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A Chat with Sam Mbale and Susan Mwape of Truly Zambian
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Sam Mbale

Sam Mbale (pictured right) is the owner of Truly Zambian, a Group clone which gathers Zambian nationals scattered around the world. Sam is based in London and runs MappiBiz, a web hosting company. His colleague Susan Mwape is based in Lusaka, the Zambian capital.

What brought you to Ning, and what do you use it for?

Sam: I came across Ning while I was researching “Web 2.0” and open source business applications. My Ning applications are focused on community issues or business interests. I try to promote collaborative activities and encourage innovative and creative ideas.

What inspired you to start the Truly Zambian community App? Who’s it for, and what purposes do you have in mind for it?

Sam: “Truly Zambian” is a tagline for the most popular beer in Zambia, Mosi Lager. While at a party in London, I heard someone mention how he missed Mosi. We bought some Castle Lager, a South African beer which is similar to Mosi but not quite the same. Mosi is “truly Zambian.”

Our aim is to develop online relationships between Zambians, our families and friends wherever they are.

How and where have Zambians gathered online so far?

Sam: For a while we have been using group services such as MSN Groups, Yahoo! Groups and even Topica.com. (For example, I’m a member of this group for alumni of Mpelembe Secondary School.) Several themed groups have evolved within these services and a number of them were overlapping in terms of membership, interests and backgrounds. We then realised that it would be easier if we could integrate these services into a seamless service. Unfortunately this is not possible with such closed systems.

Zambian general interest groups include ZambiaSossa, UK Zambians and Kachaka.

How’s the community activity been on Truly Zambian so far?

Sam: The response has been positive. Many people are just beginning to grasp the concept behind Ning. The concept of exposing your source code is new to many Zambians who are used to the culture of closed or secretive systems.

Do you have any interesting stories about the community?

Sam: The community has enabled several reunions between long lost school friends, who have gone on to develop their own groups.

Susan: The Zambian community is a very socially active community that enjoys interaction and dialogue. It’s the way they interact and liaise with each other that is most fascinating. The sense of closeness in the community is so strong such hat most of the men that go to drink socially are ready to drink together in a group from one cup.

How is internet access in Zambia, and are there internet-based businesses
cropping up?

Susan: Internet-based business is slowly growing, especially in the capital city. It has in recent years become affordable though it is still expensive in some places. This can also be attributed to the fact that Zambia has no broadband internet. However, in the not-so-distant future Zambia should see the introduction of igh-speed connections as the EASSy project is about to start placing optic fibre in the region.

Most of the rural areas have no internet base and so this enables those that set up internet cafés to charge exorbitant prices that only provide internet access to the wealthy. On the other hand, in Lusaka, internet business is booming as we see one café after another opening up.

What do you think of Ning for App-building?

Sam: It is simple and easy to use. The fact that one can develop an application without coding makes it a likely popular destination for beginners or people who do not have the time to develop code from scratch.

What are your favourite Ning features?

Sam: Undoubtedly tagging, cloning, and access to source code. Also, the ability to customise and use professional services makes Ning an attractive development platform.

You have your own web hosting business, yet you’ve chosen to run Apps on Ning. What do you see as the main differences between Ning and a more traditional hosting service?

Sam: I have chosen Ning because of the variety of social interaction that is possible. Besides, I do not want others in the group to feel that I’m selling my own services to them. Traditional hosting services are usually closed sytems. In most cases, it requires a lot of time and resources to develop social applications on traditional platforms. Our web hosting service requires subscription to professional level services in order to enable interactive services.

How do you see Ning helping with your own business plans, either now or
in the future?

Sam: Ning fits very well with our business plan in terms of deploying user-led applications. As more and more people participate and share ideas, possible business opportunities will be identified and developed. We aim to create the biggest Zambian social and business community.

We at Ning wish you the best of luck with it. Sam and Susan, thanks very much for your time!