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OLX moves toward mobile-only future

By Frankline Sunday | October 6th 2015 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Users of online trading platform OLX will have to delete their current OLX apps and install a new version as the company takes the first steps toward a mobile-first future.

OLX has developed a new app that allows Kenyan users to, among other things, operate independent of a personal computer.

According to Peter Ndiang’ui, OLX’s country manager, the move has been necessitated by the industry’s gravitation towards mobile, and the need to improve user experience and security.

“A classifieds platform is about people trading with each other, and we need to have a platform that users trust to guarantee success,” he said.

“The current platform we have was built in 2005 when OLX was just starting out, and we believe that it has outlived its basic function of enabling buyers and sellers communicate.”

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Back in 2005 when OLX was in talks to acquire Dealfish and enter the Kenyan e-Commerce market, the primary mode of online communication was email, and mobile was hardly differentiated to the levels it is today.

OLX is thus trying to align itself to a new reality, while maintaining its core service offerings in the face of stiff competition from other service providers.

“There are certain challenges we have encountered when trying to make it adapt to the emerging needs of the users. For example, we have been trying to introduce a chat function outside traditional email,” said Mr Ndiang’ui.

“In order to introduce a new feature, we needed to move into a new platform that is grounded not only on the existing technologies, but also on the projected formats these technologies will take in the future.”

Enhanced security

Under the new platform, which goes live in the next few weeks, users will be able to create mobile accounts and buyer/seller profiles, introducing a new layer of security, a concern of users of the site.

“The new platform enables users to be more flexible while having even more security, because having an extra layer of authentication provides peace of mind.”

Ndiang’ui added that the new service allows the company to open the door to the integration of third-party apps and other service providers.

The new platform has a more developer-friendly application programme interface (API), which means it is much easier for developers to create relevant apps that can plug into the OLX system.

“Today, the platform we have makes it harder to create interrogations, for example, with the Government registry or with other service providers like telcos, utilities and banks,” said Ndiang’ui.

In addition, the new features will make moderation easier for system administrators, which is expected to reduce fraud cases and duplicated postings.

Web portal

“In the past, we have had users complain about duplicated ads, but this new platform has algorithms that keep mining historical data to fish out fraudulent users or sellers who have double placements, helping us weed them out much faster than was the case with the old system,” he said.

“This platform is really focusing on mobile first — and almost mobile only — because we believe the future of accessing the Internet is mobile devices, whether handheld or wearable. It is not about the device form, but about taking computing with you wherever you are.”

OLX is, however, quick to clarify that the company is not abandoning the web portal just yet, although all signs point to a future that is almost exclusively mobile.

“Users will still be able to access the service through their desktops or through mobile web browsers. However, 90 per cent of Kenyans today reach us through their mobile phones, and we have seen the continued decline of desktop access over time, so we cannot rule out an era where we are mobile only,” Ndiang’ui said.

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