April 14, 2014

News coverage of the African "market opportunity" reminds me of "Chindia"

Africa's economic and consumer market opportunities, as covered in mainstream media as well as press releases, has begun to remind me of the way India and China used to be covered back in the early years of the past decade.

Just as was the case with India, where any news of economic growth or scientific advancement like sending a satellite into space was greeted with handwringing over the teeming millions living in poverty, one reads the same about Nigeria's recent rise to economic prominence or the nascent African Space Research Program in Uganda.

At the same time, one sees the same hyperbole being bandied about the millions of emerging middle class consumers hungry for multinational brands and the shiniest retail opportunities in the form of mega malls and online shopping.

Even the research reports being churned out by management consultancies vying for lucrative contracts sound similar to those for the Indian and Chinese market opportunities when they first pinged the radar of the global economic powerhouses. "Chindia" as it was called, was the biggest emerging market ever, billions of customers, gazillions of dollars.

Look at where India and China are at now. An excellent summary of India's performance over the two decades since the "Golden Summer of 1991" is available here by Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar and for China, this seems to provide at least a synopsis of major strides in development.

But what does this echo of hyperbole and handwringing imply for the frontier African markets of tomorrow?

I'll be taking an indepth look on this in forthcoming posts. 

March 9, 2014

Service design for the prepaid economy: Continuing the case of Google's Bebapay in Nairobi

The previous post on the sluggish adoption of Google's BebaPay, a cashless prepaid card introduced in Nairobi as a payment mechanism for public transportation, had me pondering the challenge of designing services for the informal sector.

There are two main challenges that I see here, which don't seem to have been taken into consideration during the development and implementation process:

1. The impact of introducing this service on the end-users

and the second

2. The characteristics of the cash based informal sector.

That is, if one were to say that the design of a new service should take the people and their operating environment into account as much as the actual technology and platform, then this is yet another example of technocentric design failing to meet its promise once introduced in the market.

Why are these elements so critical in this context?

The wananchi and their kadogo economy

Ensuring at the design stage that all possible effort have been made to lower the barriers to user adoption of your new product or service is one of the key ways to  maximize its chances of success in the operating environment.

Here, the people who are going to be using this service on a daily basis are not necessarily the stakeholders involved in the design, implementation and launch of this new cashless payment system. Matatus are operated by drivers and conductors, not the owners themselves. They, together with the commuters, are the end-users. Call them the wananchi, as they do in Kenya.

From the technology point of view, the implementation of the cashless payment service using Near Field Communications on an Android smartphone and a plastic prepaid card, was a very simple matter. All you need is an app downloaded on a mobile in the hands of the conducter who can then swipe passenger's cards when accepting fares. Passengers can pick up these cards for free at any Equity Bank agent - ubiquitous in Nairobi - and top them up either directly at the agent or through the MPesa system.

Photo via @rnagila on 5th March 2014 of matatu strike in Nairobi
 But from the people's point of view, and this is where the distinguishing elements of the operating environment come in to play when looking at the informal economy prevalent amongst the mass majority, often called Kenya's kadogo economy, this payment method comes with some drawbacks. Here are some that come top of mind:

From the operators' perspective

The shift from daily cash flow and living in the ebb and flow of the kadogo economy is a shock to the people whose livelihood has been directly affected by this system. Where the operators of the matatus were accustomed to managing with a fluctuating yet constant flow of daily cash in hand, with all the habits of household expense management and purchasing patterns consistent with that volatility, they are now expected to accustom themselves overnight to a monthly budget. Was any financial education offered to them to ease this sudden change? Do we know if they have received sufficient salaries to cope with their expenses? The recent Nairobi matatu strike seems to imply not.

