Home Google Launches SMS-Based Services for Africa

Google Launches SMS-Based Services for Africa

Google today announced a number of SMS-based services for the African market. Google SMS provides access to information by SMS (news, local weather, sports, agriculture tips, etc.), while Google Trader is an SMS-based marketplace where buyers and sellers can connect. Google SMS Tips is a query-and-answer service that can take any free-form text query, find the keywords, and then identify and return a relevant answer from a large database.

As Google points out, Africa has the world’s highest mobile growth rate and mobile phone penetration is far higher than Internet penetration. By focusing on SMS-based service, Google will be able to reach a far larger number of potential users than by working on web-based apps.

Just for Uganda at First

Even though Google stresses that it targets ‘Africa’ with these services, in reality, they are only available for users on MTN Uganda‘s network, but chances are that, if successful, Google will expand these offerings in the future.

Google worked together with MTN Uganda, the Grameen Foundation‘s “AppLab,” and a number of other local partners to get this service off the ground.

Fighting Information Poverty

In a post on the Google Africa blog about this launch, Rachel Payne, Google’s Country Manager in Uganda points out that the company believes that “it’s important to reach users wherever they are, with the information they need most, and in areas with the greatest information poverty.” It will be interesting to see how (and if) local users will make use of these new services.

SMS Tips

Among these new services, Google SMS and Google Trader are very interesting and will definitely be quite useful for a lot of users. Google SMS Tips seems to be the most sophisticated of these services, as it interprets search queries and doesn’t just return a list of links, but actually tries to compute the query and return a relevant answer to a question. For now, SMS Tips works best with health questions and queries related to farming (including weather information). Even if you are not in Uganda, you can give the service a try here (query form is at the bottom of the page)

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