit the YouTube Blog for more on ongoing programs such as On the Rise and YouTube Trends.

Some weekend work that will (hopefully) enable more Egyptians to be heard

Like many people we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground. Over the weekend we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service—the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection.

We worked with a small team of engineers from Twitter, Google and SayNow, a company we acquired last week, to make this idea a reality. It’s already live and anyone can tweet by simply leaving a voicemail on one of these international phone numbers (+16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855) and the service will instantly tweet the message using the hashtag #egypt. No Internet connection is required. People can listen to the messages by dialing the same phone numbers or going to

We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone there.

Update Feb 1, 12:47 PM: When possible, we're now detecting the approximate (country-level) geographic origin of each call dialing one of our speak2tweet numbers and attaching a hashtag for that country to each tweet. For example, if a call comes from Switzerland, you'll see #switzerland in the tweet, and if one comes from Egypt you'll see #egypt. For calls when we can't detect the location, we default to an #egypt hashtag.

Voice Search in underrepresented languages

(Cross-posted from the Google Research Blog)


Today we’re introducing Voice Search support for Zulu and Afrikaans, as well as South African-accented English. The addition of Zulu in particular represents our first effort in building Voice Search for underrepresented languages.

We define underrepresented languages as those which, while spoken by millions, have little presence in electronic and physical media, e.g., webpages, newspapers and magazines. Underrepresented languages have also often received little attention from the speech research community. Their phonetics, grammar, acoustics, etc., haven’t been extensively studied, making the development of ASR (automatic speech recognition) voice search systems challenging.

We believe that the speech research community needs to start working on many of these underrepresented languages to advance progress and build speech recognition, translation and other Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies. The development of NLP technologies in these languages is critical for enabling information access for everybody. Indeed, these technologies have the potential to break language barriers.

We also think it’s important that researchers in these countries take a leading role in advancing the state of the art in their own languages. To this end, we’ve collaborated with the Multilingual Speech Technology group at South Africa’s North-West University led by Prof. Ettiene Barnard (also of the Meraka Research Institute), an authority in speech technology for South African languages. Our development effort was spearheaded by Charl van Heerden, a South African intern and a student of Prof. Barnard. With the help of Prof. Barnard’s team, we collected acoustic data in the three languages, developed lexicons and grammars, and Charl and others used those to develop the three Voice Search systems. A team of language specialists traveled to several cities collecting audio samples from hundreds of speakers in multiple acoustic conditions such as street noise, background speech, etc. Speakers were asked to read typical search queries into an Android app specifically designed for audio data collection.

For Zulu, we faced the additional challenge of few text sources on the web. We often analyze the search queries from local versions of Google to build our lexicons and language models. However, for Zulu there weren’t enough queries to build a useful language model. Furthermore, since it has few online data sources, native speakers have learned to use a mix of Zulu and English when searching for information on the web. So for our Zulu Voice Search product, we had to build a truly hybrid recognizer, allowing free mixture of both languages. Our phonetic inventory covers both English and Zulu and our grammars allow natural switching from Zulu to English, emulating speaker behavior.

This is our first release of Voice Search in a native African language, and we hope that it won’t be the last. We’ll continue to work on technology for languages that have until now received little attention from the speech recognition community.

Salani kahle!**

* “Welcome” in Afrikaans
** “Stay well” in Zulu and Google team up to help fans celebrate the 2010 FIFA World Cup™

The 2010 FIFA World Cup has kicked off in South Africa. During the month-long tournament, millions of fans around the world will follow the games.

To mark the event,, the world’s official football website, and Google have collaborated on a range of online features to help supporters keep track of how each team is doing throughout the tournament. Whether you’re searching for FIFA World Cup news or want to voice your opinion on a player’s performance, we have a number of ways for fans to stay on top of the action:

Follow your team while browsing the Internet: stay up-to-date when you’re online with the Chrome extension. Get a live feed of FIFA World Cup results, news and match statistics and if you’re supporting a particular team, personalise the gadget for alerts of goals scored by your team as they happen.

See the latest scores and schedules in search results: search for [world cup], [world cup spain], [world cup group g] and more, and you’ll see live scores, latest results and match schedules at the top of your search results. You’ll find quick links to game recaps, live updates, standings and team profiles on

Follow the tournament on your personalised home page: get all the latest information on FIFA World Cup teams, players and matches streamed to your very own home page with the iGoogle Gadget. If you want to know more about where all the action is happening, click on the ‘venues’ tab to take a closer look at the stadiums.

Get a feel for what it’s like to be there: and South African Tourism have used Google Maps to add information about the host cities, stadiums and attractions, giving people easy access to these sights with Street View and 3D views:

You can get access to all of these features from and Google by visiting

Good luck to all, and may the best team win!