Bamako’s Digital Multimedia Bookshop

In downtown Bamako, Mali an entrepreneurial bookshop owner, Mamadou Coulibaly, has been attracting an ever-increasing number of clients and curious onlookers since the owner set up an odd-looking computer. “The Source” is a handmade computer box that acts as an offline distributor of online multimedia material. Anyone can step up to the kiosk and pick up anything from Wikipedia pages to local music. Their most popular requests: the Koran and Malian music.

[video link]

“Our goal is to give people a wider access to educational and cultural material, so this can help to trigger their desire to learn and expand their knowledge.”

This type of innovation really brings home the slow, or expensive, capacity of local internet connections. Bypassing internet cafes (slow) for local, or more static content, can be done through local-only internet hosting too. However, what’s ingenious here is the idea that most people in Bamako don’t need the internet connection at all. That by acting as a simple distribution node for dynamic information and media (the web) they are successfully filling the needs of the local population.

It’s always good to see local-level entrepreneurs benefiting from taking outside ideas and making them work for their needs in Africa. Many times a completely new solution isn’t needed, just a culturally relevant one.

[More on “The Source“]

Author: Erik Hersman

Erik is the owner of White African, a blog about technology and Africa. He is the co-founder of Zangu, a new web and mobile phone application that he hopes will change communication in Africa. AfriGadget is another web project of his, not that he doesn't have enough of those already...

13 thoughts on “Bamako’s Digital Multimedia Bookshop”

  1. This guy really should prototype/patent and start selling this thing throughout Africa. Great idea. Love that he’s running Ubuntu…can anyone tell what the GUI is? Looks custom.

  2. This sort of interface is a really good idea. It provides ways for people in the West who are collaborating with people in Africa online to be of service. A wide range of useful information could be downloaded onto discs and sent via the mail to such operators. In the video I like they say “devices.” There are a range of “devices” and Mp3 players are one such device which could become more useful. There is a simple computer which has been used in schools in the West for a long time for word processing called the Alphasmart. With a simple back lit LED display the device get hundreds of hours of use with simple AA batteries. Such simple computers could allow students at schools with no electricity–there are lots of them–to create content. This would allow partnerships with schools in the West. The innovation is in ways to share digital content.

  3. Having an interest in libraries (as a trustee), I like this model very much. Distribution through such a node to a USB stick and/or other device is an elegant solution to expensive and/or slow internet connections.
    Selling the service, however, raises some issues. Is the book shop owner selling otherwise-free content such as Wikipedia pages or copyright-challenged illegal music (and video?) downloads? If he is charging by the item, it would seem so. If, on the other hand, he charges by the amount of time spent on the computer, he is simply serving as a different type of internet cafe. I pose the question as a conversation starter.
    Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

  4. Dave, good conversation point. I can’t say as I know exactly how their business model works, though I had assumed they were selling the service, not the actual downloads.

  5. I would have to agree with Erik; it’s a pay-for-service business, and not exactly a pay-for-content oriented business model. Information should be free regardless.

    The “Free Flow of Information Act” promotion by UNESCO protects business-men like Coulibaly, pursuing such ventures. Sharing of knowledge should never be paid for. Need you be reminded that Wikipedia is a consortium of contributed articles and publications by the people and for the people?

    Mamadou Coulibaly is only trying to keep the “SOURCE” alive, by charging small fees for using his portal to access this information. Pursuing an IT business in a 3rd world country can be challenging for start-up gurus, and is usually (somewhat) pricey for local customers.

    It is an unfortunate dilemma that can only be resolved by the national economy and time.

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