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Mxit made an effort to become more of a platform by adding an API programming interface three weeks ago. Motribe, a South African company, used the API to create a JudgeME app—which allows users to upload their photos and get themselves rated by others. In 30 days, the App had 600,000 users and four million rated photos on Mxit.

Mxit, which allows users to connect, send messages, and share information, works on feature phones as well as smart phones. “Mxit needs to evolve in order to continue being a force in South Africa and the other countries where they’re seeing good penetration. This API is a great first step in that direction,” says Erik Hersman, a cofounder of iHub, a startup incubator in Nairobi.

In Ghana, an SMS-based mobile social network called launched only six weeks ago—and already has more than 50,000 members in countries including Egypt, Nigeria, India, and Indonesia, says Louis Dorval, managing director of a startup incubator known as MEST, in Accra, Ghana. MEST trained Saya’s founders and funded the startup.

Saya allows group and individual messaging using the user’s phone contacts—and Facebook contacts. And it works on feature phones as well as smart phones. Dorval, who spoke during an African innovation conference at MIT last weekend, said the continent’s social network growth was in its infancy. “There will be an explosion of social networks, no doubt, and a lot of them will be by Africans for Africans, with a lot of great business models there,” he said.

Later, he elaborated during a conference break: “There will be a lot more industry-specific, culture-specific, purpose-specific social networks.”

Tunde Kenhinda, founder of a dating-oriented social network based in Lagos, Nigeria, said during a conference break that Africans have particular expectations from social networks. In many parts of Africa, people are often interested in knowing ethnicity and tribe membership—and in targeting things like classified advertisements toward very specific socio-economic and cultural segments.

In a final twist to the maize story, most of the farmers finally got the seed by paying with their mobile phones, using the payment service M-Pesa. So the episode was also a lesson in the comprehensive ways that mobile phones are supplanting conventional computers in some contexts, in this case by getting crucial information out to the remote farmer who needs information at the right time, and enabling him to act on that information, too.

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Credit: Su Kahumbu

Tagged: Computing, Facebook, mobile, Africa

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