Google Chases African Mobile Information Market

Google, the Grameen Foundation and MTN Uganda have launched a new range of services for mobile phones in the East African nation of Uganda. Google SMS and Google Trader look to put the power of the Internet in the hands of people who have access to mobile phones with the ability to send and receive text messages.

Users are able to look up tips on farming, get weather forecasts, read up on health issues and, of course, get sports scores. But the most interesting development is the creation of an online marketplace with Google Trader. They hope to connect buyers and sellers electronically to create a more efficient marketplace for Ugandans.

The Grameen Foundation's AppLab produced a promotional video on how the services work:

Google says this is just another step in its drive to be a player in the evolving African market:

Like other countries in Africa where Google is starting to work, we want to reach a new set of users in Uganda and provide valuable services that address their needs. As the East African fiber optic cables begin to connect Uganda to the global Internet community, it is vital that the foundation for a thriving Internet economy also be established.

African tech observer Erik Hersman welcomed the news on his White African blog:

I'm actually quite impressed with this initiative, as it fits in perfectly with Grameen's mission: providing opportunity through the most basic of mobile phones. All of these services work on SMS-only phones, so anyone with a single bar of coverage and a phone has access to a lot of knowledge in their hands.

And that's the key feature of this approach to development: It takes advantage of the technology already in people's hands and extends it to the point where a simple device taps the power of the Internet.

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