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Webdev to launch a Facebook for Zimbabwe

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Webdev, the internet company behind Zimbabwe’s most successful online classifieds will be launching a social networking website in the coming weeks. So far the website is called simply Social but we’re told there may be a change of name. Visiting the website’s address on social.co.zw loads a ‘launching soon’ banner and some points about what the network will be:

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Social was first unveiled at the ZOL Startup Challenge in August this year. At the challenge the platform was pitched as Zimbabwe’s local Facebook. It’s more than a Facebook though. It has news, blogging, a question and answer platform, discussion and software downloads.

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We have had an opportunity to use Social and still have access to the testing version that’s not available to the public right now. Unfortunately we promised we wouldn’t speak much about what’s inside until it’s available to the public. The long and short of it is that it’s a social network based on some open source Joomla tools.

The one thing that feels great about the social network is that you know the people on it are all around you somewhere close by. It’s a place you can easily find new friends that you are able to meet in person afterwards, discuss issues that are happening around you, and maybe organize group meet-ups around certain interests.

We feel though WebDev could have used the coming soon page to invite interested users to the closed invite only version.

So far, the website doesn’t have a mobile version, and here Webdev might be making the same mistake they are making with their classifieds website. Ignoring mobile.

In our opinion, any internet application in Zimbabwe not only needs to have a mobile version but would do good to think mobile first. Some startups are even taking it further and thinking mobile only. Tengesa.com for example, recently launched a local classifieds site that’s mobile only. Next door in South Africa, MXit beat global social (and internet communication) networks by working mobile only. Without a mobile version, Webdev is excluding a large group of internet users, or at least making it hard for that group to use Social.

But this may not be a fatal mistake for Webdev. The company has many only advertising platforms to push its products. Outside the widely read online versions of Zimbabwe’s daily newspapers, the Webdev classifieds site is probably the most visited local website in Zimbabwe. Add to that the fact that Webdev’s adverts for their web properties are actually on all those newspaper websites, and Webdev has a very wide platform to push Social it might be difficult to fail where other local Facebooks have come and faded.


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20 thoughts on “Webdev to launch a Facebook for Zimbabwe

  1. hate to point it out, but merely putting up a default “launching soon” page and not following through with actually making the site unavailable for the public is unacceptable from such a big company with wealth of experience in web development. The social.co.zw site is available to anyone on: http://www.social.co.zw/index.php and they should do something about it lest it derails their testing! I actually registered as a new user..

  2. While I agree mobile is the way to go, it is still a tough decision on how to go mobile.  What do you target?

    – The lowest phone possible with USSD (very difficult getting a connection through the networks),

    – An ok phone with a browser (very diverse abilities on the phones so site would need to be very basic,  and hence not functional, or exclude a lot of handsets).

    – Smart phones with full html content (excludes a vast portion of the market).

    – Smart phone app (almost no one would have access to them and time consuming to write).

    In my opinion (not that I have much experience with mobile) the way to go is to make sure your current web pages are smart phone compatible, ie scale to the screen size etc.  And also release a majorly scaled back basic version for more basic phones eg for classifieds browse by category and post adds only.  If you want advanced features like proper posting, bulk uploading and advanced searching then use the web version.  At least this way the content is available to mobile and the more hardcore functionality is still available to web users.  It also lets the developers get to grips with mobile without trying to write a huge system from the start.

    1. think i agree with you here. the idea should be to open as many channels to the same thing as possible.

      further, i think the success of any network is its relevancy to the need for example why social and not facebook.

      another option perhaps may have to look first at integration entry eg with facebook for entry level marketing. then with addition of more “zimbabwean” needs draw away an bit of the focus to social and rendering facebook secondary by default. something like that.

  3. Also good luck to Webdev with this venture, from what little info there is out there it sounds like a fresh take on creating an online social site, certainly not a facebook clone.

  4. Don’t see any reason to bother with yet another social networking site. Everyone I need to contact is alrady on facebook, LinkedIn, or Skype, including all friends not in the country. With intergration between Skype and FB, and through my PC, my mobile, or any internet cafe, I don’t need a more limited service with fewer access options and more usernames and passwords to remember when I’m well serviced by another. Sorry, just seems a waste of time and I won’t be using it… I do wish them luck though.

