Mimiboard: an African hyper-local ad network and social platform

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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.”

Mimiboard posts have a 500 character limitation. The platform is therefore not a robust publishing platform in its own right, but as we’ve seen, it’s headed towards stream convergence, and making those streams location relevant. “We do not intend to become a full-scale CMS. Instead we intend to integrate with existing platforms, such as WordPress. We are currently building a plugin application for Mimiboard that seamlessly integrates with WordPress. Beyond that we will look other platforms as well,” says Liebenberg.

When we asked Liebenberg about the absence of Mimiboard’s monetisation model, he told us that the service will be launching an advertising based approach at the start of 2013. “We aim to share revenue with the board owner/media owner. Currently media owners generates revenue on their sites from display advertising, using a variety of sales channels available, such as ad networks, ad exchanges and direct sales. It is not our intention to compete with or replace these existing channels — in fact we aim to add to them,” he says.

Mimiboard will integrate with Shinka, an ad network that forms part of investment group World of Avatar — the group that owns Mxit. “This allows current advertisers on the network to reach all our local Mimiboards, even if they are embedded in large websites. Brands can place a targeted note on thousands of Mimiboards, embedded in websites / mobile sites all over the world, generating millions of views. That success is shared with the board owner,” says Liebenberg. Traffic will be monetised at an agreed CPM rate.

An additional monetisation model is in the works and it’s what Liebenberg envisions growing into a “hyper local ad network”. “We have developed a board level advertising model, where a user can create an advert on a specific board. We call this function Featured Notes, and it is located at the top of the board for X amount of paid-for-page impressions. The CPM rate will be controlled by the board owner. We anticipate higher CPM rates as a direct result of supply and demand. The revenue allocation of the Featured Notes is shared with the board owner in a 60/40 ratio, with the board owner receiving the majority of this revenue,” says Liebenberg. In this way, Mimiboards match local advertisers to local audiences.

Umuntu Media will initially focus on Africa, but plans global expansion. The company says that Mimiboards have already been used in other parts of the world. Internationally Liebenberg sees Mimiboards going up against N0tice and Scribble Live, a micro-publishing product used to offer real time updates.

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