I have finally experienced tribalism – now I’m a full Nigerian

In the few decades of my adult existence, living in Nigeria, I had never experienced discrimination on account of my tribe. I heard other people speak about this, I knew “tribalism” existed, but never experienced it. Until Sunday, June 5, 2016.

I was at the Abuja airport, returning to Lagos, from what had been the most exciting adventure, touring Northern Nigeria. This trip had taken me through Zamfara, Sokoto, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi and Kogi. For the past year, I had been actively seeking out reasons and opportunities to travel the North. The primary reason for my trips had been to visit the oft unseen places in the North, and show these to the rest of our country. The North has some of the most beautiful places in Nigeria, and as with every trip I’d since taken, I was excited by the prospect of sharing my adventure.

Baobab Tree, near Gusau, Zamfara
Baobab Tree, near Gusau, Zamfara

On this trip, I was with my older brother, who’d never traveled North, past Abuja, and he had been as excited as I was through this entire trip.

But first, we needed to catch a flight back to Lagos. I’d attempted to book a flight earlier, but Arik conspired with Interswitch to thwart my efforts. So we decided to get the next available fight at the airport, and were lucky enough catch a Dana flight for 2.05pm. Of course the check in was last minute.

As it neared my turn to check in, I asked my brother, who was standing a few feet away, to pass his ID, as I was on the line and he was waiting on the side. We were both on the same itinerary, but I understood how that might look, so I explained to my neighbours on the queue that my brother is indeed my brother, and showed the booking ticket, that we were on the same itinerary.

That’s when an older gentleman wearing a kaftan and hausa cap behind me, started demanding loudly why I would check someone else in. I explained again, calmly, that we were on the same ticket (showing the ticket to him), so it doesn’t really matter. I just needed his ID. That explanation wasn’t good enough. The gentleman asked angrily why I didn’t take permission from him before I tried to check-in my brother.

At this point, I was a little bemused, so I explained, calmly again, that we were on the same itinerary. Then I added, that I didn’t have to take permission from him to take my brother’s ID, for many reasons, especially because he is not my father. The gentleman’s response, this time, filled with a deep, angry disdain, was “I cannot be your father. How can I, a Hausa man, father an Igbo like you”.

My first response was that I’m not Igbo. That was a moment before I realised the import of the man’s message. The disdain with which he spoke was so shocking, I lost my voice momentarily.

A man about my age had been standing next to me, and had seen the entire episode. He disagreed loudly that it doesn’t matter where I came from, this man should not have said what he said, as we were Nigerians. But the man went on to say emphatically, that a great Hausa man like him could have nothing to do with someone less than him.  And that he’s said it, and felt no regret.

In the time I spent trying to get my boarding pass, and when we went to the aircraft, I kept wanting to go over to that gentleman, to tell him how much of a disgrace he is to this nation, but I couldn’t find the words. I was too ashamed for him.

Cattle grazing along Numan - Gombe Road, Gombe
Cattle grazing along Numan – Gombe Road, Gombe

In the last year, since I started traveling the North, I’ve met thousands of people – state governors, emirs and district heads, local farmers, cattle herders, Christians, Muslims and children of all ages. Not one of those people ever resented me, or showed a hint of hostility. Everywhere I have been, from Borno to Zamfara, from farming villages to urban towns, I’ve been met with smiles and open arms. It took a well dressed, educated man to teach me that the mad people in this country aren’t all roaming the streets. Some of them are well dressed, and sometimes, you meet them at airports.

Our flight was delayed for a while to get the late passengers on. One of them was our friend, the “Hausa man”. I don’t know if he had seen us, but he took a seat two rows in front of us. Beside him was a little boy, his son. Through the course of our flight, I kept wondering what kind of father this man was. He seemed a decent father to his son, and shared his headphones with him, which told me they had a good relationship. But the temptation in me just couldn’t go away, to go tell that child “Kid, your dad must be a decent dad, but he’s a bigoted, disgraceful Nigerian. Please don’t grow up to be like him.”

