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Language, platforms key to higher Internet adoption

By , ITWeb
Africa , 08 Sep 2016

Language, platforms key to higher Internet adoption

Local language content is key to bringing new African users online as many, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, are not comfortable reading in English or French, says the Internet Society (ISOC).

The not-for-profit organisation released a study at the African Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) in Tanzania in which it says internet access and availability are not enough to curb the slowing internet adoption rate in Africa, but local content and services will attract more users.

The report highlighted a few missing links that would make it easier to generate more content in local languages.

Bastiaan Quast, co-author of Promoting Content in Africa and fellow at the Internet Society, told ITWeb Africa that there are no guarantees per se, but most evidence suggests that an increase in content available in a certain language leads to a large increase in the number of native speakers using the internet.

He stated in an email: "Consider for instance when Facebook introduced the Swahili locale/interface language (i.e. translation of buttons, etc.), it showed a large jump in the number of Swahili speakers using the Internet. Local language interfaces have the other advantage of encouraging the user to type in their local language in search queries which allows them to find more local language content."

Some of the cited barriers to content availability and distribution are access to power and fibre cables within African countries, import procedures that raise the time and cost of acquiring the equipment needed, and the inability to pay and receive payments for mobile apps which serve as a major channel for content distribution in most African countries.

Adding another point which he says is beyond the scope of the published paper, Quast says it is also necessary to start thinking about content for people who cannot read in any language using, for example, Whatsapp videos, voice messages, symbols etc.

He added: "Finally, it would be good to think about the nature of platforms that are used. More and more Africans are locked into proprietary platforms. For instance, email is an open platform where anybody can set up a server and communicate with anyone else. Whatsapp, Facebook, etc. are all networks in which the company determines what happens – and platforms such as these dominate the African market."

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