Category Archives: People Online

Back to work!

Client sends email late on Christmas Eve. Client is angry when, at 8am on the 26th, his seventh round of revision requests isn’t integrated yet.

People Online works on a fixed rate system because local businesses don’t trust us to be honest about reporting our hours. And we like it that way. Not having to keep track of hours means not having to keep track of our designers’ hours. It means not having to worry non-billable work. It means not having to argue with clients that yes, the two hours they kept us waiting for a ten minute meeting will, in fact, cost them money.

However.

Mornings like this one make me pull my hair out.

BarCampGhana

We think we’re going to BarCampGhana.  One of the most frustrating things about the work we’re doing here in Benin is the lack of connections between IT workers.  Enter BarCamp.  A great opportunity to meet people, meet bloggers, and just see what’s going on in the rest of West Africa, or at least, Ghana.

On holding a press conference here in Benin

A few weeks ago, ONG People Online (my NGO) held its first press conference. To be more precise, one of the newspapers with whom we work held the press conference to launch their new site.

First, realize that despite Benin’s high ranking on scales that measure the freedom of their press, the press in Benin is neither free as in libre nor free as in beer. A few days before the conference, the newspaper sent out letters of invitation to the other major press organs of Cotonou, including the national TV and radio stations.

The day of the conference arrived, and we set-up in a conference room in my old work partner’s building, where the newspaper rents its offices. After several disasters, including no space, a filthy room, no power, and no internet connection, Bertrand and I were able to set-up the room, plug in our laptops, and test our video projector. The video projector didn’t work either. We were, however, finally able to get our Internet connection working. An hour after we were supposed to start, the television crew finally showed up.

Bertrand gave a speech. I presented the site. The paper’s editor gave a speech. There were three questions, only one of which was relevant. We thanked everyone, then gave out Cokes and sandwiches (food is obligatory at these sorts of things, apparently).

Turns out, before the reporters left, they had to collect their “per diem”. Their what?!?!?. That’s right. “To cover the costs of transportation.” Later, we learned that if you don’t pay the journalists, they won’t copy and paste your press materials into an article for their newspaper. In fact, for *any* news event, journalists receive a hefty “honoraria” just to do their jobs.

We were in all the newspapers, on several radio stations, and on TV. Only the paper hosting the event will be able to tell if it was worth it or not.

“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.