But I could not. I failed.

Fellow Nigerians, You shall not fly!!!

Gandalf

I’m guessing it’s no longer news that the Nigerian Civi Aviation Agency (NCAA) has decided to stick the middle finger at anyone foolish enough to think that they could join the rest of the world in the drone innovation thing. Forget that some of us think drones will rule the world in the next decade, the NCAA says you cannot fly, and you shall not fly.

I took a quick sample and counted a grand total of zero people surprised by the NCAA’s action. But I still think it’s actually a grand joke, and someone from NCAA will eventually come out to scream “You all got punked!”. But let’s assume they’re actually serious – what could it mean for innovation?

The first thing we noticed about the NCAA’s statement is that there is actually no classification for what it was banning. All remote controlled aerial flights were banned “fellow Nigerians” style.

ABACHA

Over the last year, Anakle Labs has invested significant resources in UAV research. Part of our research has included funding young university students who were building drone applications for their final year research. One of the ideas we had at the lab was building a drone which could fly between blood banks and hospitals in remote areas or congested cities, to deliver emergency blood and medicine. One of the young people we funded decided to take on this challenge.

So far, this chap has built the drone, and got high scores for effort. But of course the big deal is the testing and execution of the idea with hospitals (or staging areas). This is where the problem from NCAA’s ‘ban’ comes in.

The rumoured ban seems to assume only companies can own drones. What if, God forbid, an individual wants to own a drone – or builds one? So let’s look at these kids who built drones in university – these drones cost less than $3000 max. How does the NCAA expect them to test out their ideas? The rumoured ban gives no way to get experimental permits, which researchers would definitely need, in order to innovate. NCAA is telling us that these kids can’t even experiment.

If you told these kids, you must register, drone must meet XYZ specs, and must have QRS reported, it would work well for regulation, and allow the kids do their research.

Most of the backers of the rumoured ban have stated the need exists for regulation, for security reasons. I agree, yet disagree. Nigeria routinely abuses the ability to ban things. Photography bans during the military era still messes with our heads. People are not allowed to take photos in most public places, which is the reason we still don’t know what Aso Rock looks like (Ehe, Oga Tolu Ogunlesi, how far now? Show us some chanji).

So to regulate, I would only agree if the regulation is based on clearly defined protocols. It should be seamless. In truth, if the regulation was clear, and seamless, the Nigerian drone community would have embraced it, and you would get near 100% compliance.

All hope is not lost.

A guy claiming to lead the “Drone Club” has said the NCAA has actually not banned drones, or has not set ridiculous registration requirements. I do pray this is true.

In the meanwhile, a group of UAS 1 enthusiasts, including some serious players are working to get a ‘lobby’ together, and hopefully work with the NCAA to sort out the various kinks drone regulation throws up. Anakle Labs is of course invested in this process and will support in anyway possible.

As an individual, I have always believed one of the ways for Africa to grow is embracing new technology as they start out. Catching the GSM wave as it started has changed the continent, and continues to change it. Who knows what drones could do? We can’t get on that wave if we rush out to ban whatever we don’t understand.

1 = This is yet another acronym for drones

#FreeEse: Child marriage and the outcomes of cultural disrespect

Yesterday, the Punch published a report about the abduction and forced marriage of 14-year-old Ese Oruru. According to The Punch, “In August 2015, Ese, then 13, was abducted by one Yinusa and taken to Kano, where he converted her to Islam and married her.” The Punch also reports that Ese’s mother, Mrs. Rose Oruru, journeyed to Kano in an effort to get her daughter back, but returned to Bayelsa empty handed.

According to an unnamed source in the Punch report, the primary reason for not releasing the girl is because she voluntarily converted to Islam and had been married to her alleged abductor. I found this marriage excuse for abetting an act of criminality rather repugnant. It stinks! Every member of the community involved in the process should be made to face the law.