    1. Thats you not every1 else, unodii kushandisa facebook chete kuzoenda kunana skype, linkedin ngenyi ngenyi hanty kutsvaga variety. Why be so negative?

  5. I am not sure about this. In 2000 we launched allzimbabwe.com and it was successful because it was new. The struggle was and always will be how to monetise the sites. I wish them success in  this because we all need Zimbos to truly embrace the internet.

  6. Reinventing an already reinvented and refined wheel.

    I hate to be critical but i really do not see the need for a new social network, especially one that already promises to be limited in it’s reach. Outside of Facebook, Orkut, Google+ and maybe one or two other full service common man social networks, most are bound to fail. The switch or even mere adoption of a new social network is becoming more difficult everyday.

    I know there is that whole ‘local browsing’ and ‘closer people’ argument but really the common guy couldn’t care less. Facebook is their internet. Most people don’t even understand the benefits of browsing a locally hosted site so only a few techies will appreciate all that. People go to Facebook because everyone is there, including especially their relatives in the diaspora. How does this site hope to attract the diaspora? With high costs of internet usage, chances are people will prefer one melting pot for all things social to engage both local and international friends, which would obviously be Facebook.

    Frankly speaking, the social network market is saturated. The only entry points remaining are niche markets. Find one social group you want to target and concentrate on that one. Get regular traffic in that niche group and expand from there not trying to tackle everything and win over everyone. Remember, if in your plan your customer is ‘anyone’, then you really don’t understand the market. WebDev should really get out of this habit of trying to do everything. I know you see opportunity here and there, but don’t do everything. Find your place and execute well. This ‘hub for everything’ approach is always difficult because in trying to balance out everything, nothing is perfected. And in this competitive market, we the users, prefer polished products not half-baked we-can-do-it-all type of stuff.

  7. I think the fact that this social network aims to serve a niche, local market is one of its strengths. The fact that the opinions, problems and solutions offered up for discussion within this network will be tailored to a local audience, cognisant of local issues, is greatly appealing. More and more people are compartmentalising their social networks and selves, using (for arguments’ sake) LinkedIn for business, Facebook for social, Twitter for news and so on, and I think social.co.zw could be a valuable addition to the mix. I love the idea of talking to someone local about a local issue, about putting my Zimbabwean hat on and cutting out all the noise of the other networks and having targeted and relevant discussions with people close-by.

    I, too, would have liked to have seen a testing phase opened up to a small group of interested people, and hope that mobile (or mobile-friendly at the very least) is part of Webdev’s undisclosed plans.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the execution of what I believe is a good idea.

  8. Its great that this new service is being introduced but I cant see how it will hold up against facebook. THe biggest drawback I predict will be the lack of international users. Most Zimbabweans have realtives/friends abroat, does social.co.zw expect my friends/clients that are not zimbabwean living abroad to subscribe, just so i can communicated to them on just “another” social site (facebook, twitter, linkedin)

    I agree @google-20648545a611feef740c126a9df235f4:disqus  “lets see how it goes”

  9. I think some may be missing the point. social is clearly targeting Zimbabweans, CLEARLY. so why would you need to compare it with facebook or twitter etc. with its limitations, it clearly focuses on the local circumstances thus conforming to its need for creation.

    what i am curious about is how all these products seem to get launched and we never hear about them except after research or now that i am on it techzim.co.zw? Product specs themselves are not sufficient.

    second thing i want to know is if there are particular government issues. am thinking of how liable the company becomes in circumstances involving national laws considering the Facebook comments that were used in some legal issue in Bulawayo.

  10. Following form some of the comments above, I do not think this will gain much traction.  One of the greatest appeals of Facebook or Google+ is that many of our friends and family in diaspora are already on those platforms.  Furthermore, the freedom of expression offered by a social network not within our borders is important, as we have already seen government ready to crack down on Zimbos for posts on facebook.  This would only be compounded by having a social network whose proprietors are subject to Zimbabwe’s laws.  This very fact would bring a sense of caution and trepidation to users.  Finally, while I mean no disrespect to Webdev, the quality of programming and sense of design is just not “there” yet.  What makes Facebook or Google+ so appealing (apart from what is stated above)?  The web 2.0 experience, the innovative nature, the clean and attractive design.  Looking at just the placeholder page gives me pause.  More than than, looking at any of the other websites that Webdev has made gives me pause.  Come on, Webdev… your design is so 2002!  Let’s get with the times!

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