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KenyaUnlimited: Gigabytes of Voices, Opinions, Knowledge and News

Any discussions about the rise and future of online communities in Africa will be incomplete without mentioning KenyaUnlimited, the home of the Kenyan Blogs Webring (KBW) and Kenyan blogs aggregator.KBW turned three years last month. Since its birth, KBW has been able to bring to a global audience gigabytes of voices, opinions, news, knoweldge and debates from the Kenyan blogosphere.

Reflecting on the three years years of its existence, Daudi Were, one of the three volunteers running KBW, declared 2007 to be the “year of emergence” for KBW:

When I think back over the last 12 months what I notice is that this year has been a year of emergence for KBW and her members. If you will forgive the farmer in me for a moment, in our first two years we were finding our feet, exploring this blogging thing, figuring out if we wanted to do it or not, we were germinating.


What is a blog? How do I join the webring?

Since its birth, the Kenyan Blog Webring has been offering online support to new bloggers:

The most frequent support question we would be asked in the Admin Team during the first two years was, “Why should I start a blog?” or “What is a blog?” or variations on that theme.
In the last year we mainly get asked, “I have a blog, how do I join the webring?” or “How do I get your aggregator to syndicate my content?” or variations on that theme. They “why” and “what” questions are decreasing, the “how” questions are increasing.

That is a good sign and KBW members have played a big role in convincing Kenyans to blog. These days when someone asks me why they should blog I simply point them to the KenyaUnlimited aggregator. I can almost guarantee you that they will read something that they either agree with whole heartedly or disagree with completely, that fuels an urge in them to get to a keyboard and start typing to contribute to the debate.

One of the reasons behind KBW being a thriving community is its diversity:

In this way we have emerged from within ourselves. Where else will you find a community composed of Maasai Market traders, IT geeks, undergraduates, pastors, self styled “sex therapists”, financial journalists, university professors, professional sports players, political commentators, rural farmers, many times many of these all rolled into one person?!!

The statistics

In its first year, KBW signed 69 members, the number went to 171 during its second year and as of last month there were 293 members, making for a total of 464 members. 293 new voices and counting:

293 new members. Remember this is not a web forum where we have one central site where each member writes a sentence here or a sentence here. These are bloggers, generating new and unique content (in the most part) every single time they write. 293 new people giving us their unique insight on the issues they feel are important, in the way they want. You are effectively talking, in web 1.0 terms, of 293 new webmasters and web content editors joined together in a single community. Now those are numbers to be proud of. This has been achieved without a single penny spent on advertising; the only emails we send out as KBW are to bloggers who are already members.

Although KBW is mainly a community of Kenyan bloggers, it is open to non-Kenyans as well. Sokari, a non-Kenyan member of KBW writes:

Congratulations to everyone of you for your hard work in starting this project and even more so in keeping it going – thanks also for opening up KU to non-Kenyans and giving us the space to share with you all – I have had the pleasure of two visits to Nairobi this year and have yet another in October so I guess I can now say that I have a little bit of Kenya in me and am proud of that.
Loving Nairobi – need to visit some other places though

Noting members’ recognition

As KBW celebrates its three years of success and growth, its members have also being recognized for their efforts in various technology-related projects:

This past year has also been marked by KBW and KBW bloggers being recognised outside our own community and emerging as leaders in some of the most interesting projects that use web 2.0 Here are some examples of this:
1. KenyaUnlimited was Kenyan’s ambassador on Blog Day 2006.
2. KenyaUnlimited was nominated as a Finalist in the 2006 Black Weblog Awards.
3. At the Digital Indaba held at Rhodes University, South Africa KBW was frequently mentioned as an example of bloggers organising themselves into an online community.
4. At the Global Voices Summit 2006 in Delhi, India, KBW was again highlighted as an example of how to organise a blogging community.
5. At TED Global again the importance of the KBW to the African blogosphere was frequently mentioned and clear to see and on and on.
6. Three dedicated women, KBW Admin members Mshairi and Kui led by KBW member Sokari are the forces behind the African Womens’ Bloggers website and webring.
7. KBW members, lead by the indefatigable White African, together with JKE and Afromusing are pushing AfriGadget to amazing new heights.
8. The most radical, innovating forces in ICT in Kenya a.k.a the geekosphere a.k.a Skunkworks-KE are active members of KBW.
9. The Kenyan main stream media, while still feeling threatened by blogs (why??!!), are beginning to understand that ignoring us is a mistake, ironically the main stream media outside Kenya can not seem to get enough of Kenyan bloggers.
10. ICT magazines within Kenya have started carrying regular blogging columns for example KBW member Al Kags’ regular column in ICT Village magazine.

Two bloggers, Sylkwan and JKE, have been using their blogs to garner support for non-profit work in Nairobi and Kisumu:

Sylkwan has used her blog to mobilise resources for St. Francis Children’s home in Karen/Langata, Nairobi and JKE has done the same for The Nest children’s home in Limuru. In the past 12 months I have been lucky enough to visit both homes in the company of other KBW members and it is fantastic to see what positive change a few individuals can make when they decide to take a stand. The staff at St. Francis and The Nest are an example to us all.

After the tragic crash of Kenyan Flight KQ507 in Cameroon early this year, KBW reacted by setting up a website for online tributes, Pamoja.

Recently, the British newspaper, The Independent, published an article about blogging in Africa with interviews from members of KBW.

Challenges

For three years, KBW has been faced with technical and administrative challenges. Daudi points out that the technical side has been taken care of:

On the technical side, we have moved from an ordinary shared hosting account, to a more advance shared hosting account, to our own VPS, and soon to our own full fledged dedicate server.

With new bloggers joining Kenyan blogosphere everyday, the Admin Team of three volunteers has been overwhelmed with requests from new members.They are sending an invitation to KBW members who are willing to give back to the community to join the team:

As many of you know KBW and KenyaUnlimited are run by a team of three volunteers. This year, in many ways, we have been victims of KBW’s success. As more and more bloggers sign up and join the webring we spend the vast majority of our KBW time dealing with support questions and various sign up queries. It is not unusual for KBW Admin Team members to spend 2 hours a day everyday of the week dealing with various support queries. Then take into consideration that the three of us have full time jobs, are located in three different countries and in three different timezones! While the primary task of the Admin Team is to provide this support and we enjoy it (in the most part) we have noticed that other KBW projects, especially those which are manpower heavy have suffered.
For example, last year it took a team of 6 of us to run the Kaybees. Towards the end of the process four of us basically gave two full days to counting and verifying the nominations and counting and verifying the final votes, sometimes roping in boyfriends and girlfriends to help with spreadsheets! LOL. The main, in fact the only, reason we have not held the Kaybees this year yet is because we understand immediately that we would be spread too thin with the team as it stands. This has also extended to other KBW projects such as Kenyan Bloggers’ Day.

In the past we have expanded the Admin Team by sending out invitations to one or two bloggers. This time we have decided to do something different and instead send out an invitation to all of you! We shall soon be advertising Admin Team positions on KenyaUnlimited. If you are a member of KBW and want to contribute back to the blogging community, want to get involved in some interesting and innovating projects, like helping people and are dedicated we would be grateful to hear from you.

KBW has been consistently cited as an inspiring example of how African bloggers can form and organize online. Last year the community held its first Blog Awards, Kaybees Awards 2006.

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