Let’s speak about how marriages are contracted across most of the South South of Nigeria.

Marriage is a multi-step process, including first a “knocking of door”, where the groom’s family officially visit the bride’s to indicate their interest in a young lady. This is where the bride’s family gives a yes or no answer to the proposal.

Once a yes vote is received, the family of the bride will have a list of gifts issued to the groom’s family. A second (smaller) meeting is then held, where the bride-price and list is accepted. A gift giving ceremony may be held along with the traditional marriage, or held as a separate ceremony.

These many steps ensure a marriage is contracted between two families, and not between two young people. Most churches would not even conduct a Christian marriage without the couple having first fulfilled the traditional rites.

In the case of Ese Oruru, this established marriage process was grossly ignored. The acceptance of a marriage between Mr Yinusa “Yellow” and Ese, a minor, without due consultation with her family, by the Sharia Council in Kano doesn’t just show a miscarriage of law and justice, but deeper disrespect and possibly disdain for the culture of Ese’s people.

This abduction for marriage case speaks to deeper issues of disregard for other cultures, something the Emir of Kano has recently accused “Southerners” of. I expect there should be respect for the fact that where Ese comes from, they do not consider a girl ready for marriage until much later in life?

In what world is it permissible for a young man to show up with a young woman and marry her without questions asked? Who are the parents of the man, and how could they accept a child brought as a wife from distant lands, without seeking to meet her parents? How is this different from the abduction and forced marriage of the Chibok girls and other unfortunate young women by Boko Haram? It has also been reported by the police that the case may possibly be that of elopement. In which case, the child is a minor, and according to the constitution, her marriage should be null and void, and she should have been immediately returned to her parents. The adult man should also have been arrested and charged for trafficking.

That the guards at the emir’s palce reportedly refused Ese’s mother the right to meet with her daughter also shows a deep disdain. Even where a culture exists, intermarriage is known as the ultimate catalyst for cultural compromise, no?

So far, the Inspector General of Police, Sunday Arase, has said only the Emir has the power to release the girl. The Emir on the other hand has stated he’d already ordered the release of the girl, with a letter to prove it. Is the culture of Kano superior to the Ijaw culture from Bayelsa, so much that a child is taken from the parents without permission – with attempts to get said child back being refused for cultural reasons?

This development leaves deep, complicated questions unanswered. For example, what is the role (and possible complicity) of the police in this matter? Is the culture of Kano superior to the constitution. I say culture because in my understanding of Islam, a woman cannot be married without parental consent, hence even by Islamic interpretations, there was no marriage between Ese and Yinusa.

It’s also important to note that the abduction preceded the alleged conversion. It is also imperative to ask if proselytizing to a minor, with a view to conversion, without parental consent is allowed. (I have deliberately decided to not discuss the suspicion that the girl was taken under the influence of marabout’s charms.)

I’m glad that Ese’s parents are keeping their head up, and seeking a legal resolution, while clearly expressing they don’t want this case to degenerate into a tribal issue. But it probably would be, if the authorities do not act decisively. We cannot build a united Nigeria, if we don’t all respect our diverse cultures and customs.

Unfortunately, even if Ese is released, the emotional trauma may never leave her. Should the marriage be successfully annulled, but her abductor had, God forbid, consummated the marriage, the statutory rape remains. Will justice be done, having seen how the entire community collaborated to protect the abductor and the unholy union? A child would have been defiled on the altar of cultural superiority.

#ThankASoldier: It’s good to tweet, but better to act!

The narrative for us is rather simple: our soldiers are the only buffer between the insurgency and us. Without them, our ‘normal’ city lifestyles would probably be gone. The sacrifice of the military men and women have allowed us retain our way of life.
While planning for this campaign, we planned for some negative feedback. Thankfully, it came yesterday. The main accusation was that the promoters of #ThankASoldier (mostly, me) never supported the military pre-May 29, when the new government got into office.

