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Quick talks and conference debugging

Conferences take debugging. The first time you throw a conference, you’ll find yourself facing problems you never imagined, problems you thought you anticipated and solved, problems you have no idea how to solve. The Indaba organizers thought they had arranged internet connectivity for all attendees – actually, they’d arranged it only for Rhodes staff members. Mark that one as anticipated, but unsolved and intractible. They ordered food for 120 for lunch. Unfortunately, they didn’t anticipate everyone else in their building showing up for lunch. About a third of the attendees (myself included) arrived five minutes after the food arrived and found themselves poking through the ransacked food trays looking for scraps of cheese. But one attendee went out and returned with a sack of hamburgers, the organizers bought a few sandwiches, and everyone got fed, loaves and fishes-style…

The debugging may be getting faster as well. After lunch, the Indaba tried “speed speaking” sessions, in which multiple speakers gave short talks to small audiences. The model proposed – the speakers would stand in the corners of a room, and a pack of listeners move from speaker to speaker. It took only a moment of debugging to realize that moving the speakers was much easier than moving entire audiences. Progress.

A couple of the talks are hard to summarize – one was a self-described rant which can be encapsulated into the talk’s opening statement: “Boy, Highway Africa Sucks Shite from a Big Pipe.” (The speaker evidently felt that the first three Highway Africas had been groups of people talking about issues that they were personally concerned with – journalist to journalist – but that this gathering focused more on PR people, spokespeople and shilling.)

Ian Gilfillan used his time to point to the existence of Wikipedia in languages other English, “potentially in every language spoken and written.” He’s active on the Afrikaans wikipedia, which has six thousand entries, but points out that other South African wikipedias have just gotten started, like the Xhosa, which has 20 articles.

He points out that different languages can have very different communities on Wikipedia. He characterized the culture of the English wikipedia as “quite American”, which he suggests means there’s a good deal of “cut and thrust”, delete wars and online arguments. The Japanese wikipedia, by contrast, tends to be more polite and careful, involving more discussion before changes are made.

Limo, the author of brilliant Kenyan banking blog, Bankelele, talks a bit about his work. He works in the Kenyan banking sector and uses his inside knowledge to help unpack financial information for Kenyans at home and abroad. Kenyans often wonder whether there are any jobs for them if they choose to come home – Limo posts a job every week that expatriate Kenyans can apply for via email. He spends much of his time focusing on stock issues and shares advice, attending general meetings of companies and offering his insights on what shares might be worth investing. It’s not a surprise that the blog is quite popular – about 800 visitors a day. It hasn’t been too easy to monetize it so far – Limo tells us he tried Google Ads and made $300, but was then removed from the program for alleged “click fraud” – now he’s looking for local sponsors, and using the blog to catapult him to financial writing assignments.

(We’re lucky to have so many smart Kenyans here. I also had the privlege of meeting Daudi Were, the mastermind of Kenya Unlimited. It’s really a privlege to meet some of these folks I’ve admired for so long…)

1 thought on “Quick talks and conference debugging”

  1. Thanks for the comments and the positive oulook on blogs that you shared during your talk. It was an honour to meet you.

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