From the commuter's perspective

Cash in your pocket is the most flexible payment mechanism when managing daily expenses. A prepaid card locks in your cash, particularly if its only usable for one type of purchase. For example, you might need to purchase milk and bread on the way and make a decision trading off your matatu fare for food, choosing to walk home instead.  At the moment, prepaid payment cards have not yet scaled beyond the transport sector, so if you have 200 shillings in your Bebapay card, it becomes an inflexible tool without options for alternatives. How likely are you to lock in extra cash when you're accustomed to the flexibility required to manage expenses, especially if you too are employed in the informal economy? And how convenient is it to top up your card at the nearest Equity Agent as opposed to jumping on the nearest bus with cash in hand?

From thinking about today to planning for tomorrow, without the accompanying infrastructure.

The system imposes planning for the future out of context of the entire 'prepaid' or kadogo economy's rhythms. This is a huge change in behaviour required from all the end users of the system. To go from the daily rhythms of irregular income streams where coping mechanisms are habituated to minimize the volatility between expenses and cash flow to suddenly budgeting transport costs, planning in advance to top up your matatu card, changing the way you think about money is far more complicated and challenging than simply adopting a new transport payment service.

via @denniskioko on 7th March 2014
So, what about Lipa na MPesa?
Why then, as Dennis Kioko noted on Twitter yesterday, are Google's BebaPay posters being torn down in City Hoppa buses and replaced by Safaricom's Lipa na MPesa?

Looking at the Mpesa system only from the point of view of the barriers to adoption raised in the preceding paragraphs, the first and foremost advantage it offers the wananchi is Flexibility.

Your money is not locked into your MPesa account to be only used for your matatu fare. If you did need to send some to your teenager in school or make a purchase, you could access it. From the operator's perspective, accepting an Mpesa payment ensures that they will follow the regulations banning cash fares for matatu travel yet the unspoken options on which MPesa account receives payment remains flexible.

From flexible and negotiable to rigid and non-negotiable

Until the system design finds a way to cover the operator's loss of income it will not be an acceptable option. We don't know if owners raised the salaries of the bus drivers and conductors or offered them any incentive at all to change not only their own financial management behaviour but also to adopt this new streamlined (and rigid) payment system. 

Design of services for the flexible, negotiable, cash based informal economy

Can service design for the informal economy afford to overlook this fundamental aspect of the end user's behaviour and mindset, arising as it does from the very volatility of their operating environment and income sources?

Can service design afford to assume that any new payment plan or revenue model that is meant to operate for the mass majority in the developing world will operate in the same way as it would in the first world?

Can service design as practiced in the sophisticated and structured formal economy afford to overlook the very human challenges faced by prospective customers halfway around the world?

Stakeholder interviews and technology testing is not the same as fundamental understanding of the people, their problems and their purchasing patterns. Focusing on the platform alone without wholly visualizing the impact of introducing such new services on people will only raise the barriers to adoption, not lower them. This case is not a simple of of a new product introduction but one that not only impacts incomes and livelihoods but also requires massive behavioural change from the end users.

I'll be following up on writing further on formalizing the informal after a literature review.

March 6, 2014

The curious case of Google's Beba Pay: a mobile payment app that users refuse to adopt

This week, news from Nairobi, that hotbed of mobile money innovation, opened up a Pandora's box of reflections on payment plans, service design issues and the challenge of technology adoption in the mass markets of the African informal economy. None of these are 'bad' things in their own right, but taken together, they have resulted in a perfect storm for innovation planning.

Standard Digital published an article on the 23rd of February, titled "Matatu operators opposed BebaPay", viz.,
Matatu operators are opposed to the BebaPay — a cashless payment system for commuters. The platform, launched last April by Equity Bank in conjunction with Google, is facing challenges.
 A single sentence. Yet when parsed further, it contains many implications for what exactly has been happening in the informal transport sector in Kenya and the potential opportunities as well as possible repercussions for players in the mobile payments space.