Disclaimer (sort of)

This blog is not for those people – it’s for the people who truly want to show their appreciation to our soldiers, to keep eyes on the ball, and not be distracted from doing a truly noble thing.

So let’s address the accusations as they came:

Basically a request to update this

So you didn’t feel shame when BH released videos of their fighters strolling in the barracks? Of course the following tweet showed clearly that the tweet was asking for better leadership for the war, but hey!

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 3.23.22 PM

 

Next one

English grammar people. You should learn it. “I will never forgive those soldiers on Falomo” simply means I will never forgive seeing soldiers on Falomo.

OccupyNigeria, whatever the reasons, was a peaceful protest. Then soldiers were deployed, with orders to shoot at civilians who tried to resume the protest. The protesters were unarmed, and the constitution allows protests. Asking soldiers to shoot at unarmed, non-rioting citizens is unforgivable.

 

But let’s not get it twisted

Another accusation

Very cute. Thankfully, our old friend, context, didn’t die in the war.

Untitled-4

Obviously, my patriotic friends lifted just one tweet, so they could knock it out of context. A soldier was knocked down while illegally driving on the BRT lane. Soldiers then came out rioting, burning things and beating up civilians who tried to film.
Because of our history of military rule, our army hasn’t had a good reputation. If the army is trying to improve that reputation, and get support from civilians, soldiers beating up people on the street doesn’t help that cause, or does it?
My words may have been harsh, but asking the army to protect it’s image is real support for troops. They need it.

It’s not over till there’s an accusation of political motivation

Silly question, but I’ll humour. I’ve never met Lai Mohammed, don’t think I want to.

But this took the cake

 

And this lovely point of order too.

 

I agree. So I pulled a selection of my tweets from 2014, the year I believe, Buhari took over

 

 

I believe visiting troops is good for morale. We’ve seen how the visits by the new Army Chief has lifted morale. If Buhari doesn’t visit the troops during the military remembrance week, he should be chewed out.

 

 

Look away now

 

By the way, my friend Ken, is a big GEJ supporter. Oops!

 

So I have a problem with the big bosses, eh? I should watch leaders treat them like dirt?

 

Remember Baga?

 

Small advise is why you’re angry

 

Yesterday, I learned a new word, ‘denigrate’. I believe that’s what GEJ’s NSA was doing when he called the fighting troops cowards.

 

See, eh, I don’t think the military should be involved in the political process at all

 

Remember when Mubi fell?

 

Again, it’s about the troops, not the politics

I know they think they did, but #WeTriumphStill team didn’t patent patriotism.

And I did visit. Yeah, I know, it’s hard to believe that an unpatriotic, army-hating, politically motivated moron like me would do that, while real patriot exercised Twitter fingers.

But then, I looked at these tweets, and realised “Oh wait, GEJ was president in 2014.”
In other words, people will say whatever, do whatever, to push their agenda. So let’s talk about the questions I’ve received about the campaign.

 

How is #ThankASoldier funded?

The campaign is primarily funded from Anakle’s CSR budget, which this year, has been split between supporting organisations offering help to victims of rape and domestic violence, and now, #ThankASoldier. Partners like Andela and Printivo have offered to contribute in kind. Uber has donated free rides. Billboards have also been donated by our sister company, DM2.

Everyone participating in the campaign, including Anakle staff,  is doing it on their own free will.

What is the funding for?

T-shirts, to be given freely to people who participate. This is to help drive awareness. “Thank You” T-shirts are being delivered to military wives and children. Thank You mugs (donated by Printivo), are going to military families. We are also printing custom holiday cards, which will signed by people, and delivered to troops on the frontline.
A concert/party is being organised for military families on the 12th of December, 2015. Everything is being paid for by Anakle. Our partners have also donated gifts/time/effort for this event.

So where do we go from here?

