Before Obama, Google Gets to Africa

Illustration for article titled Before Obama, Google Gets to Africa

Hours before president Obama touches down in Ghana, good news for Africa and Web 2.0:

(Via the Stimulist) Google’s mission is well-known by this point: to organize the world’s information. But now Google is focusing on making sure that the world includes Africa. Many of their search functions to this point have been available to that small slice of humans who can afford a smart phone. But Google also wants their mobile search tools to work for the billions of people whose phone doesn’t double as a music playing-city navigating-restaurant guiding-tip calculating mini-computer.


Good for Google—which announced recently that it is bringing Google Text to east Africa. The service, wherein you type in a question, text it to Google, and receive an instant answer, has been immensely popular in the United States (I found it to be marvelous, pre Blackberry). It could be even more useful in countries where internet connectivity is distinctly limited. Whereas just 5.6 percent of Africa's 900 million people regularly use the web (Egypt and Nigeria have the highest use), cell phone and SMS technology are increasingly vital means of communication—ubiquitous accessories among young and old.

This news came just before an annoncement that Google is developing an operating system for personal computers modeled after its "Chrome" online software. And there is reason for cautious optimism; the tech giant whose motto is "Do No Evil" seems to be stepping it up for doing actual good. The dedicated focus of whip-smart U.S. developers and engineers can be a force for real change—and is the kind of foreign direct investment that Western countries have flatly ignored for decades. However, there is also reason to be skeptical; when the company announced plans in 2006 to hire Africans to develop Google Maps for Cairo, Johannesburg, Lagos, Casablanca, and other major metropoles, I rejoiced (navigating those cities by foot or by car can be an exercise in frustration). And while some cities have been since filled in, other large swaths of the continent—particularly rural areas—are still gray and blank.


Heres hoping that Google keeps its eye on the continent, and follows through.


[PHOTO: Herman Chinery-Hesse, the founder and CEO of BSL and Soft Tribe talks on his mobile phone on June 14, 2008 in central Accra, Ghana. He has built a thriving tech business in his home country and his goal is to spark an entrepreneurial revolution in Africa by bringing e-commerce to the most remote corners of the continent. (Via Getty)]

Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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