The Background

Back in September 2013, the Kenyan government announced a ban on all cash payments for bus fares and this will go into effect on July 1st, 2014.  By January of this year, there were debates by reputed  bloggers on whether this move was even one that could conceivably be implemented realistically speaking, given that top down imposition of a technology has rarely prospered. Kachwanya said,
Yes cashless payment is much better and I personally have campaigned for it  for years. But you can’t say you outlaw cash payment. There things which are good and need to be done but the society needs to evolve before going out right into some of those things. At this point in time cashless payment will be great for some in Kenya, but unfortunately majority of Kenyans are still not ready for such drastic shift. To start with, this should be left for market forces to determine the time and speed of adopting cashless mode of payment and not some sort of directive from the Government.
This is a move to formalize a sector of the informal economy, and conceptually a worthy one where benefits to multiple stakeholders - transport business owners, banks, payment service providers, the tax authorities and the government - are immediate and obvious.  The real world challenges of attempting to bridge the formal and informal economies I will cover in a subsequent blogpost.

The Business Case 

This has the potential to become an extremely lucrative opportunity for service providers and application platform owners, not to mention the intermediary banks. The formalization of an entire industry, public transport, has meant a new scramble for this legislated pie. Safaricom, the service provider behind MPesa, didn't need investment in developing new services and simply started signing up bus operators and here are the numbers on the potential ROI,
The Economic Survey 2013 values Kenya’s road passenger transport business, which is dominated by matatus, buses, motorcycles (boda bodas) and three-wheelers popularly known as tuk tuks, at Sh205 billion. This means that providers of electronic payment systems as demanded by the Safaricom and Equity Bank stand to potentially earn upwards of Sh2 billion annually assuming a transaction processing fee of one per cent for payments. 
And for Google and Equity Bank, who launched their product 6 months earlier, the opportunity is manifold:
Equity Bank said it is targeting the more than 1.5 million Nairobi residents who use public transport daily.

“This system will help eliminate the cost and risk of handling cash. It will also help formalisation of the transport sector because as banks, we can now fund this sector without fear since we will have the financial status statements of the industry players at hand,” said Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi.

The public transport sector is a key economic driver whose growth could power the economy, but has been held back by the disorderly nature of the industry.
Furthermore, stakeholders such as the matatu owners, are said to be pleased with the aspect of the payment system directly depositing passenger fares into their bank accounts, bypassing the crew of the matatu, eliminating opportunity for fraud, theft, corruption and loss of income.

The Technology and Process

From the same article linked above, here are the relevant snippets about BebaPay:
Equity Bank has partnered with global IT giant Google to introduce a cashless commuter fare payment system that involves the use of pre-paid plastic cards to settle public transport bills. The partnership marks Google’s first introduction in Kenya of its Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, which it has been promoting in some developed economies.

The card-based system dubbed BebaPay is based on Google’s NFC technology, which runs on the Android mobile phone operating system. Users will swipe pre-paid cards against android-based smart phones [with a special app] that will be given to public transport customer attendants.

The cards, Mr Mwangi said, will be available free of charge at Equity Bank service agents, where they can also be loaded with money. The cards can also be reloaded with cash through the bank’s mobile banking platform, without incurring additional cost, or through M-Pesa Paybill.

Matatu owners will be able to access the money paid by commuters immediately, and can access records of their bank accounts in real time through a system interface, allowing them to track the inflows from their vehicles.

The public service vehicle operators will be required to have the BebaPay application on smart phones in order to accept payment from commuters. Commuters on their part will receive free SMS receipts once they make payments.
On the look of its, given the context of the regulatory changes in the operating environment, the lucrative opportunity for a successful service and the ease of use and accessibility of the technology, the solution seems like a no brainer. In fact, both MasterCard and Family Bank have announced the impending launches of their own solutions during this past month as well. A scramble in a teacup, one could say.

The Discussion

So why does the news that matatu operators are unhappy with the system continue to make me hesitate to state that its just a matter of time and people are always unhappy with change and everybody will settle down and stop complaining and get used to it by the time the deadline in July rolls around?

The original article quotes some matatu operators as saying that the system leaves them with no cash in hand at the end of the day, or that they end up in the lockup due to some unhappy cop. Additionally, some are 'losing' their android smartphones as a way to revert back to cash transactions.