The reality – in the history of humankind, whenever people have tried to make progress, some people would do whatever they can to pull it down. The fact that we have made progress as humans is a testimony to that fact that the people who actually do get things done are way stronger than those who do not!
Supporting the troops goes beyond tweeting a hashtag. It also includes visiting the troops on the frontline, touring the troubled North East, delivering help to soldiers who need them, which I have done. Supporting troops includes standing up for them when the politicians steal funds meant for their equipment, ammo and welfare. Supporting the troops includes speaking up when troops are deployed for unwholesome tasks, which brings the dishonour to our military institutions.

Better to act

My challenge to the critics of #ThankASoldier would be that they move beyond political tweets, and actually provide help to the troops who need them. It’s good to tweet support to the troops, but it is even better to act.
To everyone who is joining us to #ThankASoldier, don’t stop. The troops need you more than you can imagine.

 

#DroneDiaries Visiting Makoko

A couple of weeks ago, I made a promise to start a blog series, posting videos from my drone flights. It was a stupid promise. The last year has been the busiest in my life – our business has grown about 50% over the last year, and our team had doubled and is still growing. We’ve spun off business units, and are working on more projects, which are fast morphing into standalone units.

It’s not a year I thought I could afford a hobby (no, the drone flying isn’t a hobby, but I will explain that sometime later). But a promise is a promise, right? So I am going to try to keep that promise. Yesterday, I finally posted the first video from the #DroneDiaries. It’s a video from a recent flight over Makoko. But getting that video itself wasn’t straight forward.

I have always been been fascinated by Makoko. Every time I drove past the Third Mainland Bridge, I would just stare at the mass of houses in the distance and wonder what it felt like living there. I remember the first day I saw the ‘boat exodus’, the morning trip by the small sail boats, as the fishermen went out into the lagoon. It was an amazing sight. Over 20 little boats, with makeshift sails, going out to the open water at the same time, from under the bridge into the early morning sunshine. I had never seen a sight like that before.

A week after that, I drove out in the morning, and didn’t go straight to work. I went to the bridge at 7:45am, hoping to catch the boat exodus again. I did not. But I waited on the bridge and watched the fishermen go by one-by-one. I didn’t take any photos. I just stayed there and watched. Then we bought our first drone.

Makoko was the first place I wanted to fly over. It was not my first sortie. In fact I didn’t get to fly by Makoko for a couple of weeks. Then I did. I had a meeting on the Mainland, so I packed the box and loaded up in the car. The meeting was long, and slow, and I could not wait.

The meeting finally ended, and we raced to the bridge, my driver and I. Umana, my driver, is probably as big a drone enthusiast as me, and was really looking forward to this flight. We selected a spot for shoot from – beside the police post near the Yaba exit. We greeted the policemen, made them comfortable, then setup.

One of the first things you discover when you start flying any drones is how warped relativity of position could be. When an object is flying in the air, the relative position you see with the naked eye almost certainly is not where that object really is. When a drone takes off into the sky, everything seems great. But after moving around for a couple of minutes, it gets really hard to bring it over your head with exact certainty.

This is where the inbuilt map app comes in useful. You can use GPS to tell exactly where the drone is on the map. Except with the DJI Phantom (our first drone), data transmission could be impaired by distance and interfering objects or radio signals. When interference occurs, and your drone is far away, there is no way to know for certain if the building you see in front of you is right there right then, or the image was from a 30-seconds earlier, and you’re just about to crash into it.

This was the problem we had with that first flight. The distance from the bridge to Makoko is almost a kilometre, and there was a lot of interference. We just couldn’t seem to get close enough – power lines seemed to be everywhere, and the delayed imaging didn’t help much. By the time we recalled the drone, we had only seen the floating school of Makoko.  But we did take a really good retreat shot, which went into one of our ad projects.

The second time we tried to shoot, my driver had forgotten to pack the remote control. Imagine getting all excited, driving out to the bridge, parking and greeting our friends, the police, then discovering the RC wasn’t there.  We went back after a couple of weeks. This time, we took one of the new Inspire 1 aircrafts.

