AFRICA ONLINE VS MWEB: CONTINENT-WIDE CONTENT PROVIDERS SLUG IT OUT

1 December 2000

Top Story

Africa’s two largest internet service providers - Africa Online and M-Web - have pan-continental ambitions that will be driven by providing content. M-Web has already tried to use access to its content as a tactical weapon in its main market, South Africa. As their continental expansion plans fall into place, both will increasingly find themselves in competition with each other for the same users. Content will play a key role in this battle.

Ben Parker from Africa Online and Tanya Accone of M-Web outline how they see their company’s development strategies.

Africa Online’s strategy focuses on providing continent-wide content that will appeal to everyone from "business people to teenage ravers". By contrast, M-Web is seeking to build "communities of interest within (its) regions."

 

AFRICA ONLINE RELAUNCHES A SINGLE AFRICA-WIDE PORTAL

Ben Parker of Africa Online describes how it will relaunch its new portal to grab continent-wide interest:

"We will be relaunching AfricaOnline.com in the very near future, folding the eight national sites and www.africaonline.com into a totally redesigned Africa-wide site. We have conducted extensive market research both on what web users in Africa actually want, and what advertisers and hosting clients need. We are working furiously with our developers on a whole new infrastructure and design to make this a reality. An small but experienced team has been recruited to manage and develop the content, technology, sales and marketing. A realistic analysis of our market and its potential has resulted in a business model that is based on modest expectations and on a vision of this portal contributing to Africa Online as a whole. The AfricaOnline.com site represents an powerful means to exploit the synergies of our multinational group between internet access, web design and hosting and the e-touch franchise.

No single source can claim to be comprehensive on the web. Our content strategy means that we work in partnership with content providers, bringing our readership the best of African media and online resources, and giving them the opportunity to interact with us, our partners and each other and to explore further. We will not be a "walled garden" - an artificially linkless site. Nor will we claim to bring you everything that’s out there. But we do hope to offer the best selection from the best sources, and have reached content agreements with many top providers on the continent to do that.

We have writers and broadcasters who are using their skills to research, source and convey good original stories based on solid editorial standards and values. But the art of selecting, combining and linking many diverse multimedia sources to provide an information mix is another key task of an online editor. Think of it as the equivalent of a DJ - the mix becomes an art form and a new sound in itself. So we are also, in that sense, Web Jockeys.

The site will be multilingual, (in French and English), and will employ some smart technology on the back end to handle user preferences, content management and dynamic display. We will engage and develop loyalty in our audience with what we believe will be an unbeatable bouquet, not only of content, but also of facilities and services, including e-commerce.

We want the site to have a clear personality as a site for Africa, from Africa. This is not another cheesy "zebras and sunsets" Africa site. I would like people all over Africa - from business people to teenage ravers - to say to each other: "Didn’t you see that thing on AfricaOnline.com? Wasn’t it interesting/sad/outrageous/cool/funny/useful? Check it out!"

 

M-WEB: CONTENT AND EXPANSION CLOSELY TIED TOGETHER

Tanya Accone of M-Web describes how it has built successful portals in each country it has started operations in:

M-Web Africa is headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa and is part of the MIH group of companies. The company focuses on delivering superior, infotainment-based content and being the provider of the most compelling online experience in Africa. It has invested in leading edge network and service infrastructure to ensure it provides dial-up and corporate lease line subscribers with a fast and reliable service.

The company’s initial focus has been to concentrate on home turf, expanding its operations within the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The company’s strength within this region alone, along with sister company M-Web South Africa, places M-Web as the continent’s leading online service provider.

Zimbabwe and Namibia were the first two SADC countries in which M-Web Africa launched with great success. M-Web Zimbabwe, the leading service provider in that country, was established in March 2000 and publicly launched in October last year. M-Web Namibia also launched last year and has successfully connected Namibians from Oranjemund to Oshakati.

Both operations run the most popular portal websites in their respective countries. The company’s understanding of the environment stems from its commitment to each country, taking local business partners and staff. The success at providing informative, entertaining and empowering content coupled with superior access is a part of the company’s successful growth. It is this formula that will be applied in the countries to which M-Web Africa expands.

The ability of the portals to draw together communities of interest within their regions andprovide tools for these groups to create a presence and an interactive community has proved gratifying, with increasing numbers of such communities from hunters to farmers turning to M-Web to fulfil their various needs.

The business solutions service offered by the company has also enabled entrepreneurs to create an online presence from something from a simple website to a fully-enabled e-commerce engine. M-Web Zimbabwe recently launched the first of their kind e-commerce ventures selling CDs and software.

Being able to integrate the content and development elements of the business enables M-Web to offer its subscribers and users a much richer and compelling online experience, and allows content providers to get online that much faster and easier. With a sophisticated content management system coming online within months, this will open up access to an even greater number of people, empowering more individuals and companies, redressing the dearth of African content somewhat and simultaneously improving the African online experience once more.

In both the Namibian and Zimbabwean instances, acquisitions laid the path to establishing an immediate presence and strong organic growth built the subscriber and user bases. However the company has a number of diverse and innovative strategies through which it is expanding its African footprint.

Opportunities in the African online market are numerous, and wherever M-Web Africa sets up shops, the company seeks to identify and nurture local talent. Its next venture will be no different. M-Web Africa has been examining the potential of a number of other SADC countries and the company has cast its eye to attractive opportunities within the East and West African markets.

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