These are all 'bad' things - I use the air quotes deliberately as I am not in the habit of making value judgements on observed and existing user behaviour, merely documenting them as elements of the operating environment in which this system must succeed - and from the matatu owner's perspective, per the article, the new payment systems will eliminate them.
Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai, speaking during the launch of the card in April 2013, said the cashless system would help investors in the industry to control their cash flows and reduce losses that they incur from theft by matatu crews.
Yet, in an aside to a tweet by Emrys Schoemaker requesting a comparison of news articles against reality, one does note how everyone seems to be saying the same key talking points. Whether its the public relations person quoted in the very first article, or other major stakeholders in the subsequent ones, the benefits stated are not only all sounding alike but none of them benefit either of the end users - the operators of the transport vehicles and the commuters.

Where is the user's voice in this huge shift that will impact their daily bread? And what is the benefit to commuter?

This all too common oversight in traditional approaches to product and service innovation, based as they are on opportunities created by top down regulations, is what has been bothering me all day about the news. The implications throughout have been that because commuters will have no choice but to adopt this new system of payment, all the various providers have to do is throw their services out there and make a big fanfare around the launch whilst signing up as many routes as possible.

The reality, which Kachwanya highlights,
There things which are good and need to be done but the society needs to evolve before going out right into some of those things. At this point in time cashless payment will be great for some in Kenya, but unfortunately majority of Kenyans are still not ready for such drastic shift.
 is that even while the public transport industry might be regulated into the formal economy using the technology of mobile payments, there is still the rest of the informal economy, on which the majority of the commuter's depend upon for their income, to take into consideration. And this one, which is being regulated, is one of the main arteries pumping blood into the that system, as matatus transport those informal business women and men to their markets, transport goods and materials and act as a conduit to the hubbub of the hustle.

Should a Google be thinking of phasing in the payment plan, taking behavioural change and the economic operating environment of the majority of those who must use their service into account?

Have these prepaid commuter card services given a thought to the way cash flows in the informal economy and the purchasing patterns of those who make their living within it?

If the matatu operators are refusing to adopt these services, were any alternatives offered in the system to replace the benefits that the existing cash based offered them?

You instantly remove all flexibility from an ecosystem, leaving it rigid and non-negotiable viz.,
“With the system, you cannot be left with some cash at the end of the day to even buy milk since we depend on salary,” said Peter Mwangi, a conductor on Route 33.
Despite aggressive marketing, BebaPay is still struggling with few matatus embracing it. Normally, the conductors and drivers only remit the amount collected from people who board the matatus at initial departure points.
Flexibility* in time and money is the characteristic that distinguishes the informal economy from teh formal for those who manage on irregular income streams from a variety of sources, and this is also why the prepaid business model is adopted by 96% of all mobile phone users on the African continent.*

Given the stakeholders are the government, the banks, the transport owners and the mobile payment service providers, whose responsibility is it to understand the elements of the informal economy that make it work and seek to identify the touchpoints to bridge the gap between the formal and informal successfully?

When a service fails to be adopted, such as BebaPay, is it the fault of Google's service design process or Equity Bank's? Is the problem with marketing or is it with "corruption in the system"?

Or, as I see it, are those the easy answers to this problem and  a goodly dose of contextual understanding and user research to support the desk research and boardroom strategies could have offered insights on how to introduce formalization to a hitherto informal yet extremely critical industry?

I'll explore both the issues from the point of view of the informal (or prepaid economy) and service design and innovation for these environments in subsequent posts. 

*From my 5 years of user research documented here.

February 24, 2014

Emerging Futures: Opportunities in Digital Africa

In January 2011, my friend Dirk Knemeyer, Founder of Involution Studios, an internationally reknowned app design studio, suggested I write a series of articles on the imminent opportunities in technology and design emerging across the African continent.

That first article in the series “Opportunities in Digital Africa” was published on 22nd February 2011. Below, I’ll link to each article in the order it was published along with some key snippets to give us food for thought and reflection. Three years seems like a good time to refresh our view of the emerging future we saw back then and compare against the trends and activities of today.

