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Now, the world is enough with us

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South Africans often complain about being behind the rest of the world in access to technology. In social media, we are catching up, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

‚”The world is too much with us,‚” William Wordsworth once complained about the effects of the industrial revolution. In South Africa, the complaint has more often been that the world is not enough with us. The technology and communications revolutions that have transformed industrialised economies too often seem to take their time reaching us.

In recent years, the gap has become ever shorter, but rarely short enough to allow us to feel the world is with us now. While major consumer brands like Samsung and BlackBerry launch their latest devices here almost simultaneously with global launches, we are not as fortunate with services like high-speed broadband or on-demand TV.

But there is one arena where the world is finally with us or, rather, we are with the world: social media.

The latest research study from World Wide Worx and Fuseware, The SA Social Media Landscape 2014, conducted with Fuseware, shows that almost one in five South Africans are on Facebook: no less than 9,4-million, up from 6,8-million users a year ago.

As recently as last year, it was possible for a homegrown platform, Mxit, to be the biggest social network not only in South Africa, but in all of Africa. Now, not unexpectedly, it plays second fiddle to a global network. Soon, it will drop to third as Twitter catches up and overtakes it: already, it has more than doubled in the past year, from 2,4-million to 5,5-million showing 129% growth in 12 months.

Add instant messaging into the mix, and all of these will soon be overtaken by WhatsApp, which is likely to be found on every second smartphone and feature phone in South Africa by 2014. Already, it is the most popular app in South Africa in the Android, Apple and Windows app stores.

The impact of BlackBerry extending BBM availability to Samsung devices is reflected in the BBM Android app taking third place in the Google Play Store.

And then there are the newcomers those already making an impact and those likely to do so before long. Cape Town-based 2Go has notched up 40-million registered users in less than three years. As with Mxit, which has more than 50-million registrations, churn is high. Yet, 14,4-million users have been active on 2Go in Nigeria and South Africa in the last 90 days, and 10,5-million in the last month. Of these, 1,1-million are South African, with the rest mostly in Nigeria and a few hundred thousand in Kenya.

Mxit is holding its own, even gaining a little in active users over a 30 day period from 6,2-million in July 2012 to 6,3-million in July 2013. However, that comes at a time when other social networks and instant messaging services are seeing explosive growt.

Take WeChat, the ‚”new‚” instant messaging app that has taken China by storm. Owned by China’s leading social network Tencent, which is part-owned by Naspers, it has a quarter billion users in that country. Launched in South Africa two months ago, the marketing muscle of Naspers will ensure a substantial user base in this country.

One of the reasons we are now so much with the world is the enhanced capability of ordinary phones.

The most significant finding in the research, aside from the growth itself, is the extent to which social networks are being used on phones in South Africa. Almost 9 out of 10 Facebook and Twitter users in SA 87% and 85% respectively are accessing these tools on their phones.

That means that any social networking or instant messaging app can rub mobile shoulders with the biggest networks in the world, and that in turn means that there is no guarantee of indefinite dominance by today’s giants. Just ask Mxit. For them, the world finally is too much with us.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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