Over the weekend, I chanced upon an article on Facebook: a 19- year old student of the University of Ghana had built a video search website called Mudclo. The comments section of that particular Facebook post was quite interesting. Gabriel Opare, Mudclo’s creator, was either showered with lots of praises or met with harsh and stern criticism for his collation. I’m going to address all three angles to this story and at the end of this post, everything will be clear.
Mudclo is created
Let’s start from the beginning. What exactly is Mudclo? Mudclo is basically a video metasearch website. How it works is that, when you search for a video on their website, it shows you aggregated results from Vimeo, YouTube and Daily Motion — quite convenient, right? Instead of having to visit three websites, you only visit one and you get similar results.
Coming up with a metasearch website as compared to building a search engine, is extremely simple: you just mash up a couple of already existing APIs and that’s it, you have your website. Chances are, you’d probably not need to write one line of code — you just use templates and everything is set up for you. Mudclo may be a great website, but it is nothing like Google, DuckDuckGo or Yahoo! Search.
Mudclo is publicized
Now when you come up with something (I don’t want to use the words “build” or “create”) and you need to get it out there, news outlets have got you covered. You meet up with a news-writer and you share your core story. They then embellish and broadcast it. Given the sad and sorry state of modern journalism in Ghana and little technical knowledge, majority of the news sites that have covered this story have grossly misrepresented it. Funny thing is, one news site exaggerated and misrepresented the story and the others just copied and pasted on their websites, without verification! Copy-and-paste journalism is really killing us!
As hinted earlier, there’s a great deal of difference between a search website and a search engine. Also, given the fact that Microsoft’s Bing + Yahoo’s Search + Yandex + DuckDuckGo synergized comes nowhere near Google’s Search engine, it is extremely laughable to tout Mudclo as a rival of Google Search and YouTube.
But I get it, anything to induce clicks and draw more traffic right? Saying “19 year old tech entrepreneur to unseat Google and YouTube with new search engine” will definitely draw more traffic “Mudclo is a metasearch website that amalgamates search results from three websites.”
The average Ghanaian is extremely impressed
“Wow, a 19-year-old has built something that’s better than Google.” I admire how appreciative and supportive Ghanaians can be when you start anything in tech. They will share on social media, occasionally motivate you with well-worded comments and check up on you. And if anyone dare says something negative about your “project,” they will immediately be attacked with knives and pitchforks [all in the comments section, of course] But when it comes to a critical analysis of your project in terms of authenticity and relevance, you won’t get it from the class of average Ghanaian readers, no.
The wrath of Ghana’s tech community is incurred
There are so many brilliant and hardworking people in the Ghanaian tech community who have actually put in a lot of work to actually build remarkable things but sadly most of them don’t get the needed “hype” and attention to get them off the ground. They probably code in two or three languages and idolize a couple of tech giants, and occasionally wonder how on God’s green Earth their idols managed to break into the global tech scene.
Now, anyone who fits this description may be extremely impressed initially to read such a headline but because they are trained, they will almost immediately call bullshit after inspection. This, I don’t think should be branded as hate, but tough love, if you like. It’s just brute honesty and statement of facts. Mudclo is NOT a search engine.
The way forward
I believe it takes the collective effort of all the three categories identified above [Creators and curators of tech products & services, average readers as well as technical & tech-savvy readers] to get things in order.
If you come up with something, please be honest in describing it. Do not exaggerate what it can do. If you’re a news editor, ask deep and relevant questions, do some research, do not be a proponent of false headlines and stories, and if you are tech savvy, please call fraudulent and misrepresented innovations and creations out without demoralizing young dreamers by sounding negative, offensive and discouraging. Like Mark Zuckerberg said, “Ideas do not come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started.” Instead of outrightly blacklisting a creation, offering constructive criticism about the product without breaking the creator is definitely a better option.
I remember some time back, someone claimed he had built “Africa’s first operating system”, but upon careful inspection, it was just a clone Linux Operating system using SUSE-Studio. I saw another story about someone who had built “Africa’s first browser” which also happened to be a clone. If media houses can carefully scrutinize and look at these things with more skepticism, they will not be calling people “The Elon Musk (or was it Mark Zuckerberg) of Africa.”
I understand why the Ghanaian developer community are exasperated from this. They see the real innovations not get that kind of recognition. And when these weak products eventually are outed for what they are, there is some reputational damage for the whole group of Ghanaian developers. And frankly speaking some products and services do not need that “Ghanaian” or “African” tag. I want a browser that works, not an African browser — it doesn’t make any sense. If the browser is optimized for Africa, then fine, tag it as such, otherwise, it shouldn’t really matter where it is coming from.
And to the general public, let’s continue motivating young creators to achieve and do more. But note that effort alone is not enough. Mediocrity cannot be rewarded.