Africa: The Next Frontier
What kind of opportunities are there? Who are these new customers? Where are they and what do they want? Is it possible to step away long enough from the overriding concerns of chaos, poverty, alleviation and humanitarianism to consider a long term business strategy in a sustainable manner? Certainly, yes. Google, for example, has been investing in a significant African presence with offices in Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. Needless to say they see the potential of this burgeoning – and no longer dark – continent. Acumen Fund’s East African Manager Biju Mohandas was recently quoted as saying:
“This whole region is growing dramatically. The nature of conversations is changing from that of a continent in shambles, and that requires aid, to a continent that is becoming the next big growth area in terms of economic interest.”

From OLPC to VC: Africa leapfrogs the digital divide
The advent of undersea cables directly linking even small landlocked nations like Botswana to high speed fibre optics means costs are halving as nations come online at top speed. Until now, Botswana had been dependent on expensive and slow satellite internet; now they see opportunities for e-governance policies to be implemented as well as benefits to education and the economy. For African nations, e-governance allows them to deliver services via technology into places where setting up physical offices would be difficult. In fact, building physical administrative infrastructure is so difficult and expensive that e-government has become attractive enough for states such as Kenya to assign high level personnel and resources to the task.

Challenges present opportunities: innovation in Africa
A vacuum exists in areas as diverse as transportation systems, distribution networks, basic raw materials, tools and spare parts. Lack of affordable financial devices, such as loans or overdraft facilities for small- and medium-sized businesses wishing to expand without waiting to accumulate sufficient cash or accessible consumer credit, is a constant hurdle for a population of irregular employment and often no bank account. Risk and uncertainty in this environment are considered endemic leading to high interest rates, closed business networks that operate on trusted referrals, and a healthy skepticism that a system will work as advertised. Yet, for the enterprising, these are the very environmental conditions that offer immense opportunity for creative ingenuity and innovation.

Mobile in Africa: from SMS to Android
A shift away from SMS-based solutions is expected, as user habits change and Internet-based, apps-driven services become more popular. It’s clear that an appetite for mobile content exists and continues to grow but it is not yet the mass market norm. That day, however, is not too far away.
The competition is increasingly about the customers, and what tasks they seek to complete on their devices. Simply building the right apps/content/service to meet that need won’t be enough: it will become a matter of getting the purpose, the platform and the price just right for each demographic. Market creation and customer education will drive each other in tandem.

Software in Africa: more, better, different
Today the integration of the mobile platform and conventional computer systems is a growing business. Text based interaction on the SMS and USSD platform will remain the primary need in the near term as mobile apps, while flexible and convenient, have yet to establish a foothold to the same extent as basic services.

Many software applications which take “always on” connectivity for granted as part of their evolution may not be wholly realistic in Africa for quite some time to come. The software industry reflects the uneven progress seen recently in the previous article on mobiles – pushing the envelope with new ways of transacting everyday activities like paying wages by SMS, even while dealing with challenges of piracy, localization and inadequate computing infrastructure. Still, it is this environment in which some of the most creative and innovative solutions for low cost technology deployment have been tried and tested.

Investing in Africa: challenges and constraints

To successfully enter the African consumer market on a tech platform with content and services means there is a need to reconsider three aspects:
  • Business models, which benefit from cash received upfront rather than implementing a costlier billing process and collection cycle  
  • Customers, who may not have the purchasing power for impulsive downloads (sharing and exchange are far more common) 
  • Services and applications, to leverage the differences in the environment while providing value to both the end user and the company.
Solving the puzzle of African opportunity is eminently achievable, it just requires thinking and acting in ways that are likely new and perhaps uncomfortable. The rewards, however, are well worth the effort.

February 2014, where are we now with what we saw emerging from the African digital landscape three years ago? 

February 10, 2014

Prototyping for pennies

That's Teemu Ronkka, the Electroshop leader at the design factory, explaining his moisture detector. Its a prototype he put together for just pennies of a humidity sensor using some copper 5 eurocent coins, lemonade and bit of sponge.

