Google turned 20 last week. The tech giant’s first product was Google Search, and when it was first launched in 1998, the entire web consisted of 25 million pages; today, Google has indexed hundreds of billions of pages in close to 200 languages. The firm has been in Kenya for 11 years, and we spoke to country manager Charles Murito on Google’s plans for the country.
After 20 years of Google Search, what’s next for the web search engine?
We’re looking forward to the next chapter of Search, which is one that is powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). While a lot has changed in 20 years in the way people live and interact with technology, Google remains faithful to its core founding principles even as it innovates and adjusts to a rapidly changing world. Advancements in AI will see users experience a more intuitive search engine connecting them to more relevant and contextual information.
What are Google’s key priorities in the next year?
Our strategy has been to get users online by developing an accessible, relevant, vibrant and self-sufficient Internet ecosystem. We have three pillars: access, which is about reducing access barriers for all potential users; content, which is making the Internet relevant and useful to local people by harnessing local content; and education, where we’ll be helping to strengthen an Internet ecosystem in Africa that’s vibrant and self-sufficient in the long-term by providing and helping to train the skills that are needed.
What’s your biggest challenge in achieving some of these priorities in Kenya?
Access, data and devices are expensive, and therefore, prohibitive to the adoption of the Internet.
We’ve been working to reduce access barriers for potential users through investment in shared infrastructure projects. Google has been keen on helping to bring fast, more reliable Internet to places and people that need it.
To this end, we’re continuously working to improve the user experience for both Google products and Internet services in general, and have brought to the market products like Google Go, Android Go and YouTube Go that make it easy for people to discover the best of the Internet, even on low-RAM smartphones or where there’s unstable network connections.
What’s the most interesting trend you’re seeing in the Kenyan online market?
According to our latest consumer barometer study, we’ve seen an increased uptake of smartphones and reduction of data costs driving more users to spend more time on the Internet.
We’ve also seen more e-Commerce businesses launching and thriving. In addition, we’ve seen very strong interest around tourism from Kenyans. For instance, there are now more than four million queries a year from Kenyans searching for things to do and areas to visit within the country.
How are you supporting local tech start-ups that resonate with what you do?
Launchpad Africa Accelerator Programme is one of several initiatives Google runs in Africa geared towards economic and social development. The programme will provide over Sh300 million in equity-free funding, mentorship and working space to more than 60 African start-ups over three years. Four Kenyan start-ups have already been part of this programme: Pezesha, FlexPay, PayGo and Cloud9XP. We also have seller support, with customers able to purchase items from Kenya-based developers through credit cards, PayPal or M-Pesa.