What ever happened to Mxit?

Michael Jordaan – new Mxit Chairman Image Source: blog.mxit.com
Michael Jordaan – new Mxit Chairman
Image Source: blog.mxit.com

Well, for starters, it’s still alive and kicking.

A week ago, Mxit announced that Michael Jordaan (not the basketball legend, but the former CEO of FNB), had been appointed as the new Chairman of Mxit. This is quite an interesting development considering that Jordaan is the man largely responsible for steering FNB into the most innovative bank in the world. It may thus appear that Jordaan (and all the others who continue investing heavily into Mxit) see some potential that most of us here in Zimbabwe just don’t. Or maybe I’m just uninformed as to how much Mxit is used in Zimbabwe.

Mxit was the largest social network in South Africa, until it was overtaken by Facebook some time ago. Somehow though, Mxit stubbornly refuses to sink into oblivion like most other social networks that disappear as quickly as they appear, and continues to come up with innovative offerings on their platform. For example, they have innovations like the Mxit Maths tutor and the programming app to teach programming concepts to learners without access to computers, and these (among many others) continue giving Mxit an edge of competitors.


In light of these developments and innovations, I have tried to briefly compile a couple of insights that I gleaned from Mxit’s experiences and its apparent resilience when many other social networks are failing:

  1. If you’re developing an app, sometimes a streamlined approach works better than providing a full suite of functionality, and vice versa. The key thing is to always keep your ear on the pulse of your market to figure out what works and what does not. The Mxit platform is a whole ecosystem on its own – with a slew of apps, games, its own currency and a full-featured marketplace. To be frank, this is probably the major reason why I stopped using Mxit. I do not like the “clutter” and would rather prefer something like whatsapp, which serves just one purpose and does it well. However, I also realise that Mxit’s continued survival and mass appeal can be attributed to this one-stop shop feature – there’s something for everybody.
  2. Contrary to what us tech-savvy people may think, the majority of Africans (and Zimbabweans) do not have access to smartphones or unlimited broadband. A significantly large proportion of individuals use feature phones and non-3G enabled phones. Mxit’s strategy targeted this particular demographic with their app being available for even the most basic internet-capable phone. I believe this is part of the reason for their success in developing markets across Africa and India.
  3. Develop apps that solve problems in your social context. We may be tempted to think that Mxit failed because of its low uptake in Zimbabwe (based on my estimates), but it’s been very successful in South Africa, where it solves real South African socio-economic problems. For example, rape victims can anonymously get counselling from trained counsellors on Mxit, safe from the comfort of their phones.
  4. Social media and mobile technology can be positively used to impact cultures and environments beyond just social connectivity. Mxit is being used at the forefront of mobile learning (m-learning) with its impact in classrooms especially felt across South Africa.

I believe the Zimbabwean landscape is ripe for more engagement in the mobile space. Imagine the Ministry of Education or Zimsec engaging with learners and teachers on mobile platforms, or learners getting help with their homework on social media. Lessons from Mxit show us there’s more to social network than just chatting, and Zimbabwean developers should venture more into this space with more home-grown solutions.

In closing, I don’t know how many of you still use Mxit, but if you do, let us know in the comments. And if you don’t, also let us know why not and what alternatives you prefer.

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