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Google targets more youths, local SMEs in Next Billion Users mission


Kantar research Moderator, Joke Ajayi, beneficiary of the Google Smartphone, AbdulRahman Toheeb, Ayo and Product Design Strategy at Google, Garen Checkley at the NBU team last visit to Ibadan.Photo: Eniola Daniel

Search engine giant, Google, is targeting countries outside of Europe and America as the next source of growth. The search engine also wants to help more people to be on the Internet.

To achieve this, about 5 years ago, it started the Next Billion Users (NBU), an initiative that places emphasis on making products for emerging markets like Africa in mind. Earlier, a new ‘offline first’ YouTube app was introduced. This, the company says, has been in the works for some years now.

Taking into account that Internet has become a part of human lives and a viable means for boosting small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and considering the challenges experienced by people in Africa, especially the youths to have a business that can meet global demand, Google made a pledge to get more people using its services and helping them reach their goals. Currently, less than 40 per cent of Africans have access to the Internet compared to U.S. where 76 per cent are using the Internet.

Though, the opportunity in Africa is enormous, the population of the continent is projected to be around 2.5 billion in 2050. Over the same period, Nigeria will overtake the US as the third most populous country in the world, after India and China. This growing population is faced with similar challenges, and there are opportunities to create solutions that impact the majority.

Recognising the importance of carrying the locals along in reaching the NBU goal, a group of Google researchers recently completed an eighteen-month study in Ibadan, Oyo State to better understand how people use the web, their challenges and what the tech future of mobile internet and Google will look like. The result eventually will enable the search engine giant design the kind of products that will work for the people and help them achieve their goals.

Speaking with The Guardian, Product Design Strategist at Google, Garen Checkley, at the final visit of the group to Ibadan, said, “As part of Google Next Billion Users (NBU) mission, we are trying to make smart phones, the Internet and digital technology useful and relevant for everyone. And the way to achieve that is by spending time with them, visiting them, seeing what they like, talking to them firsthand instead of making assumptions about what people want, or what they need. This will allow us to better understand how to create relevant apps or products suitable for them. The Internet is going to be increasingly global, young, urban and mobile-first so we are building new apps tailored for those audiences, and by extension, everyone. “

On how the research will help tap into the potentials in Africa, he said, “We believe that by using the internet effectively, or by using the Internet to its full potential, it could really help transform people’s lives. So for instance, if somebody has a tailoring business, they can get new designs or they can reach new customers with the Internet; they can also learn how to be more efficient in their business. And the only way to achieve the target is by taking every human centered approach to understanding how we can make better products for people.“We have learned a lot by being here, and we have seen both the differences about people in Ibadan, by extension, Nigeria and other people across the world, but we also saw a lot of similarities.”

“A lot of people are getting online for the first time with a phone instead of a computer. And so that means the way they think about using the Internet starts with the phone instead of starting with a desktop.”“We discovered during this research that most of the time, people don’t have electricity.”

“I think one of the unique things that we have seen in our work in Ibadan is that many people have small businesses, and there is a lot of potential but access to the Internet is poor. And Google can help their small businesses grow to reach new customers, or staying in touch with existing customers; become more creative and efficient in their businesses.”

Speaking more on the project, Google User Experience Researcher, Tracey Lindsay Chan, said the project has been to five countries, including India, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, and others; 10 regions in total across those five countries. “We have noticed very different things in terms of people living in different circumstances, they have different constraints. In some part of the places visited, electricity is the constraint; others are lack of access to clean water or not having a bathroom that works nearby. But we’ve also noticed lots of similarities.”

“There is overall less exposure to the Internet in the community, and when you have less exposure, that means people witness fewer things.”On the challenges in reaching the NBU goal, Chan said, “The big challenge across the world for every person we’ve met is their experience with digital technology, specifically smartphones, and other Internet-enabled devices, which is why we carry out this research to close the gap.”

“So Google has launched some products that are very specifically made for people who don’t have as much experience with the Internet, where they can interact with the Internet in different ways. One example is Google Go. It takes one of our flagship products of search, but it makes it much easier to find what you are looking for.”

“We’ve spent two years collecting a lot of data, and I think an ambassadorial programme is a very interesting idea and it could be one of our recommendations. But we are working on the trends from across the world to make an informed decision. Our decisions are going to be based on very deep and strong insights.”

She added, “We have worked quite a bit with some product teams, such as Google Go, and LensGo to implement some of the early learning that we feel very confident about before we finished the entire study.”


One thing that emerged very early was that many of the participants, while they might have very strong motivation to want to use the Internet and get a smartphone, there are several of them lacking confidence when they interact with their device.

Speaking on the implication of having at least 80 percent of the Nigerian population on the Internet, she said, “Research has shown that when people have access to more information and more knowledge that they seek out to get it. It helps them become all they can be, I mean, knowledge is power in most situations and they can wield that power in ways that they want.”
One of the beneficiaries of Google Smartphones, AbdulRahman Toheeb, said, “ the only thing I did with my previous phone was to make calls and send texts, that is all.”

Toheeb, who used a smartphone for the first time in June 2019, said, “With this, I learnt new things. It made my work faster and easier. Before, I buy Ovation magazine to see the latest fashion style, but with my phone, I don’t have to waste money on Ovation any longer, if any customer wants a style he/ she will send it to me and I would send what I want to sew back to the person.”


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