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The African and South African blogosphere

11 April 2007

Tanzanian blogger Ndesanjo Macha gives a summary of the buzz around the launch of Amatomu, South Africa’s answer to Technorati. If anyone wants to know what Amatomu is and how it started, and what the response has been, read this article.

Amatomu is supposed to be for South African blogs, and I wonder how it will be kept that way. But there is also a need for a continental approach, rather than just a single country, and Afrigator has been started to meet that need.These are exciting developments, and I hope all African bloggers will register with Afrigator just as I hope that all South African bloggers will link to Amatomu, though I’m not sure whether they will be able to. There are quite a number of South African bloggers on 24.com, but I have seen none of them on Amatomu or Afrigator yet. Perhaps that is because 24.com is a closed system.

One of the points noted about Amatomu, however, is that South Africa seems to have far fewer political blogs than, say, the USA, and this occasioned some surprise. Now the USA has a far larger blogging population than South Africa, or even Africa as a whole, and so one would expect to find far more blogs on any given subject, including politics, than one would find in South Africa.

Having said that, however, I think that there is a cultural difference. My impression of US political blogs is that they seem to be far more vehemently partisan than those in other countries, which is somewhat surprising, considering how little difference there is between their two main political parties. American bloggers and other internet communicators, for example, get worked up about issues like abortion, saying that one should vote for this party because it opposes it, or the other because it supports it, and proclaims the absolute moral turpitude of voting for a party that promotes child-culling on a grand scale, or, on the other hand, for a bunch of fascists who are determined to trample on women’s right to choose, and yet neither party seems to have done much about this when it has been power, one way or the other. So why all the over-the-top political rhetoric on American blogs?

We in South Africa are much more laid-back in comparison.

But what I do find about South African blogs, as revealed by Amatomu, is that they seem to be far more heavily weighted to the tech-geek-marketing side of the spectrum. South African bloggers seem to have a much higher proportion of people who like playing with electronic gadgets for their own sake, and those who are out to sell you something, and their blogs reflect these interests.

But this has always been the case.

Back in the early 1990s, when the Internet was confined to academia, there were dialup BBS (Bulletin Board Service) networks like Fidonet and FamilyNet, and the BBSs were largely run by tech geeks, who referred to the technical discussion forums as “useful stuff”, and the rest was seen as a kind of optional fluff. In the USA and Europe there were lots of BBSs that specialised in topics like genealogy. Yes, the sysops (system operators) had a smattering of technical computer knowledge — enough to set up a BBS and maintain it — but they were not using computers to communicate about communicating with computers, but they were using computers to communicate about other things.

But not in South Africa! In South Africa the genealogy forums were piggybacked on BBSs run by tech geeks, who did not regard them as “useful stuff”. And in that respect, nothing has changed. It seems to me that 2 out of 3 blogs on Amatomu are by and about tech-geek stuff. And, as I have noted elsewhere, most of them are by people who are pale and male. Yes, there are female bloggers in South Africa. You will find many of them over on 24.com, but most of them don’t show up on Amatomu.

I don’t have statistics to prove all this stuff, of course. Most of it is just impressions. I’m not pining for acrimonious political blogs like the American ones. But I would like to see some variety, and perhaps more discussion of social and development issues, or public health, policing, housing, moral regeneration, education and so on. Blogs are not perhaps the best medium for debating this. It’s a bit like one person on a soap box spouting, and then allowing questions and comments afterwards. I prefer the many-to-many format of the BBS conferences, which can still be found in newsgroups like soc.culture.south-africa or za.politics, except that the people who should be debating there are not doing so.

As for my own interests, I use the “tag surfer” feature of WordPress to look for blog posts I’m interested in. The tags I look for are “orthodoxy”, “missiology” and “South Africa” — and I find very few of the first two on South African blogs.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 11 April 2007 8:43 pm

    Steve, I understand how it would be nicer to have more non-tech blogs on the different aggregators. As is normally the case, the tech guys are the first-movers and it takes a couple years for the “main stream” bloggers to follow. If anyone can make a platform that is usable and useful for mobile phones, I think that will really open up the floodgates on non-tech user-generated content in Africa.

  2. 11 April 2007 8:54 pm

    Again, no statistics to prove this, but my impression:
    Most bloggers in South Africa will be pale (white), because they still have the most money and contact with technology, and therefore use internet more. Of these white people, many are Afrikaans. But Afrikaans people do not talk politics. Yes, they rant on about De La Rey and the ANC and whatever whatever. But Afrikaans people do not know what is really going on in South African politics, and do not care to talk about it.

  3. 11 April 2007 8:58 pm

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound as though the tech guys shouldn’t be blogging! In the BBS scene, most of the BBSs were run by tech guys, and what was a hobby for them became a useful service for opther people. My gripe was that in South Africa not enough people were making use of the service. And that’s still the case.

    It’s perhaps a cultural difference between, say, SA and the USA.

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