Attending the AfricaCodeCamp

This last Sunday was the first of what will hopefully be more AfricaCodeCamps. While a Sunday isn’t probably the best day in the world to hold a barcamp event (especially during the last weekend of warm weather in San Francisco) the attendance wasn’t bad. In some ways, I prefer the fact that there was a smaller group. I’ve been to some whopping big barcamps where the sessions have 20 people and honestly, you don’t have very good discussions. There are maybe four or five people dominating while everyone else becomes a spectator. But when the sessions are only made up of five people, then you can actually get something out of it as everyone is usually a participant.

Anyways, enough about barcamp structure. The sessions turned out to be quite interesting. Going in to the camp, I really had no idea how things were going to turn out as this was directed at those who are African developers or those coding for African projects. These are kind of separate things and it remained to be seen how they would merge. It turns out that they mixed just fine since design principles for African development or an African approach to a problem prove to be solid for any application whether it be just for Africa or the world at large.

Multilingualism

For instance, there was a multilingual session, which just a year ago would probably have been wasted on an audience in the US. But these days, with a saturated, depressed market in the US, companies are being forced in to having their sites accessible in multiple languages in order to continue growing. I talked about Maneno and what we’re doing here, which is definitely directed towards a solving the problem of cross-communication on a continent with 2,000 languages. But as it turns out, both Facebook (for some time) and Twitter (lightly for now) see the potential in this as well and there is a lot to be learned from these all these platforms. It was definitely a rewarding session as I got to see some new developments that are going to rock once released.

Coworking

This was a cool discussion as well. Coworking spaces in Africa. How are they growing? How can they grow? How can they follow the model in the US and Europe? How can they diverge? Obviously, there is the limited view by some people of, “How can an African afford to pay for internet?” Anyone who has actually been to Africa knows that where internet is available, the spaces are packed. So, it’s not a question of “Can coworking happen in Africa?” but more, “How can what is there already be improved upon or made sustainable?” As I noted while in Ghana, coworking exists, but in slightly different capacity.

There are many ideas that came out of this discussion. For starters, there is the issue of cost and if you can get a subscription model for a space to be about $0.50 USD an hour, people will be able to afford it. Also, there is the idea of having coworkers work off their time spent in order to drive down the costs of maintaining the space, but to also give a sense of ownership to the community. Lastly, it seems that having a cafe model to it not only helps the revenue stream of the space (as seen in other spaces, such as La Cantine in Paris or Busy Internet in Accra) but it also makes the space more of a social hub and less of just a place to go and check your Facebook.

Tropically Tolerant Designs

This was a group session for everyone at the end of the day and covered a huge stretch of topics which were all under the umbrella of the fact that if you build something for the harshest conditions, then in ideal conditions it’s going to work the best. While I thought it just a catchy title at first, Henry’s suggestion actually worked amazingly well to merge together everything we had been talking about. There’s a much larger and more important article that I want to write about this shortly, but it was a wonderfully engaging talk about how we often take a great many things for granted when designing applications in the US or Europe. Things like continuously stable connections or broadband don’t exist anywhere and even if they’re not a problem, then latency is.

It’s very easy in discussions like this to focus on everything that’s broken with the infrastructure, because really, there’s a lot, which is slowing improving. Of course, these types of discussions do no one any good really as what needs to happen are discussions that lead to problem solving around these obstacles. I think Henry did a good job in keeping the group focused much more on that and it’s probably one of the more productive sessions I’ve been to at a barcamp and some really great ideas were tossed around (like fault tolerance, timeouts, redundantly chaining JavaScript.) It was actually so productive that we all agreed to contribute to a wiki and put the talks to text in the near future. I hope it comes about because while there are some talks about various subjects and general guidelines, there are very solutions that actually get offered up.

Other Sessions

There were two other sessions I missed out on which included Intellectual Property issues and mobile development. I hope that someone will write further about these and let me know as the groups in them seemed quite engaged.

Conclusion

I had a great day. Like I said earlier, while it was a small turnout, the group was nicely focused and we’re looking to do another one in a few months, so let’s hope that happens and gains even more momentum as there are a lot of great things that come out of these talks.