What’s Driving The Social Media Rage in Africa?

By Ashnah Kalemera

In recent years, web 2.0 technologies (such as wikis, blogs, and social networking sites) have been added to the effectiveness of the internet as an enabler for developing, storing and disseminating information to large audiences of people in diverse locations, instantly, and at fairly low cost.

And, as a three months web information analysis has recently found, there are a significant – and rising – number of users of web 2.0 technologies in Africa.

Wikis are conversational technologies with broad knowledge management capabilities that employ an unconventional knowledge creating and sharing paradigm where there is no cast-in-stone circle of authors. Rather, the knowledge creation process is incremental.

Whereas wikis have been hailed for revolutionising the information age (for instance, Wikipedia has within a few years become the world’s largest Open Content project achieving millions of articles and outnumbering all other encyclopedias), they have also been faced with criticism of the validity of their information.

Amongst internet users, Wikipedia is the 8th top site in the world. In Africa, it is most popular in South Africa and Madagascar, ranking 6th and 7th respectively.

Being edited by everyone capable of doing so, the validity of wikis depends on the knowledge of who does the editing, as well as on the more frequently visited subject matters that are continuously improved and commented upon. Moreover, some wiki pages that are not visited at all lack combined knowledge contributions and thus may not be accurate or may be speculative.

The social networking site Facebook to date has 500 million active users. Half of them log in daily and the average user has 130 friends in use. It is ranked the 2nd most visited site in the world. Amongst African countries, it is either the number 1 [9 countries] or number 2 [5 countries] most used website.

Users of social networking sites form a network that provides a powerful means of sharing, organising, and finding content and contacts.

Blogs (online diaries maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events or material, graphics and video) are popular too. They combine text, images, links and other media and also allows interactivity by way of comments. According to Alexa.com traffic figures, Blogger is the fifth most popular website in the world. On the African continent, it is the 5th most popular in Nigeria, 6th in Kenya and 8th in Uganda, Mauritius and South Africa.

Twitter, a social networking and micro blogging service that utilises instant messaging, or a web interface is the 9th most popular website globally. South Africans, Nigerians, Kenyans and Ugandans are at par with the rest of the world; ranking 7th – 8th of their internet traffic.

Table 1: Website traffic rankings (Source: www.alexa.com)

Facebook Twitter Blogger Wikipedia
Algeria

2nd

49th

9th

12th

Cameroon

2nd

51st

23rd

9th

Congo

2nd

11th

12th

9th

Egypt

1st

23rd

7th

22nd

Ghana

1st

15th

12th

10th

Ivory Coast

1st

34th

26th

10th

Kenya

1st

8th

6th

7th

Madagascar

1st

39th

11th

7th

Mauritius

1st

16th

8th

7th

Morocco

1st

34th

9th

13th

Nigeria

1st

8th

5th

9th

South Africa

2nd

7th

8th

6th

Sudan

1st

54th

8th

20th

Uganda

2nd

10th

8th

9th

Clearly, web 2.0 technologies allow for more efficient and speedier generation, exchange, sharing and modification of multimedia content.

The key features of the interactive, online media, that often make them popular with users include their interactivity (users may communicate on a many-to-many reciprocal basis); and they are a global network as communication is not fettered by nation-state boundaries. Besides, there’s free speech as internet users may express their opinions with limited state censorship; and they enable free association since net users may join virtual communities of common interest. But do these advantages explain why social media has caught a fire in Africa?

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