Afrigator provides view on African happenings from a blogger’s viewpoint
AFRIGATOR – the African-focused social media aggregator – is a business that almost wasn’t. MD Justin Hartman says that just a few weeks into creating the service 18 months ago, the Mail & Guardian launched Amatomu – which provides a very similar service – taking blog entries from South African writers and collating them on a single site.
“At this point we needed to make a decision whether to push forward or to give up,” Hartman says. “After considering our options we decided instead of simply providing an aggregation of South African content
that would have had us competing head-to-head with Amatomu, we would broaden our scope to include all African bloggers.”
That decision proved to be the winning formula for Afrigator, which was then more of a sideline project by a few web enthusiasts rather than a real company. Hartman isn’t concerned the company started life without any clear business plan, saying that if it had been looking to make money from day one, it would in all likelihood have failed. “For us it was more about filling a need that we, as web users, had encountered in the SA market and not really about building a sustainable business.”
Started by Hartman and Mike Stopforth, CEO of consulting firm Cerebra, the idea was to provide a more focused version of the international site called Technorati, delivering a place where people interested in reading communitygenerated content would be able to find blog entries that would otherwise be almost impossible to locate.
The problem was there are roughly 300m blogs on the Internet and only between 20 000 and 30 000 African bloggers. That means on a global scale it’s next to impossible for an Africa blogger to obtain any kind of exposure.
Hartman notes there’s a difference between the kinds of content generated in SA as opposed to that emanating from the rest of Africa. South African content tends to be focused on technology, entertainment or personal issues, while content from the rest of the continent is overwhelmingly political by nature.
Because all contributors to the site were doing that in their spare time and funding the operating costs themselves, the service’s success came as a bit of a surprise to Hartman and Stopforth and meant they had to re-evaluate how to take it forward. “At that point we stopped thinking of it as a hobby we were doing for the good of the community in our spare time and started working out how to create a business model for the service,” Hartman says.
At year-end 2007 Hartman was approached by MIH Print Africa, which proposed it should acquire Afrigator. The deal went through in September this year, with MIH acquiring 75% of the company. That allowed Hartman and other members of the team to quit their day jobs and move on to Afrigator full-time, including a move to Cape Town.
Hartman says there are two components to the revenue model it’s following. First, the traditional advertising model, which currently forms a part of almost every web business. However, he says there’s an additional opportunity to create revenue from extracting value from the data its service collects from those who use it.
While Hartman wouldn’t disclose Afrigator’s revenue expectations, he says it’s set aggressive growth targets for next year, including growing its user base from around 10 000 to 60 000 – something Hartman says is well within reach.
The key challenge Afrigator faces is to transfer what’s primarily an Internet service to one easily usable from a mobile device. Hartman says the problem is that many cellphones in use throughout Africa currently have only the most basic functionality, so using them to access content is next to impossible.
Incorporating social media (such as video) is another challenge Afrigator has yet to face. Hartman says the use of websites – such as YouTube and Zoopy – to share video is increasing at a massive rate. “When we started cataloguing video in November last year, we had 35 videos. In October this year there were 10 000 new videos added by users in Africa.”
More about filling a need in market. Justin Hartman