If Google is the gateway to the internet, Facebook is the online destination in Uganda. The social giant’s rise to stardom began in 2007, the same year that Internet really began to make sense to many Ugandans.
2007 is the same year that internet usage in Uganda began to experience an exponential rise which can be attributed to two factors; the advent of Mobile internet which Africell (Orange Uganda then) popularized and the Mobile-friendly Facebook social networking application.
You could say that Facebook gave users something to do with the internet — whether that meant poking their friends, sharing their unfiltered thoughts, uploading and sharing photos or notoriously sharing celebrity nudes. Today, Facebook has as estimated 500,000 Ugandan users on the network.
But before Facebook gained traction among online users, search was no doubt the most popular online application. Google which dominates the search market remains the most visited website in Uganda according to Similarweb, a web analytics website.
To further understand what Ugandans are doing online, I used Google Trends, a tool from Google which analyses and measures the popularity of keywords based on how many times users have entered them on the search engine. I also used Similarweb which I consider to be a more accurate version of Alexa for web analytics. I analysed the top 50 most visited websites in Uganda to gauge where online users interests are.
|Categorizing Top 50 websites in Uganda according to Similarweb|
|News & Media||7||MSN, BBC, New Vision,Daily Monitor, Yahoo, Redpepper, DailyMail, Newsnow.co.uk|
|Search Engine||4||Google, Ask, Bing, Websearches, Mystartsearch|
|Internet & Telecom||4||MTN, Orange, Smile, Wordpress|
|Sports||4||Flashscore, SoccerVista, Soccerway, Goal.com|
|Social Network||3||Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin|
|Shopping||3||Kaymu, Alibaba, Aliexpress, Stylene|
|3||Live.com, Yahoo, Gmail|
|Arts & Entertainment||2||Youtube, kickass.so|
|Computers, Electronics & Software||2||Microsoft, Mozilla|
|Encyclopaedia & dictionaries||1||Wikipedia|
|Career & Education||1||Mak.ac.ug|
From the 50 most visited websites in Uganda, we can see application categories such as Search, Social Networks, News & Media, Email, Arts & Entertainment, Sports featuring prominently. News & Media category has the most candidates featuring both local and international news media houses. New Vision and Monitor has the advantage of being recognized offline newspaper brands, but there are over 300 online Ugandan blogs according to Storipot, a blog directory and aggregator. However, these digital publications remain largely unknown compared to local and International re-known brands which still maintain offline media presence.
Internet & Telecom companies websites also feature prominently among the most used online application. Users are most likely going to reload their expired mobile data bundles, check for the latest Telecom service promotions or check for prices of services. Orange Uganda (at #29) surprisingly knocks off MTN Uganda(at #32) on the list even though MTN Uganda has more Mobile subscribers.
Even though Google failed to release the 2014 search results for Uganda as part of its annual Google Zeitgeist report, you can still access a summarized version of the most popular keywords using the Google trends tool. The results of the most most popular search keywords of 2014 closely correlate with Similarweb’s top 50 most popular websites if you take a closer look.
Sports in particular Soccer has a great representation from both Google trends and Similarweb’s top 50. Search terms like “Arsenal, Man u, world cup, Livescores” from Google trends together with sites such as Flashscore, SoccerVista, Soccerway, Goal.com from Similarweb show you just how popular Soccer is among Ugandans. These International sports sites topple local sports sites like Kawowo Sports which covers local sports scene. However, this isn’t all shocking since European soccer leagues are far more popular than the local ones even in the offline world.
You would have expected social media to “kill” Email, but that’s not the case. Ugandans are still using the application for work and personal communication. Gmail, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Outlook or Live Mail are the most popular Email providers. Even though Yahoo which is the 3rd most visited site in Uganda is largely a News and Media company, its Email service is still one of things that keep users coming back to the provider.
Video-sharing site Youtube features prominently in the Arts & Entertainment section. The video site is the 4th most visited website in Uganda silencing critics who are always crying foul of high data costs and slow internet speeds as severe impediments to consuming video-oriented apps. Think about it, who can resist watching skating dogs and singing cats? Kickass.so showing up among the top 50 means Ugandans are “pirates”. Yes, you reading this, did you buy that music from iTunes or torrented it from kickass.so? Don’t worry, you are not alone!
Online shopping comes in as the new kid in the block. Online shopping made its mark in Uganda last year thanks to Rocket Internet-backed companies like Hellofood, Jumia, Lamudi and Kaymu. Kaymu shows up among the top 50. Also not Amazon or eBay but China-based Alibaba and Aliexpress show up as well. It’s not surprise since there’s alot of trade going on in the offline world between Ugandans and the Chinese.
Wikipedia, Uganda Revenue Authority(URA) and Makerere University also showup. Wikipedia houses the vast majority of humanities knowledge although still very little content about Africa or Uganda is present on the online free encyclopedia. The Makerere university website isn’t a surprise too. The public University admits over 35,000 students who are most likely constantly checking the website for campus news, events and updates. URA, the countries Tax collector is a surprise entry in the list. However, it shows that the government body is serious about digitizing most of its processing as opposed to most government bodies which are still largely using paper-based methods to serve Ugandans.
These last entries are majorly as a result of direct visits since we don’t see much search terms that would indicate user interest in the area of Career & Education and Government services.
To summarize the most popular applications that Ugandans are interested in online, I compared the popularity of select keywords from 2004 till today each representing a certain application category using the Google Trends tool. I used Facebook to represent Social Networking, News for News & Media, Gmail for Email applications, Youtube for Arts & Entertainment and Soccer to represent the Sports category. Google Trends has a limit of only 5 comparisons.
Again the results aren’t at all surprising from what we’ve already seen. Facebook which is the 2nd most visited website is way up there on the graph. News remains one of the most consumed content online and that goes way back as far as early 2000s, followed by Email, Video and Sports(Soccer). Bare in mind this is online or web activity only. The Mobile space is certainly somewhat a different ballgame and needs a set its own comparison metrics to understand what’s going on.
From the above data, its clear that local content or locally made application have a long way to go. The “local web” is mostly dominated by global application providers such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook.