Archives For design

On July 16th, 2013 Appfrica CEO Jon Gosier had the pleasure of sharing information about the history of Appfrica and business opportunities in Africa with summer fellows at Temple University’s Urban Apps + Maps Studio.

Appfrica Temple University Urban Apps + Maps

Slides from the presentation. Business opportunities across the continent…

On Appfrica and our role…

A New Look and Feel

Jon Gosier —  October 11, 2012 — Leave a comment

The Appfrica blog has been more-or-less active since 2008, and it’s had many looks which we’ve recently updated. The new site is clean and minimal and makes for better reading of the longer content we’ve written over the years.

Appfrica Circa 2012

While we were at it, we also slightly modified our logo which hadn’t changed in quite a while either.

Appfrica Logo 2013

Just for the fun of it, here’s a look back at the past! First the website….




We’ve come a long way since then! Now a trip down memory lane with some of our old logos…


appfrica old logo old logo
old appfrica logo


Appfrica Classic Logo

Appfrica Labs Old Logo


Appfrica 3 Year

For the past several months I’ve been working on a project for moving data around when there’s no internet.  I talked a bit about this at the Power of Information conference earlier this year in London, but I thought I’d share more here.

Abayima applies cold war tactics to mobile data storage and distribution.

Abayima targets anyone living in oppressive, restrictive, societies around the globe. It was inspired by the information networks during the most recent Uganda elections and the Arab Spring — both situations where electronic communication networks were compromised (or complete shutdown) by authorities.

As a strategy it will work in any country where there are low-end mobile phones, the most accessible communication technology on the planet. As a technology, it works for groups who wish to disseminate messages discretely in a way that mimics one of the oldest forms of communication,  pen and paper.

The History

Two recent events inspired the development of Abayima. In 2011 the internet in Egypt was shut off, preventing activists and dissidents from communicating with each other or the outside world. A few months later, in Uganda, during the reelection campaign for President Yoweri Museveni, the mobile carriers were compromised and monitored for voices of dissent. This allowed for the filtering of text messages that were deemed unacceptable, while the same networks were used to spread electronic propaganda in the form of SMS and MMS messages to the public.

As a Strategy

This conversation shaping using communication technologies for propaganda echoes the intimidation and propaganda techniques used by the German and Soviet governments during World War II and by many other oppressive governments since.  Anyone with two phones and a sim can do this right now but to do it more efficiently we’ll be developing an application to support this type of message storage.

Abayima is largely a strategy for moving messages sans telecom infrastructure. It’s also a toolkit which assumes electronic communication via internet or mobile carrier has been compromised completely and allows activists and journalists to use the SIM cards themselves to publish or distribute information freely.

As a Product

Rather than rely upon high-tech infrastructure, Abayima relies upon centuries old information networks inspired by the Jewish resistance, the underground slave escape routes in the United States, Navajo code talkers, the war scouts of Sparta etc. There is a long lineage of using no or low technical means of encryption to protect sensitive information.

As a technology Abayima is a way of storing information on SIM chips which can then be placed in a mobile phone on the other end to be read.


  • A journalist writes several sensitive details and stores them to a SIM that isn’t used for texting, but to share the message with only a designated party whom they would hand deliver it to. Because the SIM isn’t used for calls, the only way to intercept the message is physically.
  • A group of activists could send messages between two locations using a ‘runner’. When the runner arrives he hands off the SIM which will contain messages for the recipient.
  • SIM cards are as ubiquitous as mobile phones and its generally understood how to use them across most populations. Thus, the SIM card itself could be a publishing/distribution mechanism for content of all types.
  • For advanced users with access to higher-end technology the messages could be written using a computer and our software, encrypted with software, and stored on the SIM. The receiver would need technology with a key to decrypt the message.  This adds a layer of protection against interception as it becomes necessary to crack the encryption algorithm first.


Why not use thumb drives?

Because thumb drives require two computers on either side, a level of infrastructure that exceeds the means of the poorest. The number of people with low end mobile phones, globally, far exceeds the number with access to computers.

Can’t these messages be intercepted?

Yes. Electronic communication like SMS can be ‘sniffed’ while passing through the air.  Paper with notes can be stolen.  People can be tortured to extract information.  There will always be a way to intercept communication.

That said, SIM cards are small, easy to destroy or swallow, and can’t be read without some sort of assistive device. Abayima (the product) can be used to encrypt whatever message is contained, adding another layer of protection.