The Inspire is a big, big upgrade on the Phantom. It’s like getting into a Mercedes after a lifetime of driving a Kia Rio. The aircraft is larger, faster, stronger, more accurate, and the app is much smoother. This time, I also had a full time done researcher along with me. And Umana of course.

We couldn’t begin flying immediately, because we could not calibrate the drone successfully.

To complete flight check at every new location, the drone compass must be calibrated to ensure the drone connects properly with the ‘earth’. Without calibration, a drone could perform abnormally. Of course since calibration is a magnetic enterprise, it’s advised to calibrate away from magnetic fields, or large metallic objects. Our calibration on the Third Mainland failed because the bridge is one giant metallic object.

We eventually tricked the drone to calibrate. Then we flew away. It was the perfect flight. Everything was going accordning to plan. The lighting was right, the angles were right, and the winds were just perfect. When the drone returned to land 20 minutes later, we had covered pure joy in video. Except I had forgotten to push the record button!

(Hollywood sad song interlude).

We didn’t return to the bridge for another couple of weeks. When we finally did, we made sure we carried two RCs, 3 batteries and pushed the record button as soon as we took off. The only ting that could fail now…nothing could fail actually, just the shock we felt when we finally flew over Makoko’s literal ‘streets of water’.


We have since done more flights over Makoko, and we now know a few of her secrets. I am now ready to take a boat trip to see things from a human level.

How can we collect and use data to build better products?

Better data, product design, and everything in between
Better data, product design, and everything in between

“How do we collect better data to build better products? “

This may seem like a simple enough question, because data in itself is a base form. Data is either valid or invalid, but how do we then optimise to collect, and make use of data?

My idea of better data in the context of product design and marketing is based on experience trying to build a technology business in Nigeria. In developed markets, data has been collected for decades at least, which allows creators build better products. Where data doesn’t exist, it’s arguably easier to collect than in Nigeria.

An example is something as simple street/house numbers. These are things taken for granted in the developed world, and even in parts of the developing world. But in Nigeria, house numbering is pure chaos. Yet, this is an integral part of the logistics and fulfilment system. While Amazon is trying to launch drone deliveries in America, depending largely on existing numbering and GPS systems, Konga literally had to build their own postal service. (What would be interesting is Konga’s data on how many times it takes their delivery guys to identify a home to deliver to, and how they do that.)

This inherent chaos is our system is not an accident. If I may borrow the word, anyhowness is a real thing. But we need to build products and services, irrespective of this chaos. And we need data to make these products/services work well, because without data, our products and services cannot operate optimally. So how do we get better data?

I was recently speaking with a technology team at a top 4 bank, helping redo their service design for Internet banking, and we were stuck on whether certain fields on their interface should be displayed at all. Bankers are fun people to work with – they had filled their software with fine banking language, like ‘liens’, ‘facility’ etc, and we’re unwilling to make changes.

So I asked: why are we making these changes?

They answered: because we want our online banking services to appeal to younger customers.

Me: How many young customers understand these big words?

Banker: They do!

Me: I don’t. And I’m not very stupid.

Banker: Well…you should.

Me: Ok, but more importantly, how many of your users, statistically click on those sections of your website, or use the service?

It emerged that it was less than 5 percent, maybe 2%. Less than 5% of users accessed a feature, yet we were fighting over it being front centre.

This is the problem. It’s a bigger problem than not having data. Understanding the place of data in the design process is the bigger problem.

The era of assuming when you build, customers will use it just because you have built it never existed. Only Apple gets away with that, and that’s because Apple understands great design better than all of us combined. Since we’re not Apple, we must behave like we’re not Apple.

A website design for example, is more than just wireframe and new CSS tricks. It’s not carousels and new HTML5 widgets. Designers must see themselves as the forerunners of intelligent service design. This means they can’t work alone.

