With Mimiboards, Umuntu Media is re-imagining the humble noticeboard. You can think of a Mimiboard (pronounced me-me board) as a geographically sensitive, virtual noticeboard. Just like their real world counterparts, Mimiboards are relevant to enclaves within larger communities — some say “hyper-local“. But, that’s where the similarity solemnly ends.
The fact that Umuntu Media, founded in 2009 by Johan Nel, received a US$1 million seed investment late last year, without any revenue to speak of, tells you that the Cape Town-based company is about more than just virtual noticeboards. Beneath the surface, Mimiboards form part of an ambitious publishing platform, social network and advertising empire.
Operations Manager for Umuntu Media, Jaco Liebenberg tells us that the visitor total on the Mimiboard network for a 30 day rolling period comes to just under one million. Not bad for a service launched to the public in August 2012. At current growth rates, the service anticipates reaching a target of 5 million by February 2013. Liebenberg tells us that Umuntu Media is currently in discussion with two Silicon Valley based companies to secure Round B funding. Umuntu Media hopes to open offices in Lagos and Nairobi to expand work on Mimiboard and its other iPortal initiative, which creates country-specific news and entertainment portals.
So how does a Mimiboard work? The most important aspect is its location. When setting up a board, the very first thing a user needs to do, is place the board on a map. This action ensures that visitors to Mimiboard.com will be served boards that are relevant to their region. There’s also a way of integrating Twitter streams. Integrating other communication streams into Mimiboards is a prominent feature. It’s important because, once fully realised, it will funnel disparate content streams from many networks — not just Twitter — and make them geographically relevant. “We plan to increase the number of entry channels that can engage in communication with Mimiboard. This is high priority for us,” says Liebenberg.
Mimiboards are accessible through Mimiboard.com, but they can also be embedded on their owners’ websites — owners can be anyone, ranging from bloggers to newspapers. In embedded form Mimiboards bring new levels of interactivity to their hosts, similar to those of a traditional forum. Squint your eyes and they also appear to have attributes of social networks. Individually they can be thought of as tiny, insular social networks, but because it’s easy to keep track of multiple at a time, Mimiboards appear to sit under a bigger social umbrella. In the Cape Town area for example, I was recommended a traffic board owned by Bok Radio, and a community operated food specials board. I can choose to add these boards to my Notice Wall, an action which is similar to following a user or list on Twitter. By grouping boards in this way, I can easily track and participate in various streams of activity. Liebenberg agrees: “I do feel it has great potential to work as a social networking mechanism, driven by local trusted media brands.”