Blackberry: Is the fruit rotting?

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I took a blogging ‘summer holiday.’ But hopefully I am back at just the right time. As I type these words, gunmen are still holed up in a Nairobi Mall in Kenya exchanging fire with the Kenyan Defence Force and confirmed and unconfirmed reports filter in from the North-East of Nigeria as Boko Haram militants continue their, now attritious war, with the Nigerian Army.

But for many young people across these climes, especially the social media savvy type, the biggest news of the week is how to download the iOS 7 and the BBM for Android and iOS. Blackberry, taking a huge hit in the Smartphone market and suffering a slow death, has made its flagship chatting application ‘cross platform.’  Cross platform here does not include Nokia’s Window’s Mobile, meaning that Blackberry thinks Nokia should go back to making bicycles for Finns.

Though the stats continuously indicate that Blackberry is no more a ‘cool’ device to have in the rest of the world, the Canadian firm, formerly known as Research in Motion (RIM), has still got plenty of momentum in Africa, especially Nigeria, where BB, as they are affectionately termed, still sells bucket loads. New ones and huge amount of used ones too as all the abandoned Blackberries from Europe make their way here. A combination of cheap internet via the Blackberry Internet Service (BIS) and its use a a fashionable accessory has driven this, obviously ‘against the market trend,’ and at the height of the ‘Blackberry madness,’ lynching of Blackberry thieves and a Nollywood film titled Blackberry Babes were the hallmarks.

Still popular and entrenched in Nigerian Pop Culture, social scientists, media watchers and tech geeks are all watching to see, if, and when, the Blackberry will change from uber-cool to unwanted now that the mother company is adrift and the BBM (ubiquitous, must-have, social media tool) is available on Android and iOS. The Blackberry has driven the social media interaction in Nigeria helping tens of millions of young people become active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc and communicate with each other, affect the outcome of a presidential election, sound the death knell for print media in the country, lead a successful ‘occupy’ protest against fuel subsidies and of course spread innumerable rumours and misinformation.

Blackberry activists are geared up again, ready to use the platform to mobilize and engage citizens for protests against the national assembly this September. In the wake of celebrations marking fifty years of the March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights brass of the day, it is a remarkable indicator of progress in technological development that, while King and his people wrote letters and trudged from door-to-door, today letters are typed on keypads and thousands respond.

So while my heart goes out to the carnage in Kenya and Borno and of man’s inhumanity to man worldwide, and while you search for a link to download BBM for Google’s Android, cast a thought for Google’s motto: Do no Evil.

@sirwebs.

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Twitter Nigeria: Seven years on

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Just as Twitter celebrated its seventh year last week by reeling out amazing numbers of subscribers, Twitter Nigeria marked the week with a show of robustness evident in the world-wide trending of the hilarious tweet fight between us and Kenya. Twitter might be 7 years old (established March 21, 2006), and Nigeria a somewhat late adopter but its popularity and influence is on the rise with each passing day that it is foolhardy for anybody to ignore it. In the Nigerian social media sphere, Facebook certainly still has the numbers but Twitter is now the pulse of the nation.

Twitter was set up 7 years ago by Jack Dorsey and his pals at Odeo. It did not have the classic start-up tradition of an Ivy League university campus or dad’s garage; instead it stole in under the limelight – just an SMS service to communicate to a closed group of people. Slowly but surely, the numbers kept rising until Twitter became the bane of governments, inspiring revolutions across the middle east, redefining social engagements, changing the face of PR and marketing, spawning the era of self-promotion, affecting diplomatic entente, empowering the middle class, agitating the ruling class and re-energizing social media all in 140 characters.

Like I said earlier, Twitter was slow in gaining popularity in Nigeria. A combination of low internet penetration in the mid to late 2000s, the supremacy of Facebook and the initial difficulty of mastering Twitter by first timers were the probable causes. But times have changed. The ubiquity of smart phones and Blackberrys, cheaper internet access and the fad culture has turned Nigeria into a “Twittering” giant. But most importantly, the Arab Spring, fueled by Twitter and Facebook, inspired Nigerians to stage a Twitter propelled Fuel Subsidy removal revolt and bring Twitter to the big party.

Before the Fuel Subsidy demonstrations of January, 2012, Twitter was gaining followers across the nation as an alternative to Facebook. But the subsidy demonstrations was like a shot in the arm as citizens, especially young people, sought to follow proceedings even after the nation had been shut down by labour strikes. The flexibility and immediacy of dissent in 140 characters was both refreshing and unique and the platform saw a surge in numbers. Since then the Nigerian Twitter space has become emboldened with arm chair critics, keyboard pundits, self-appointed ombudsmen, political “twitternauts,” government propagandists, customer care handles, egotistic celebrities, comedians, opinionated bloggers (read me), “wannabee” teenagers, the good folks who beat Kenya in that Tweet fight and an ever ranting Odemwingie.

The Nigerian Twitter space has moved from the margins to centre spread. It now dictates the agenda, has become a certain kind of “gallup poll” or vox populi if you like, and is now the number one destination for news. No wonder a couple of weeks ago, Google shut down its RSS services. When Goodluck Jonathan won the presidential elections in 2011, his Facebook page was the centre of his social media campaign; today Twitter is, as his media specialists battle opinions, ideas and opponents with active Twitter handles. The preeminence of Twitter was established last week when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to summon the US envoy to explain certain Tweets which the government found inappropriate. The meanness of Twitter was exposed a fortnight ago when the careless gaffe of the Lagos Commandant of the civil defence corps led to him being unashamedly pilloried.

On Twitter there is a saying that while Facebook is like a little town where everyone knows each other, Twitter is like New York, the big, crowded city, where to make it, ‘you gotta work hard.’ Twitter Nigeria is a cerebral sphere. The conversation is intelligent and meaningful. Yes, divisions are still evident. But the pulse is of a young, proud demographic, frustrated with the pace of progress, yet fiercely protective of the motherland. Ask the Kenyans.

Archimedes once said, “Give me a point to stand on and I’ll move the earth.” I say, just 140 characters, sir.

@sirwebs