Design is a destination which describes the entire customer journey in one location. Hence, if the design doesn’t not understand and properly capture the customer journey, and how the customer interacts with the brand, then the design product is a failure.

We must remember though, that collecting data for product design is not rocket science. Especially for people who already own their platforms, the data is there already. You probably have already collected enough, or could with minor adjustments. The challenge is in asking the right questions, and being honest to self. “What am I currently doing right? Where am I failing, and how can I improve?”

Over the last couple of months, we’ve designed various data collection models. The most successful ones have been those disguised as products.

It is very interesting that if we look at things differently, we could completely change the way we see data collection (and their applications to design), mostly from sources which are not very obvious to the user. How do viewing patterns on iRokoTV help Nollywood create better films (which score in the market)? This was an unstated, but critical observation, casually dropped in a recent blog by Jason Njoku.

The gaming industry is an example of where data is currently being harvested, with meaningful real life applications. The new Kim Kardashian game could deliver valuable user behaviour data to hotels, TV and entertainment producers, Candy Crush could help study addiction and compulsive behaviour, and law enforcement could do very interesting things with Grand Theft Auto data. It could be argued in gaming that building a great product is not an end in itself, but the beginning.

This is indeed the experience we have had over the last couple of years at Anakle, but the last 15 months have been the most interesting. While I was out being notorious for building the Bride Price app (again, I didn’t build it, Ofure’s team did), our servers were quietly collecting various kinds of data (which was one of the reasons the app was designed in the first place). We were lucky to have a few million interactions to play with, and when the various data points were reviewed, the emerging patterns provided very interesting feedback.

For example, returning female users tended to score higher marks in the quiz. Does that tell anything? Imagine that a user had scored N200,000 in the first taking of the quiz, then returned to take it – the pattern was that most returning users ended up with higher scores. What were the most popular skin tones in a given location? What image of themselves did users see in their minds? But these are the more obvious pieces of information users left behind, without filling any forms.

Most of the data we collected is currently helping our team design a more serious, real life services, and we’re approaching the product design with a lot more confidence than we did months before.

For our advertising team servicing clients in various industries, it is an advantage that we are able to predict user behaviour. While hypotheses are good, real data allows us to walk into battle with a more significant amount of confidence.

Users don’t have the time to fill our surveys, and most times, when people actively fill surveys, they are more inclined to put their best foot forward. I believe we would find more valuable data by hacking passive user activity to collect real life data. Of course nothing I am saying here is new. Silicon Valley perfected this model decades ago. But in Africa, we need to get started too, as a mainstream model.

What else can the Kim Kardashian game do (aside waste your time?)

kim-kardashian-hollywood

I would begin by thanking Kim K for attracting your interest to this otherwise boring blog about data and product design. Kim K is indeed mentioned somewhere in this blog, but this is mostly about data, product design and many things in-between.

How do we collect better data to build better products?

This may seem like a simple enough question, because data in itself is a base form. Data is either valid or invalid, but how do we then optimise to make data better?

My idea of better data in the context of product design and marketing is based on experience trying to build a technology business in Nigeria. In developed markets, data has been collected for decades at least, which allows creators build better products. Where data doesn’t exist, it’s arguably easier to collect than in Nigeria.

An example is something as simple street/house numbers. These are things taken for granted in the developed world, and even in parts of the developing world. But in Nigeria, house numbering is pure chaos. Yet, this is an integral part of the logistics and fulfilment system. While Amazon is launching drone deliveries in America that depend largely on existing numbering and GPS systems, Konga literally had to build their own postal service. What would be interesting is Konga’s data on how many times it takes their delivery guys to identify a home to deliver to, and how they do that.

But this inherent chaos is our system is not an accident. It’s not easy to make deliveries because we don’t have house numbers, but because we’re largely a disorganised people. If I may borrow a word, anyhowness is a real thing.

