Monthly Archives: July 2007

“I heard you’re working for a non-profit.”

Yes, I’m working for a non-profit. We’re working on making technology affordable to Beninese organizations. Why? Because no-one else is doing it yet and it’s something we’re both particularly good at.

How do websites get made in America? 1) The design and development are contracted out to web design firms who do either a) a bang-up job or b) a mediocre job and very rarely, c) a bad job. 2) In house personnel. Maybe the design’s already there. Maybe it gets put together by somebody’s neighbor’s kid. Maybe a college student needs some extra cash. Maybe the company hires someone to actually manage the site.

Attractive websites are affordable in the US.

How are websites maintained in America? IN HOUSE. In 2007, very few people are paying web developers to update their content. CMS’s are good enough that they simply don’t have to.

No one is paying someone else to update their own website.

How do websites get made in Benin? The design and development are contracted out to web design firms who a) do a mediocre job at BEST and b) charge a fortune.

How are websites maintained in Benin? Most often, 1) businesses pay a large fee for each and every change. Eventually, the fees are simply too much, and the website becomes stagnant. Occasionally, 2) businesses such as newspapers email daily updates to development firms as far away as Abidjan, paying expensive monthly contracts so that someone else can log-in to the CMS and copy-n-paste.

Add all that to the fact that there are exactly ZERO credit cards issued by Beninese banks (fraud issues, mostly), and even paying for hosting becomes a problem.

We’re trying to change all that.

Having a website is less and less of an option for businesses doing business across borders. It’s a requirement for doing business in the West. And even locally, having yourname@yourbusiness.com as an email address is far more credible than having yahoo or hotmail.

It should be easy and affordable to get online. How are we making it happen?

1) We are removing the hassle from the process. Instead of writing 10-15 page proposals, requiring pages of documentation on their part, and making content creation a hassle, we have a brochure that outlines our services and their costs. The organization picks the services they need (with advice from us, if necessary). Basic site design and most back-end modification is included in our basic services. We do a basic needs analysis, outline the content they’ll probably need that they haven’t yet thought of, and cheerfully wait for the content to trickle in.

Simple and there are only two pieces of paperwork: the brochure and the contract that details the process and the work.

2) We are honest about the process of creation. Web development isn’t magic. It isn’t actually even that difficult to satisfy most Beninese businesses and those that are difficult have interesting problems to solve. We’re slowly busting the myth that non-technicians can’t update their sites themselves. WordPress, Joomla, and Spip are all easy to use, especially since we took the time to write clear concise user guides.

3) Our prices are reasonable. If a business doesn’t need 1 Gb of space, why pay for it? If they only need 5 email addresses, why pay for a package with 1000? If an organization only needs to update once every six months, why pay for a CMS? Why not just pay us a small fee and not bother with the hassle?

If an organization just needs an online business card, the website doesn’t take months to put together. Even with a CMS, the plug-ins/ components/ what-have-you available today make adding functions easy. Our services are priced by how much human resources they take to create and how much material resources they take to maintain.

It’s been a slow start, but, as predicted, we’re satisfying a very real need. Our goal is to reach the small non-profits and businesses that could benefit from new technologies, but can’t afford it. Are we going to be successful? Good Lord, we hope so.

If you have more specific questions, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. If you’re interested in helping out, we could use designers who can churn out Photoshop mock-ups. Eventually, we will need programmers to do some more funky back-end stuff, so keep in touch. Even if we can’t use you today, tomorrow’s comin’ up soon. And of course, you can can check out our (French language) website at www.ongpeopleonline.org.

Yes, I have a sweet apartment.

And yes, there are pictures (or will be soon)! Second floor apartment. Three bedrooms, one and half baths. Enormous living room. Enormous kitchen (the biggest kitchen I’ve ever had, actually . . . ever). Balconies on two sides. Every room is tiled (which is a big deal here). And we even have water now (we didn’t for the first week )!!!

Wonderful airflow means we no longer turn on the fans. Ever. There’s air conditioning, but we haven’t turned it on yet (and probably never will . . . they suck power). We don’t have much furniture, not even a TV, so the place kinda looks like a dorm, but whatever. We’ll get our act together eventually.

Last weekend, we had friends and family over for some pate rouge (delicious tomato-y corn jello) and fried fish. People were a) amazed and astounded that I cooked it, albiet with a great deal of help from Bertrand and b) equally impressed by the fact that Bertrand and I are actually becoming adults.

Adults.

Yikes.

Yes, I am finished my Peace Corps service.

Indeed. I don’t really have much to say here, except that it’s been a wild ride, and I’d do it again in a second. If any of you ever have the chance, DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT.

I’ve learned more in two years than I thought possible; certainly I learned more than I managed to teach. The chance to see and do and meet and just . . . everything. You’ll never get an opportunity like this living comfortable yuppie lives in America. There’s nothing wrong with living a comfortable yuppie life, of course, but leaving it all isn’t nearly as hard as you think it is (and, believe it or not, the Peace Corps’ll let you use some of your readjustment allowance to settle credit card and student debt while you’re serving).

I’ve pushed my comfort zones further than they’ve ever been pushed before. I’ve had to work harder to just exist than I had work at my toughest, most interesting jobs back home. I wasn’t risk adverse before, and now . . . risk? What’s that?

At some point, I might write a retrospective, but I don’t feel like anything’s really ending right now. I’m staying in Benin. I’m starting a non-profit with the insane goal of changing the way Benin sees and uses information and communication technologies.

It’s incredibly exciting, and it feels far less like an ending than a beginning.

Yes, I am engaged.

I apologize for the lack of personal emails, but internet is expensive and if I’m at the cybercafé, usually I’m working. Anyway, it wasn’t terribly romantic, but it got the job done.

No, being engaged here isn’t the same as being engaged in the States. Bertrand had no idea how important it was that he actually ask. We’re living together, which, in the eyes of everyone in Benin, means that we’re married anyway. So the ceremony is just a formality, whereas for me, these steps are HUGE and IMPORTANT and DISTINCT.

So that confusion’s cleared up now too. Haha.