Aren’t there better ways to distribute information?

Yes. This publishing method is more akin to pen and paper communication. By design, it is inefficient. But it’s highly practical if you have limited resources as it leverages local infrastructure. This is intended to be carried out in ‘last ditch’ scenarios where the more efficient methods of delivery like email, instant messaging, text messaging, VOIP or others have either been compromised by hackers, are being monitored by authorities, or completely disabled.  It’s a work around when the alternative is no long-distance communication at all.

What is a sneakernet? 

It refers to using your feet (sneakers) to move information around, particularly data storage devices. The implication is that though there are clearly other ways to access that information, the sneakernet is the fallback.

Visit the project at

The Day the Designer Died

Jon Gosier —  October 5, 2011 — 3 Comments

No one embodies the three things we strive for at Appfrica than the man the world lost today. Design. Leadership. Vision. We salute you, Mr. Steve Jobs. Best wishes from me, Jon, and our colleagues and friends in Uganda.

Frog Design, the global innovation and design firm is experimenting with a ‘method of guerilla research’ that let’s anyone submit photos related to specific campaigns. The idea is to cast a lens on the ‘long tail’ of product use and consumption around the world to inform new design and marketing decisions…

An experimental method of guerilla research developed by global innovation firm frog design, frogMob is based on the idea that anyone can channel their inner design researcher by looking for inspiration from everyday life. Tapping into frog’s global networks and the broader community, frogMob encourages people from all over the world to submit their photos and stories to help us take a quick pulse on emerging trends that can inform our design process.

Visit frogMob


In case you missed it, last week I wrote an article for UX Magazine about the use of web applications in emergency response scenarios and how we’re optimizing SwiftRiver for that workflow at Ushahidi. Check it out.


Ron Eglash is an American professor, a cyberneticist and a research of a field known as ethnomathematics (the study of the relationship between mathematics and culture). His work researches the early and continued use of fractal patterns in African architecture, art, and religion, and the relationships between indigenous cultures and modern technological advancements like cybernetics.

Continue Reading…

As more and Africans are able to connect to the Internet, the disparity in bandwidth between African users and broadband users elsewhere is becoming quite evident. In the following table, Aptivate highlights the lag faced when accessing major news sources from a slow connection.

page load times in seconds

Connection Speed

Developing University

(20 kb/s)


(56 kb/s)

UK Broadband

(3000 kb/s)



smallest (20 kB)




average (250 kB)




largest (800 kB)




Source: When it comes to websites… small IS beautiful

Optimizing for fast load times can be an enormous task, especially for webmasters used to designing for broadband. Fortunately, Aptivate has put together a great list of guidelines for designing for low-bandwidth users.

  1. No Page Bigger Than 25kB
  2. Reduce Images
  3. Have Good Site Structure
  4. Use Style Sheets
  5. Minimise HTTP Requests
  6. Turn on Compression
  7. Be Cache-able
  8. Avoid PDFs
  9. Put Useful Items First
  10. Show Link Sizes

Web UI Designer Wanted

Jon Gosier —  July 8, 2009 — 2 Comments

The tweets copied below retweeted by our friend @amysings should explain just who we’re looking to hire. This job is not location specific although we’d prefer someone on our side of the planet.



In only 18 months Giles Cardozo has managed to do something many of us have been dreaming of since we were small children; he’s built a fully functional flying car. His Parajet Skycar is world’s first road legal biofuelled flying car, to boot. The car runs off a biofuel-powered engine capable of taking it from 0-100km/h (60mph) in 4.5 seconds with a top speed of 180 km/h (108mph). Rear-wheel drive and independent four-wheel suspension make it suitable for tough terrain. A fan mounted on the rear of the car propels it to the take-off speed of 60 km/h (36mph) and the Skycar can reach 110 km/h (66mph) once airborne. The Skycar can change from ground to flying mode in just three minutes, can reach altitudes of up to 15,000 feet, and has a normal cruising height of 2,000-3,000 feet. It looks something like a dune buggy with a fan motor and paragliding wing attached.

But that’s where this story begins. For it’s first major outing, a small team plan to take the Skycar on a 6,000km (3,600-mile) from London to France, Spain, to Morocco, ending their destination in Mali, West Africa. The plan is to drive the Skycar where roads are suitable and to fly over the Straits of Gibraltar, the Atlas Mountains and other harsh terrain like the Sahara desert. A supporting group will follow the car from the ground in all-terrain vehicles and motorbikes.