January 28, 2014

2014 is the year of the wooden horse

Startup Sauna, Espoo, Finland

What am I doing here?

Sitting upstairs next to that guy and typing this. Just got my keycard and I have no idea what I am going to do next but they've offered me a chair and told me I can hang out as long as like.              

FAQ on Value creation

The NDA expired 4 years ago

1.    Problem statement:

How do you build and maintain trust and commitment without face to face contact with your customers?

Value proposition:

Through a cohesive, integrated strategy of brand building across all information media sources, whether they be handhelds, mobiles, monitors, screens or even the product interfaces on medical equipment

2.    Problem statement:

How do you create and implement a consistent brand experience across multiple channels?

Value proposition:

Bringing together global talent in branding, graphic design, visual communication, user interface design, interaction, experience, information architecture and the back end software skills to bring to life your corporate vision in a compelling brand story. By being technology agnostic, we create the environment for your users to experience your brand that best suits the business challenge

3.    Problem statement:

There are too many brands competing for mindshare across the same platform, how do I differentiate?

Value proposition:

When the service provider, the manufacturer and the application developer all need to capture mindshare and contribute to the total user experience though one mobile phone interface, our responsibility is to ensure that our client's story/brand/message are consistent and compelling in that tiny space of the view screen.

4.    Problem statement:

How do you ensure that you've covered all touchpoints to build your brand and customer experience in an integrated manner?

Value proposition:

By applying the observation techniques of user research as well as secondary research, i2 can uncover all brand building opportunities and harness the future potential of your current technology.

5.    Problem statement:

How do you go forward within the rapidly changing technological landscape and proliferating information channels? Time is the only commodity and catching your customer's attention needs innovative means of communication design.

Value proposition:

i2 can assist you with working prototypes to visualize the future steps towards introducing disruptive innovation in your messaging and media to create that buzz in the market.

This problem set was written by Niti Bhan for Method, while consulting with Kevin and David for their new service Interface Innovation (i2) in November 2005.

January 3, 2014

Dear Jony, we need to talk.

About your design sensibilities, that is...

This past week, the few opportunities that I've had to actually get online or use a computer, have all been on this very beautiful (the CMF oooh la la!) Mac of some sort. Its a tiny box, a slim keyboard that still works for an old touch typist and the mouse matches. Very well done.

Now, about the usability issues, the engineering conventions regarding electrical appliances and the insistent correction of my spelling, I've reached the point after 3 tries where I simply must speak up out loud.

Devices which require two batteries in order to be utilized have followed a certain convention, so why do I have to put both the AA batteries in this Apple logofied mouse standing up in the same direction? Everywhere else, if the batteries are inserted in parallel, not in series, one puts the head up one way and the other battery is reversed. I had to fix this mouse in order to use it because the original owner simply assumed she had bad batteries thus the cursor problems.

Like, WTF dude? '

Yeah, they do look prettier that way when the gold ends match up so nicely like toast soldiers with your boiled egg. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, what's the deal with the insistent spelling corrections - they are like an OCD grammar nazi. 

The need to control the entire ecosystem in order to ensure the appropriate end user experience is not an argument that any one would debate with you all out there in Apple Design land but the system is ultimately one that is a tool provided for the end user to create or craft a deliverable. 

Who chooses the colour, materials or finnish for that?

er... Happy happy etc

December 10, 2013

Flux and the Farmer: the evolving concept of marketplace and of "online" in Africa

There is a digital convergence happening in rural Kenya that echoes, somewhat faintly, the combination of factors that led to the first phase of market growth and creation. In the late 1980s, for about a decade or so, enough market forces converged in rural Kenya, particularly centered around the Chuka to Meru market region just north of Nairobi, to provide the first boost for the SHS (small home solar) industry.

