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Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Nairobi, Kenya strategy salon with technology experts - May 29, 2017/da

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  • Jack Rabah – WMF Regional Manager, Strategic Partnerships for Middle East and Africa
  • Patricia Amira – williamsworks, Communications Specialist


 General Purpose and Topic

On May 29, 2017, the Wikimedia Foundation in collaboration with williamsworks gathered three technology experts in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss the future of Wikimedia. As a part of the 2017 Movement Strategy Process, we posed a number of questions relating to the future of technology adoption and adaptation in East Africa.

Executive Summary:

  • Kenya/East Africa is not effectively producing or documenting enough of our knowledge. Only 1% or internet users will create content online vs. 90% engaging in other ways (likes, re-tweets, comments). In the future, the main issue is not going to be about access to the internet, but who curates the content on the internet for us. The African narrative has been hijacked: our story is being told on our behalf and shaping global worldview.
  • Knowledge must be built from the grassroots and the right incentives need to be in place to do so. Drivers include (1) monetary (desire to be wealthy), (2) spiritual (desire to be closer to God), (3) education (desire to learn), (4) self-actualization (find oneself through creating content), and (5) validation (viewership). Barriers to this include “imposter syndrome” (not feeling like you are good enough to do something) and lack of knowledge on the subject matter to share.
  • Technology (without proper training) can exaggerate financial problems (according to Mozilla study).
  • Improve user experience in a way that appeals to the masses. For example, allow people to interact with Wikipedia content on the Google knowledge panel, curate channels by content area on widely-used instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram.
  • Better sense of identity and positioning around whom a Wikipedia editor is. Blogging is no longer about passion, there are very material incentives in place. People may be drawn to the idea of telling their own stories, but it has to be positioned around tangible benefits or recognition. Gamification or other forms of validation can get at this.
  • Create platform for learning, not simply a repository of knowledge. Other apps are fundamentally changing the way we learn. Google takes much of the low-hanging fruit when it comes to search results. In order to really engage users with the WP platform, more must be done to curate a learning “journey” like Duolingo or Telegram.


 What are challenges in your roles and in the knowledge space?

  • Knowledge space in Kenya/East Africa is not effectively producing or documenting enough of our knowledge. Knowledge is kept in people’s heads and traditional spaces). As a blogger and content creator, it is easy to be visible on Google for specific topics and themes because people aren’t creating or publishing sufficient amounts of content, which is good for businesses and brands but bad for overall wellbeing. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram important, but this is not enough.
  • Only 1% will create content online vs. 90% engaging in other ways (likes, re-tweets, comments). There are 200M Swahili speakers but only a fraction of a percent create content. Africa’s first viral video (Makmende) had a battle on Wikipedia for legitimacy, with the page being shut down many times. Who is there in Kenya/East Africa to do all of the volunteer editing, proofreading, and signing up?
  • In the future, the main issue is not going to be about access to the internet, but who curates the content on the internet for us. In the early days, the Internet was more like a lab (social media was a small part). We were the guinea pigs, now we’re the products. FB doubled its all-time hires of proofreaders. ISIS shows how an online experiment can become dangerous. Content is now the core of who we are and we are defined by who we are online. The internet curates content for us and tells us what we need to believe.
  • Africa has always been one of the biggest consumers but has one of the smallest stakes in content (less than 1% of languages in Africa are online). The amount of content is still so much less than the number of people accessing it. We are being molded by content that is not created by us.
  • The African narrative has been hijacked. Africa is still the “dark continent” when it comes to creation and curation of its own content. Our story is being told on our behalf (intermediaries exist on facebook, etc.). When people speak on behalf of Africa but are not from Africa, it shapes global worldview. If you don’t tell your story, somebody else will.

What are some of the remedies for people to capture history and tradition? What are some opportunities to take a stance and document and digitize for the rest to consume?

  • Academics sit in ivory towers with information that doesn’t filter down, so it is necessary to build from the grassroots. One expert working on a project involving 3-minute animations on the lesser-known aspects of African history.
  • The right incentives need to be in place. There are three primary drivers: monetary (desire to be wealthy), spiritual (desire to be closer to God), and education (desire to learn). But there are also two others: The first is self-actualization: “it is in creating content that I find myself.” For it to be successful, a person needs a certain amount of self-confidence. Oftentimes, we suffer from “imposter syndrome” (not feeling like you are enough of an authority, or not being good enough to do something). The second is that we just don’t know - people lack of knowledge on the subject matter to share.
  • Even without subject matter expertise, small bursts of accreditation/validation can drive you to another year or two of creating content. But if you put out a few videos and no one views them, you’re going to stop – without readership, there’s no oxygen for creation to continue.

What challenge is technology posing to East Africa?

