To go global, big technology companies often have to go local.
For Western technology giants operating in Nigeria, and in many other emerging markets, that means making it easier for local entrepreneurs and software developers to get started and find an audience for their products.
In an effort to boost the amount of local Nigerian content available through its search engine, Google Inc. has launched ad campaigns on the side of buses to get people to use its free Gmail e-mail service, has pushed a Gmail-to-SMS text service tailored to developing countries and is trying to get more Nigerian businesses online by offering free websites. There is even a local Nigerian YouTube channel.
"As nice as Justin Bieber is, as nice as his songs are, Nigerians want to go online and listen to P-Square," says Taiwo Kola-Ogunlade, Google Inc.'s public affairs person in Anglophone West Africa, referring to a popular local R&B group. "Google's work in Africa is largely to help build the ecosystem, so that we can do business."
The same holds true for mobile device makers. Applications, or apps, like Research In Motion Ltd.'s popular BlackBerry Messenger, help create loyalty to particular phones. RIM, Nokia and Google all support a local tech incubator called the Co-Creation Hub Nigeria – an organization similar to Kenya's more well-known iHub – that provides uninterrupted power for developers and various workshops, as well as access to a very expensive wired broadband connection they wouldn't be able to get at home.
At the CCHub, as its known, Zubair Abubakar and Bayo Puddicombe created an app for BlackBerrys that was, quite simply, the Nigerian constitution – and it allows users to share certain sections on Facebook. It got 10,000 downloads on the first weekend, and is now up to about 340,000 downloads on multiple smartphone platforms. "It's everything from 'Why the president isn't doing so well,' to wanting more explanations on a clause," Mr. Abubakar said.
Localized apps like the Nigerian Constitution App can help make devices more attractive – and many of the ones done in Nigeria are political, or socially conscious, given the appetite for such apps among educated, tech-savvy Nigerians frustrated with the government. But even though newer 3G wireless technology is not widespread, there are signs Nigerians will soon look to more advanced mobile apps, like video and retail.