It’s Time To Start Telling The Stories That Matter To The Ecosystem

I first published this article, under a different headline, on TechLoy (August 2012)

I started writing about technology almost entirely by chance, back when I was in Law School and actively pursuing an unrelated side gig in freelance graphic design. A client’s brief required me to register a Twitter account for them.

I wasn’t quite sure what Twitter did then, but I quickly found out, and boom! I found myself in the world of social media, even if I came a bit late to the party. My first Nigerian tech event was BarCamp in 2010. That was also where I first met guys like OoTheNigerian and Seyi Taylor whom I thought and still think are the ish in Nigerian tech.

Back then, I thought I wanted to help the Nigerian legal system innovate via technology, it was my standard elevator pitch and the the excuse I gave everyone for often being the only Lawyer at a tech event. This period coincided with when I started taking blogging seriously, and I would go home and write about my experiences with the tech ecosystem. Soon, I found out that I liked writing about technology, and the rest is history.

Now you know how it all began.

A while after I started blogging about technology on my personal site, and for some time after I joined TechLoy, I became fairly obsessed with what you might call “keeping up with the Lacys”.

You see, I practically cut my tech teeth onTechCrunch (GigaOM and ReadWriteWeb and yeah, Mashable too). That was before AOL turned TechCrunch into the HuffingtonCrunch, and the Arrington dream team was still in place. I not only lived and died by every word of Paul Carr, Sarah Lacy, MG Siegler and Alexia Tsotsis, I also desperately wanted to be like them, to keep my hand on the pulse of the ecosystem, to divine the patterns and trends before they happened, to be funny and poke fun at the whole tech gig on occasion. I remember avidly reading their posts, soaking in their individual irreverent, constructive, objective, tough-talking and no-nonsense styles as much as I could. Following these people significantly shaped my view of global technology as I understand it today.

And for a brief period, it looked like I could. Be like like them, that is. I was on top of Snaptu’s Facebook supervised demise and getting lots of hits from tons of distraught users who were asking Google why their beloved app was shutting down. I put in my two cents when the social media wars began to heat up, especially with the arrival of Google’s new social piece on the internet chess board and the announcement of Facebook’s Timeline. I even wrote all kinds of boring pieces, like this one about Google Analytics features. I thought it was a big deal.

But it didn’t take me long to realise that one obscure blogger in Nigeria with nothing but a laptop and an internet dongle just can’t keep up with the vicious global technology news cycle. I was trying to play in a space where entrenched online properties with superior assets deployed – technology, connectivity, packed rolodexes, insider connections, and real people in the thick of things — were playing. Keeping up required lung-bursting effort that often went unnoticed, even whenever I thought I’d been the first to spot something.

So I stopped writing stories like those and started writing about local tech –mobile money in Nigeria, crowd-sourced traffic reporting in Lagos, local e-Commerce…that sort of thing.

And what happened? Engagement levels jumped, and we started getting a lot more comments. People began to contribute to the conversation because the content was not just interesting, it was relevant. Then it hit me. Being like the TC dream team doesn’t require that I write about the same things that they do (a task at which I’m hopelessly out-manned and out-gunned)…all I need to do is to talk about what matters HERE — and that is so much easier to do.  I think I’ve struck gold with local content here, and all that’s left to do is to keep digging.

I think a lot of African technology publishing platforms aren’t unlike me in that all this while they’ve been trying to keep up with the Lacys. Tech bloggers around here (myself included) like to bellow “local content” at developers and entrepreneurs. But we don’t report much of it ourselves, we’re busy trying to compete with TechCrunch, to get in on the global tech news cycle, never mind that whatever we’re “reporting” is second hand, we’re unlikely to have live assets at CES or Facebook’s F8 or Apple’s WWDC and have to make do with livestreams (when the scrappy internet allows). We even cheat ourselves out of sleep (timezone differences), just to keep up. In fairness, it’s not like we don’t post news about our locales. The trouble is most of it is just that — news, announcements and PR — most of it lacking in the essential cultural vitamins that they need to really be stories. Nigerian tech blogs hardly even talk to each other, except to grudgingly link back to the blog that broke the news first (attribution is still a chore for most).

We might not like to hear it, but it needs to be said — we need to quit rehashing stale Silicon Valley news and start reporting the stories happening in our backyards. We need to stop posting news and start capturing the zeitgeist of the African start-up ecosystem, going where the rubber meets the road in local technology, starting real conversations about the ecosystem and how technology impacts the lives of real people.

Here in Nigeria, there are all sorts of phenomenal things going on that never get the attention they deserve, we’re too busy cheering on the guys now flush with foreign VC money, the Irokos and Spinlets and Pagas, and we can barely make sense of what’s going on in the trenches. When was the last time anyone checked in on ReVoDa’s development to see how they are doing and if there is a roadmap to the 2015 elections? Has anyone heard about a couple of guys who are working to use the power of open-source to help make application development easier in broadband deficient environments? Who’s crunching the data and distilling insights into the impact of platforms like BudgIT on citizen governance? Who is taking the trouble to go after the unfunded, unsexy and unsung innovators, people with Silicon Valley grade minds trapped in Nigeria’s infrastructural morass. Their stories need to be told, not only because we’re in the best position to, but also because if we don’t, someone else will. And we might not like how they tell it. We need to take ownership of Africa’s start-up and technology narrative.

I remember how some people took issue with Sarah Lacy when she told them to stop reading TechCrunch. I think she meant well when she said that. I also remember silently asking that if we didn’t read TechCrunch/GigaOm/Fast Company/PandoDaily, what else would we read?

The truth is we don’t have much else to keep us pre-occupied by way of local tech content, save for lists and stats and other culturally deficient minutiae. Africa’s top ten start-up incubators. Internet penetration numbers. The guys who won the latest Google hackathon. Samsung and Nokia launch events. You get the idea. This is our turf, we can do better.

So, I’m done breaking news about Google and Apple, and I thank Victor Asemota for the validation — this post is largely in response to his thoughts. Of course I still like to think that I’m familiar enough with global tech trends to comment on them every once in a while…the odd Nokia post here, RIM speculation there, and even then, still with a local flavour.

My real job, however, lies here in Nigeria, in Africa, getting the back stories out into the sunlight. Don’t get it twisted, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being like TechCrunch, as long as you remember to be the TechCrunch of Africa.

Wherever global technology intersects with the local ecosystem, I’ll be there to cover it. But for now my primary assignment is here – to tell the stories that matter.

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