  • Tech is often seen as being a great equalizer. But a study by Mozilla that exposed Kenyans to a smartphone for the first time and monitored them for a year actually found that technology (without proper training) can exaggerate financial problems. The #1 site in Kenya is Google (based on Android sales), but #2 is Sportpesa (gambling website). Losses far outnumber warnings, but people aren’t perceptually aware of that. Expensive data consumption (how much is a megabyte?) can also be a conduit to actually decreasing livelihood.
  • Digital neocolonialism: Most people in Kenya don’t have the mindset or belief that we can build a world class product that everyone can adopt. Most try to apply something that is successful elsewhere to here.
  • Need to do innovation on an order of 1000x, so we can create businesses that are becoming billion-dollar products. In 10-15 years, we start to have a tipping point where, from a digital/start-up perspective, some guiding lights and big companies start coming out of this continent. Kenya leads the world when it comes to mobile money, is tech friendly, and was an early adopter. MPESA was simple and no one had any expectations about it. It filled a niche. An opinion article in New York Times states: “M-Pesa is a commercial service, of course. But it couldn’t have happened without foreign aid…[it relied on] a $1.3 million grant to develop the system... It was one of the most successful foreign aid investments ever.”

What about manpower and how does that relate to a culture of volunteering in Kenya? How do people gain experience and what does volunteer culture look like?

  • Culture of volunteering goes to the truest place: volunteering of our little resources. Harambee ("all pull together" in Swahili). In parents’ generation, Harambee was a clarion call. Now, the material aspect is really visceral. How much of that culture can be transferred to contributing knowledge?
  • Blogging is no longer about passion - it has gone commercial. It’s no longer fun and games, it’s demanding on both sides (money and timelines).
  • Millennial effect: a rise in attitudes of entitlement and self-centered brand-building. People have gone commercial. “Cushy life posts” – people create personas that don’t talk about hard work or consistency. Some people are not willing to learn, just want to take a good Instagram photograph and get quick win.
  • There is a desire for a sense of identity among young people, and they may be drawn to the ability to tell their own stories and buy into the higher calling, if it is positioned right. There is a chance to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of volunteering. How do we place Wikipedia editors on pedestal and explain that this is a higher calling: “your stories are being told,” “this is more important than banality of cyberspace.” US military has language that inspires: “the few, the proud.” Wikipedia can create that too – telling success stories and outcomes, emphasizing “higher calling” and value of hard work. Imagine a world where it was trendy to contribute, and contributors gained social status through their engagement.

What does it take to be next best thing?

  • It’s a matter of incentive. Give them some reason to do it. They want to get recognition for something remarkable happening, and need visual stimulus. There needs to be a better sense of identity and positioning around whom a Wikipedia editor is, just like a Twitter influencer. That sense of identity can be copied in a positive light.
  • Gamify the process of contribution. Look at the behaviors of young people manipulating social media (e.g., opening fake accounts to execute media manipulation campaigns) and extract the positive factors that motivate their online engagement to use for our purposes. Make the whole process of editing gamified: reviews and likes are one thing (they can be bought through fake Twitter accounts), but hard work is harder to fake and account for - it must be earned.
  • Validation is a key incentive. Young people are desperate for connection/pity/praise/etc. Wikipedia is intellectual incentive (“I’m a smart guy and this is what I’ve written”). But it will be hard to fight against imposter syndrome (many may ask “am I good enough to perform here?”). Validation becomes important.

What is awareness of Wikipedia like on the continent?

  • Awareness of Wikipedia is extremely low in Africa/Nigeria, and use of Wikipedia was mixed among the experts. One expert is interested in the future, looking for next story. They are not looking to the past and the origins of a product, but rather, what’s up ahead. So they are not a regular user of Wikipedia. Another expert supplements content with Wikipedia content for pitch decks, etc. but does go to Wikipedia deliberately. If I failed all options on Google for specific niche subject, I will go to Wikipedia “Use it when I need knowledge that is relevant to what I’m doing.”
  • Kenyans are not big readers. In education, most are reading in preparation for examinations. Very few read for pleasure or personal advancement.
  • Wikipedia is tied to the hip with Google, which is doing “above the line” advertising across range of media. User journey starts with people searching for things on Google.  Search engine optimization gets us such specific results (e.g., blog answering our specific questions) that it may lead us to skip Wikipedia. WhatsApp users outnumber Twitter users 12 to 1.
  • How can Wikipedia improve people’s experience with Wikipedia content on Google (for example, allow people to interact with the Google knowledge panel)? You can never quote Wikipedia, so authenticity is an issue. Students don’t want to take the extra step. How do you teach people to learn? Use the flashcard-based model of Duolingo. Or maybe tweak the 200-character knowledge panel on Google. How do you get people to engage with content?
  • How to appeal to the masses a bit more (short of doing full advertising like Google)? Maybe curation of channels by content area. Start with what are the most visited/contested pages on Wikipedia and work backwards from there to create strong user experience or content journey. Instant messaging app Telegram (among top 20 most downloaded app in Kenya) is a “petri dish for how to succeed in the IM world.” Facebook’s instant view of articles is another example. You may be skipping out on the traffic, but creating a better user experience.