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Maneno: A Multilingual Blogging Platform Built For African Bloggers

Maneno is a new blogging platform that promises to offer blogging and communication solutions for bloggers with limited or narrow-bandwith in Sub-Saharan Africa. Maneno is a Swahili word, which means “words.”

Considering the multilingual nature of the region, Maneno was built to allow for multiple language versions of articles to “sit atop one another for immediate access.” The interface of the platform is also translated into different languages to remove linguistic barriers. At the moment, Maneno is readable in English, Spanish, French, Swahili and Portuguese. Maneno developers are also planning on enabling African bloggers to use mobile phones to blog.

Maneno is a non-profit registered in the United States. Its Directors, three of whom are regular Global Voices contributors are Rebecca Wanjiku, a journalist and blogger from Kenya, Elia Varela Serra, journalist and photographer with a background in humanitarian development, Saul Wainwright, a South African finance manager, researcher and strategist and Miquel Hudin Balsa, a web developer.

Translation of the site is open to people in the community:

Maneno relies on people in the community helping us to translate the site. We encourage anyone out there with knowledge of a Sub-Saharan language to contact us to offer their linguistic help. Please don't be discouraged if your langauge isn't widely spoken; we'd still love to have it as an option!
To create a translation is quite simple. Once we hear from you, we'll send you a basic text file. You substitute in the words for your language and send it back. If desired, we will happily thank you on this page and in our blog for your work.

White Africa tested the site and found it a lot faster than most blogging platforms. Do we need another blogging platform?, he asks:

When I first heard about Maneno, the first question that came to my mind was… “what about WordPress.com and Blogger.com?” Don’t those serve the same purpose? Realizing that my knowledge in this might be lacking, I contacted Miquel to answer a few answers. Here is his response:
“We travel quite a bit and I found that anything hosted in the US gets slower and slower the further you get from the US, so I worked to create a CMS/blog platform that was very stripped down, yet fully functional. Don’t get me wrong, WordPress is a beautiful, fantastic system that I admire and also use, but when you’re on a satellite connection in Bukavu or very slow DSL in Sarajevo, it’s mighty slow to use, which is the same problem with GMail and other web based applications that were developed in North America and Europe. So, I realized that what I was doing for our personal blogs would translate very well in to a system that would meet a great many of the needs for a new blogging system for Sub-Saharan Africa.”
That makes sense. Any hosted web platform based in the US and Europe is going to have lag issues Africa. Every byte counts, so a system that has been custom built to work in this scenario can be useful.
Final thoughts
The site absolutely flies. It’s a lot faster than most other blogging platforms. I’m interested in hearing from others around the African continent on how fast the site loads for them.
Besides the standard text and images, Maneno allows you to add up to 10Mb audio files as a post. This is a great idea, and shows just how much they’re thinking about things differently, as many normal users of blogging platforms can’t figure out how to host podcasts or audio files to get them out in the public.

Aid Worker Daily considers Maneno a lightweight blogging platform for “folks heading to the field,” and wonders if its code or template will be released to the public as open source:

A few days ago I posted on Loband and how it’s the perfect tool for browsing the web in low bandwidth environments. Miquel dropped by to read the post but also to let us know about Maneno which is a lightweight blogging platform that he and his team have created. His comment sparked a discussion with Alan Jackson over at Aptivate, the creators of Loband, and while most of the back and forth is fairly technical Alan took the time to lay out some observations he has made of the Maneno platform. It looks like a great product and it seems like a perfect tool for that mass of aid workers that start blogs primarily to keep their friends back home updated and to let their families know that they are still alive. It has very low bandwidth demands and offers a clean and simple interface. Please check it out and let us know what you think but first head over and check out the rest of the comments. Here’s a taste:
Miguel it’s great to hear about your lightweight blogging system. We’ve been thinking there was a need for something like that for a while. Are you going to release the code / templates open source? You might be interested in our web design guidelines where we go through various techniques for optimising the size of web pages. We came up with a target page size of 25KB using estimates of the bandwidth you get on the desktop in African universities.
The 50KB typical page size of Maneno is fantastic, especially when you consider the average web page size is now over 300KB (which would have a 2 minute download time on a 20Kb/s connection). If you’re interested in shaving off even more, you might want to have a look at converting RGB images to images with indexed palettes or reducing the number of indexed colours down to something like 32.

What is the point of a new site or platform when other good ones are available?, asks Mike Blyth:

There are several advantages:
• The site is designed from scratch with the goal of making pages load fast over the slow connections that most of us have in Africa. There really is a noticeable difference.
• The site is easy to use. (Actually, I'm not sure it's any easier than Blogspot, but the authors are working to keep it simple.)
• Maneno is multilingual. Other sites do allow you to type your blog entries in your own language, but Maneno has the added feature of an easy interface that lets any member translate any blog post into another language, sort of a communal approach to making the entries themselves available in other languages. Of course, it's the African languages that are the focus.
• Maneno recognizes that many users in Africa do not have access a computer, so the site is exploring ways to allow people to access it through mobile phones and other relevant technology. (Blogspot also allows posting by mobile phone & email … will Maneno be better in some way? Probably it at least will be slimmer.)
• Maneno is focused on Africa. Unlike Blogspot, which is a place for any and every type of blog, Maneno is more topical, describing itself as striving “to provide a communication and development platform for Sub-Saharan Africa.”

TinderBlog hopes Maneno becomes the future of Content Management Systems:

So imagine my joy when I came across Maneno last week. A CMS blogging platform designed specifically with low bandwidth in mind and provided from servers in Africa, cutting down on slow internal connections. As the blurb says “Maneno strives to provide a communication and development platform for Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Good looking and providing all the functionality you need in a decent website, the online feedback I’ve seen so far has been universally positive, particularly around download times, which can massively increase the expense of browsing the net in the very places where this service needs to be as cheap as possible. That is really important. In the words of blogger White African “The site absolutely flies.”

Although Maneno is still in a beta version it works like a dream and looks very impressive. It seems just the ticket if you are setting up a new site with little knowledge of design and want to ensure potential readers in Africa actually get the opportunity to read what you have to say.

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