But we need to build products and services, irrespective of this chaos. And we need data to make these products/services work well, because without data, our products and services are cannot operate optimally. So how do we get better data?

I was recently speaking with a technology team at a top 4 bank, helping redo their service design for Internet banking, and we were stuck on whether certain fields on their interface should be displayed at all. Bankers are fun people to work with – they had filled their software with fine banking language, like ‘liens’, ‘facility’ etc, and we’re unwilling to make changes.

So I asked: why are we making these changes?

They answered: because we want our online banking services to appeal to younger customers.

Me: How many young customers understand these big words?

Banker: They do!

Me: I don’t. And I’m not very stupid.

Banker: Well…you should.

Me: Ok, but more importantly, how many of your users, statistically click on those sections of your website, or use the service?

It emerged that it was less than 5 percent. Less than 5% of users accessed a feature, yet we were fighting over it being front centre.

This is the problem. It’s a bigger problem than not having data. Understanding the place of data in the design process is the bigger problem.

The era of assuming when you build, customers will use it just because you built it never existed. Only Apple gets away with that, and that’s because Apple understands great design better than most. Since we’re not Apple, we must behave like we’re not Apple.

A website design for example, is more than just wireframe and new CSS tricks. It’s not carousels and new html5 widgets. Designers must see themselves as the forerunners of intelligent service design. This means they can’t work alone.

Design is a destination which describes the entire customer journey in one location. Hence, if the design doesn’t not understand and properly capture the customer journey, and how the customer interacts with the brand, then the product design is a failure.

We must remember though, that collecting data for product design is not rocket science. Especially for people who already own their platforms, the data is there already. You probably have already collected enough, or could with minor adjustments. The challenge is in asking the right questions, and being honest to self. “What am I currently doing right? Where am I failing, and how can I improve?”

It is very interesting that if we look at things differently, we could completely change the way we see data collection (and their applications to design), mostly from sources which are not very obvious to the user. How do viewing patterns on iRokoTV help Nollywood create better films (which score in the market)? This was an unstated, but critical observation, casually dropped in Jason Njoku’s last blog.

The gaming industry is an example place where data is currently being harvested, with meaningful real life applications. The new Kim Kardashian game could deliver valuable user behaviour data to hotels and popular culture products, TV and entertainment producers; Candy Crush could help psychologists study addiction;
and law enforcement could do very interesting things with Grand Theft Auto data. It could be argued in gaming that building a great product is not an end in itself, but the beginning.

This is indeed the experience we have had over the last couple of years at Anakle, but the last 6 months have been the most interesting. While I was out being notorious for building the Bride Price app, our servers were quietly collecting various kinds of data (which was one of the reasons the app was designed in the first place). We were lucky to have a few million interactions to play with, and when the various data points were reviewed, the emerging patterns provided very interesting feedback.

For example, returning female users tended to score higher marks in the quiz. Does that tell anything? Imagine that a user had scored N200,000 in the first taking of the quiz, then returned to take it – the pattern was that most returning users ended up with higher scores. What were the most popular skin tones in a given location? What image of themselves did users see in their minds? But these are the more obvious pieces of information users left behind, without filling any forms.

Most of the data we collected is currently helping our team design a more serious, real life product, and we’re approaching the product design with a lot more confidence than we had a few months ago.

For our advertising team servicing clients in various industries, it is an advantage that we are able to predict user behaviour. While hypotheses are good, real data allows us to walk into battle with a more significant amount of confidence.

Users don’t have the time to fill our surveys, and most times, when people actively fill surveys, they are more inclined to put their best foot forward. I believe we would find more valuable data by hacking passive user activity to collect real life data. Of course nothing I am saying here is new. While some of us are only waking up to the perversity data in the design process,  Silicon Valley perfected this model decades ago. But in Africa, we need to get started too, as a mainstream model.

You may have noticed the rambling nature of this blog. I noticed too. I haven’t blogged in a while and the rust is obvious. I will try to do better in the coming months.