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An Interview with Online Africa founder Tim Katlic

By Wayan Vota on April 30, 2010

Recently, a new website has appeared on the ICT4D scene that I found worthy: Online Africa – Tracking ICT Progress.

With good content and in-depth ICT analysis, its a worthy read and I encourage you to subscribe by RSS or follow it on Twitter. Yet, who is the mind behind Online Africa? Read this ICTworks Interview to learn more:

ICTworks: Who are you and what inspired you to create Online Africa?

Online Africa: My name is Tim Katlic and I’ll be the first to admit that my online presence has been somewhat sudden and mysterious. In a nutshell, Online Africa started as a personal project but quickly took on much greater significance. My site is a passion of mine – I am not an expert in the field of ICT4D – but I believe one does not need an advanced degree to advance ICT in Africa, or anywhere else for that matter.

ICTworks: What is your background?

Online Africa: Currently, I work full-time as an advertising data analyst for an Internet company in Los Angeles, California. In addition to enjoying a lifelong affinity for the Internet, I have always had a passion for the liberal arts. Although I have a degree in physics, my alma mater (Bowdoin College) provided an excellent liberal arts background and emphasized working for the common good. With this in mind, Online Africa seemed like a perfect endeavor. The website allows me to harness both my creative and my technical abilities.

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ICTworks: Why Online Africa?

Online Africa: I have always had a passion for the Internet and all of the doors it can open. Over the years I would read articles about how Africa was ready for the digital age, broadband, etc. and wonder why every article I read seemed to repeat a similar story, year after year. Not only did I want to learn more about Africa’s history with ICT, but I sought to understand the challenges facing the ICT sector.

Before putting the effort into starting this site, I asked various friends and colleagues what they knew about Africa and the Internet. I was surprised to find no one with knowledge or even much of an opinion on the subject. I’m also amazed at how few Americans even know what the acronym ICT represents.

why online africa

During my initial research process for a site, I noted that there was indeed a place for another online resource for ICT in Africa. Many sites appeared to be either scholarly or very practical and tech-focused. I imagined a hybrid of these styles. Armed with this empirical knowledge and basic knowledge of Africa’s Internet growth potential, I decided to browse available domain names. Surprisingly, both OnlineAfrica.net and OnlineAfrica.org were available, so I purchased both and the rest is history.

ICTworks: Does writing from outside Africa pose certain challenges?

Online Africa: My location in the United States undoubtedly prevents me relaying first-hand accounts of what is happening on the ground in Africa. I cannot attend events on the African continent like other site owners. However, such limitations help focus the content on the website.

After all, the primary function of my site is to spread the news of African ICT progress and address less “tech-y” topics than other outlets. I am aware of my limitations, and, at the end of the day, I hope my perspective is not detrimental to my message. I understand that my belief systems and cultural background vary from those practiced in Africa. However, Africa is a continent of many flavors and surely my insight has its place.

ICTworks: Could you share some interesting website traffic trends?

Online Africa: Actually, I am most surprised with the low volume of mobile traffic. Currently, only a few percent of visitors arrive at the site using a mobile device. I expected this number to be twice as large, but then again, I also expected African traffic to be higher. Some other notable stats:

  • I have been pleasantly surprised with how Twitter updates have grown a steady audience.
  • Most visitors come from the USA, United Kingdom, South Africa, Kenya, and Canada.
  • 25% of visits are from Africa.
  • As expected, French language is the most popular after English.

ICTworks: Do you see advertising as a real revenue generator or just somewhat cost recovery?

Online Africa: Revenue was never a top priority (nor will it ever be), but out of curiosity I did implement AdSense. I personally dislike online ads (although I work with them all day!) but would like to understand more about how an African audience responds to current online advertising. In the future I will most likely remove the ads (for one, they lack visual appeal and clutter the site), but in the meantime they partially cover start-up costs.

ICTworks: What are your goals for OA in terms of audience and scope?

Online Africa: The site is a work in progress that gains direction with every passing day. Initially, I felt that my audience would be mostly African, hence the site translator, low-bandwidth version of the site, and page-caching abilities. So far, however, most visitors seem to be affiliated with organizations working in Africa. I would eventually like to see more Westerners understand that Africa is a diverse continent that is worth a few minutes of attention. If people have time to read gossip websites, then they have time to learn about African ICT.

Also, I would like to produce more original content. In fact, a top priority of mine is to shed more light on nations with smaller online presences. Currently, the Internet is dominated by news stories from South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana, and Nigeria. I would like to see smaller nations receive some press, respect, and further opportunity for ICT growth. Along these lines, it would be exciting to receive investment-related traffic to my site.

Thank you for providing the opportunity for me to better explain Online
Africa. I welcome further questions and can be reached at contact@onlineafrica.net.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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One Comment to “An Interview with Online Africa founder Tim Katlic”

  1. Wilfred says:

    Original content from Africa is the key phrase for me here. That is our passion both at the African Virtual School and at africandatabase.com (our attempt to create original africa-focused content). I look forward to reading more original content on your site Tim.