Google’s Africa Strategy: Search And Trade Via SMS
Not only does Google want to organize all the world’s information, it also wants to make all that information available to everyone in the world. For the majority of the world’s population, that means making it available on a cell phone, and not a fancy iPhone or Android with a Web browser either. I’m talking about $10 cell phones with not much more than voice and SMS capabilities. If Google can reach people, especially in developing nations, with SMS, it can reach everyone with a cell phone.
In Africa, it is launching a suite of SMS services today, including SMS search, Q&A-style tips, and an SMS-based marketplace. The first country to get these services is Uganda.
The search service works like Google SMS in North America. You text a search term, and it responds via SMS with the result. Searches can be narrowed by using specific keywords such as “local time,” “weather,” “news,” “maps,” “translation,” or “currency conversion.” For more complicated searches, the related SMS tips service offers answers in an automated Q&A format.
But the most interesting application is Google Trader, which allows people to post items for sale and jobs via SMS. Other people can search for them by texting the service with the word “BUY” preceding the search term. Google Trader connects the buyer and seller together (each listing contains the seller’s cell phone number).
Update: Google created these particular apps in partnership with the Grameen Foundation, through its newly-launched AppLabs project. The mobile suite of SMS apps also includes Health Tips, Clinic Finder, and a Farmer’s Friend database.