Google South Africa in discussions for local content


Google SA is in discussions with some telecoms companies to bring local content to South African homes and mobile phones, says new country manager, Stephen Newton.

While he would not disclose which providers he is in discussions with, he says Google's focus has always been to localise content as much as possible. “We want to build a local flavour into everything we develop.”

According to Newton, the company is also working on a few new projects that will sport local context. When the company releases the official version of Google Maps in South Africa, it will come with a local twist and feature some of the functionality already found in the US and UK. Users can look forward to the “get directions function” and more, he adds. “While you can use Maps now, there will be some interesting differences when we have the local launch. You will notice the changes,” he adds.

The company is also looking at completing the development of a South African version of Google Street view for tourists coming to SA during the World Cup.”2010 is a big date. It is important for us as Google to use our products to enhance that.”

Newton says there is also good news for local Android phone users. “We are working towards getting the Android App store locally.”

He adds there are several local manufacturers, which are building Android-based devices for the local market, although he did not indicate which companies are involved.

Newton has been at the helm of the business for less than 20 days. He was internally promoted to the position after a year as the company's head of analytics and commerce for EMEA. He has inherited a few fires, which will need to be addressed as he settles into his position locally.

Last year, the local arm of the Internet giant was accused of anti-competitive practices by local online marketing firm Entelligence. It asserted Google was behaving in a dominant manner, having attempted to take direct control of one of its clients. When this did not succeed, it threatened to close all of Entelligence's accounts with the search engine giant, it alleged. The complaint is under legal scrutiny and Newton says he cannot comment directly on the matter.

However, he says, Google will need local partners and agencies to help it to handle the volume of clients it hopes to attract in the local market. “There will be many clients we cannot support one-on-one, which means we will need local agencies to handle those clients.”

He says Google SA will now sit with agencies, like Entelligence, and talk about how to get more people online. “The more people there are online, the better it is for all of us.” Newton plans to approach the local market through education, which he says has been the primary concern of the people he has spoken to locally.

He says the problem, even for CEOs of large corporates, is an overwhelming number of acronyms which mean little to those who are not entrenched in the tech industry. “They are expected to understand what all the online terms mean, when instead they should be hearing what the product means for their business.”

He says the lack of understanding often turns people away from buying online products. “We will start with education, even before we start suggesting what products would be best suited for a particular business.”