I was very glad to find out that Kariobangi was nominated by the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) as “Best Business Blog” for 2013. Thanks heaps to the readers who voted me and to BAKE for organizing this. The full list of nominees is here. If you enjoyed reading my posts, you can vote for Kariobangi blog here.
When Eastern Europe opened up, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Prague looked like it had been sealed up in a bubble since 1948.
Google Reader isn’t communist Russia, obviously, duh — but it’s a similar pattern. There was one gigantic player and a bunch of satellites, and RSS readers more-or-less looked like it was still 2006.
Not that there wasn’t any innovation — there was some — but it’s been pretty quiet, especially compared to the several years before 2006.
RSS the format has remained as useful and cool as ever, but RSS readers haven’t done so well.
My hope — my expectation, even — is that a few things will turn this around:
- The end of Google Reader takes away that one dominant player. The market for RSS readers is no longer frozen — and it will interest more developers than it has in recent years.
- Over-reach by Twitter and its diminishing user experience makes people interested in other ways of finding good stuff to read.
- The lower costs of server-side development and deployment brings creating RSS services within reach of smaller companies.
Over the last month, my time has been split between an exciting new project on SME financing in Kenya and an (even-more-exciting) immersion in African fiction literature. Blame my lack of blogging on Ngozi Adichie, Coetzee, Ngugi wa Thiang’o and the great poetry-reading events organized by Kwani? in downtown Nairobi.
Reading all these great books made me wonder why there are so few internationally acclaimed African writers out there. But I came across an even more important issue: why do African writers have to rely (almost entirely) on an international readership for their success? According to Zimbabwean writer Tendai Huchu, this is the central problem facing African literature today:
the hard reality is that for all the African writers out there, there are probably a handful of African readers. That for me is the crux of the problem with African Literature today, and I say this as a writer who sold more books in two months in Germany than I sold in two years in my native Zimbabwe.
It is not the writers but the readers who ultimately interpret and decide how valuable any brand of literature is. The truth is that western readers are crucial for any African writer who is looking for success today, and it is inevitable that the west will continue to determine the value and worth of literature from the African continent. As such this literature will continue to be judged and valued by western perceptions. The most prominent African writers today are those with a large readership outside of the continent, Teju Cole, Chimamanda Adichie, Irene Sabatini, Ben Okri and even the firebrand Binyavanga Wainaina all have a large following outside the continent and benefit from publicity in the Western media. As embarrassing as it is to admit, the simple fact is that whether or not the continent can produce millions of writers, it will not amount to anything until we actually have African Readers, African Readers who will ultimately determine the value of our continent’s literary output, if it is to continue as something beyond some exotic curiosity.
I am no expert in this field, but I think that poverty and other socio-economic factors explain why there are so few readers in the continent. But let me focus on another issue: most people I know read less than they would like to – this means that a potential demand for books does not materialize. Often people blame a “lack of time” as their main problem. But I believe that the real issue is different: many people (also among those with a higher education) perceive reading as a daunting experience.
Until a few years ago, I definitely belonged to this group. My reading was painfully slow (I’m not a native English speaker, but that was not the only reason), I used to lose concentration easily and it seemed impossible to find time for more than 9 or 10 books per year. Then, thanks to Daniel Pennac, ebooks and speed-reading, the situation changed for the better.
When I came across Daniel Pennac’s “Reader’s Bill of Rights” a few years ago, I enjoyed the idea of complete freedom in the way I read books. In “Better than Life” Pennac outlines 10 rights that most readers often forget:
- The right to not read.
- The right to skip pages.
- The right to not finish.
- The right to reread.
- The right to read anything.
- The right to escapism.
- The right to read anywhere.
- The right to browse.
- The right to read out loud.
- The right to not defend your tastes.
(If you want to know more about The Reader’s Bill of Rights and its criticism, check out this interesting essay.)
Getting used to electronic books helped out as well. It took me a couple of months to start enjoying my Kindle when I first bought it, probably even more, but it eventually became my favorite device, way more exciting than any tablet or smart-phone could ever be. Having access to a huge number of books at any time in highly readable format (with a built-in dictionary) is just awesome. That might be why readers of e-books read an average of 10 books more per year than readers of print books. (though, someone might argue that there’s a self-selection bias)
But the real kick arrived when a friend introduced me to a book on speed reading. I read only half of the book (I skipped all the advanced techniques) and I exercised on the basic tricks for two or three weeks –my reading pace increased by over 100 percent, eventually even more. I wouldn’t call myself a speed-reader yet –apparently Roosevelt was able to read a book every day before breakfast – but reading fiction has become much faster and much more enjoyable. I really wonder why do school systems (at least the ones I know of) teach kids to read when they are 6 or 7 years-old, and basically never after that? Isn’t this one of the most important, if not the most important skill a young person can learn?
I was very happy to see that many of my favourite international development blogs have published their end-of-the-year blog statistics (i.e. number of views, number of regular readers, most popular posts, etc). Though, looking at these numbers can be daunting for new bloggers who struggle to go beyond zero views per day. So, in order to cheer up all of us new bloggers I have decided to publish the Kariobangi Blog statistics. Though, before laughing, please remember that Kariobangi is only a little more than 2 months old!
So.. the number of views is … 297 .. which makes it an average of 4.2 views per day. I know that the number is very small, but I am happy considering that I have started posting only at the end of October 2011 and parts of the blog are still under construction. I would like to thank all the people who visited Kariobangi and I encourage you to continue commenting and sharing.
Here are the 2011 stats of more popular development blogs (at least the ones that I follow):
TOTAL VIEWS IN 2011:
Chris Blattman blog: 857,833
A View from the Cave: 75,959
Marc Bellemare: 29,911
Haba na Haba: 25,118
And here’s a pretty histogram of the average daily views:
I know, I have a long way to go! Let me know if I forgot to mention other blogs (which have shared their statistics), and I will update the graph.
In terms of plans for 2012, I will try to increase the number of weekly posts and to build a new section entirely dedicated to the businesses operating in Kariobangi. The idea is to show the products made in the area, the spaces where people work and their stories. Entrepreneurs always ask me to do some positive marketing of the area (and free of charge). I’ll have to think a smart way of doing it. Suggestions are welcome!