Decade of tech startups: MXIT, the rise and fall of Africa's mobile revolution
CAPE TOWN - O ne of the biggest tech names to join the South African tech cemetery in the last decade is one Stellenbosch founded social network, Mxit.
What was then considered to be the biggest instant messaging platform in the country became a victim of tech developments such as WhatsApp. In the history of Mixers,as Mxit users were known then, 2015 will forever be remembered as the sad moment for millions of users of this African tech giant.
Mxit was officially closed down in 2015 and its intellectual property handed over to a trust, known as The Reach Trust, to focus on education efforts.
In its heydays Mxit commanded the respect of international media entities such as The Economist which referred to the social network and messaging platform as the 3rd most important internet company in the country.
Mxit originated from Stellenbosch, a university town in South Africa. In 1997, Herman Heunis established Swist Group Technologies and focused primarily on the mobile telecommunications industry, developing software and providing system support to large Telecommunications companies.
In 2000 Clockspeed Mobile, a research and development division of Swist Group Technologies, developed a Massive Multiplayer Mobile game named Arya.
The game was SMS based and was not successful due to the high cost of SMS since GPRS was still not widely implemented. In 2003 the game was reassessed and the MXit concept was conceived by Herman that same year, MXit evolved to become a major IM player in the South African arena thereafter.
In April 2004 Clockspeed Mobile became independent and on July 1, 2006 became MXit Lifestyle. In January 2007, media giant Naspers acquired a 30% stake in the company for an undisclosed amount.
In September 2011, Mxit was acquired by South African investment group, World of Avatar led by Alan Knott-Craig,Jr. Under the ownership of the World of Avatar seemed to survive however this was shot lived as Knott-Craig resigned under duress from investors.
Mxit faced severe challenges from new entrants such as WhatsApp,Blackberry Messenger and lack of innovation.
Mxit was originally built for feature phones but later due to competition and consumer demand developed its own apps for the smartphone market. Even though Mxit had numerous challenges it reached a wider market. It operated in many international markets. In August 2007 Mxit commissioned their European Data Centre located in Germany.
The purpose of this server farm was to take over most of the international traffic. In September 2010, Mxit launched in Kenya, making it the first country outside of South Africa to have access to the full range of features.
Mxit positively contributed towards advancement of its many users. Education is one area that stands out. Mxit became a mathematics tutor for many of its school going users through an avatar known by Mixers as Dr. Math.
This unknown avatar was an invisible, voiceless, genderless,ageless Mxit mathematician who knew math very well. According to a book about Mxit by Alan Knott-Craig Jr, Mobinomics, it was a multiplicity of undergraduate students from the University of Pretoria Faculty of Engineering,Built Environment and IT who acted as online math tutors as part of the community service obligations.
They would sit at their laptops or desktop workstations, on campus, at home, in internet cafes and individually assume the persona of the friendly wise, and helpful Dr. Math. This education feature played an important role in the process of enabling young people to access mathematics education support which is rare for many young people in lesser privileged schools.