Making information universally accessible
TAR: What are the pillars of Google’s expansion strategy on the continent? Google’s business is predicated on its original mission, which is to provide relevant information to people as and when they need it, to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible. But in South Africa and the rest of Africa, obviously there are a whole bunch of infrastructural challenges, there are pricing issues around devices and data. Would you say Google’s main goal in Africa is to grow its audience? So that’s probably the most important thing, but let’s take one step beyond that. One of the things that we’re also saying is that growing audiences is important but there is a basic digital literacy problem. What’s happening in Africa is that people are going straight to mobile phones, and it’s not the best experience. It’s not as intuitive as it could be. So you actually find that there’s a lot of work to be done around basic digital literacy skills. We’ve launched a programme last year to address this. We made a commitment to train one million Africans face-to-face. Who do you see as your biggest competitors on the continent? People who spend a lot of time online are going to be doing lots of different types of things – whether it’s watching videos, messaging, social media – and it’s not [only] about that online experience: people watch terrestrial television. So if you think about the entire media landscape, it’s a highly competitive landscape with everyone competing for the time and attention that is limited to the 24 hours you have in a day. From that perspective, I think the competitive environment is actually very rich. People will still read a newspaper in a lot of environments; in South Africa radio is an old-fashioned medium and it’s actually growing very fast. Interview by M.A.