Now, every rural market can set you up with the local sola fundi. There happened one with the mobile phone hardware side, where now your local "Mobile Doctor" hangs out his shingle for a variety of different services necessary to the rural bourgeoisie. The one we're all holding our breaths for, while waiting to exhale, is the Great Online Bazaar coming alive.

Look at Nigeria! E-commerce has gone viral, there's no other way to put it. Jumia is rapidly gaining mindshare while others not very far behind. Of course, the population is 4 times that of Kenya's, more or less, as the local measurements go, so the critical mass of credit card holders is sufficient. On the other hand, there is news of Safaricom launching MPesa payments online with registered merchants.

What more do we need?

If we can bring in the Twitter on USSD, we can try to get a conversation going, which in turn will be the seeds of that great Grand Bazaar in the cloud ;p

December 9, 2013

Pondering the bazaar, in context of the cathedral

Someone did me a favour, back in 2008, when I was requested to synthesize the first chapter of Eric Raymond's book for a workshop in Bellagio. This is best introduced by the first paragraph from Wikipedia:

The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary (abbreviated CatB) is an essay by Eric S. Raymond on software engineering methods, based on his observations of the Linux kernel development process and his experiences managing an open source project, fetchmail. It examines the struggle between top-down and bottom-up design. It was first presented by the author at the Linux Kongress on May 27, 1997 in Würzburg and was published as part of a book of the same name in 1999.

 Raymond frames his concept well, from the first chapter:
Linux overturned much of what I thought I knew. I had been preaching the Unix gospel of small tools, rapid prototyping and evolutionary programming for years. But I also believed there was a certain critical complexity above which a more centralized, a priori approach was required. I believed that the most important software (operating systems and really large tools like the Emacs programming editor) needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time.

Linus Torvalds's style of development—release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity—came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here—rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, who'd take submissions from anyone) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.

The fact that this bazaar style seemed to work, and work well, came as a distinct shock. As I learned my way around, I worked hard not just at individual projects, but also at trying to understand why the Linux world not only didn't fly apart in confusion but seemed to go from strength to strength at a speed barely imaginable to cathedral-builders.
To say that I have been forcibly reminded of these words is an understatement. It has only been on re-reading them again do I come to realize how much of this Bazaar method is just plain Finnish teamwork? When everybody is clear on what the big project is supposed to do, they just go ahead and do what they think they should add, their own interest areas, to the whole.

This is synergy. The whole pattern is a meta thing that emerges from the weft and weave of single coloured threads, woven in their entirety without knowledge whether the blue will become the sea in a carpet of waves or the sky in a wall hanging in brocade?

My next bit of field immersion, in Kenya again, this time to integrate all the lessons learnt through observation and listening over the past 3 years, and to take a look at the rural bazaar. Not just a produce market or livestock sales ground but the whole ecosystem of the farm's inputs and outputs. It is the natural next step to push the fog away a little more to help our understanding of the rural economy as begun in the Prepaid Economy project of late 2008. 

Given that my focus would be a bazaar, I went back to Eric Raymond's essay to see what he said about his lessons learnt. What I recognized, then, happening to my perspective or frame of vision, was that it was undergoing the natural flux of a fundamental transitional shift in frame of reference.

From the individual to the community.

And so, our user centeredness would not simply be focusing on individual users, as representatives of their particular segment or whatever, but also integrating that into a sense making of the whole ecosystem. Without this, we believe that any solution we may offer, that is based on today's free, easy communications for social networks that are already gaining familiarity in rural African locales (Facebook! Twitter! Whatsapp?) will be doomed to fail from the start.

What we have been calling the bazaar, is the hyper local social community's entrepreneurs - whether of the spirit, like the ingenuity of the laid off agricultural extension worker to turn his regular route into "patients" that he consults with like a "farm doctor" and charges 500 bob for a "house call"; or of the tangible kind, the youth who're self organizing into service providers in the informal value chain between the farm and the kitchen.

How different is it from that which Raymond describes as the "bazaar" and how much is closer to the "market" if one takes that to be the standard model from business and economics and promotes competition over cooperation?