SEOUL, KOREA - Many people no longer send conventional text message to their extensive circle of friends in South Korea. Rather, they elect to use Kakao Talk, a free mobile messenger. With nearly 100 million users, it has enjoyed phenomenal success and spawned the recent development of similar applications in other countries.
Agerigna (www.agerigna.com) is an Ethiopian-version of Kakao Talk developed by two Ethiopian students attending Korea’s Ajou University. The application, modeled on Kakao Talk, was designed to help Ethiopian people better communicate with their mobile devices in their own language, Amharic.
“This is the first Amharic keypad for smartphones. People used to type the Amharic language on English keypads phonetically, but this often resulted in miscommunication. Not many Ethiopians are fluent in English so we wanted to develop a mobile messenger in our own language,” Mati Bekuma, developer of Agerigna and Ajou University’s graduate student said.
Since its launch last July, the service has attracted over 4,000 subscribers and the figure is expected to surge as the number of mobile users in Ethiopia has been on the rise, particularly in urban areas. Last year, the number reached 18 million, with 3.4 million of them having access the Internet. This May, the Ethiopian government displayed strong willingness to upgrade its 3G-infrastructure network.
The users of Agerigna, however, are not limited to people in Ethiopia. Over 60% of the users come from other countries including Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and UAE, seemingly due to the increased number of Ethiopian expatriates. “We haven’t done any special marketing on Agerigna yet, but it seems like the application spread through word of mouth and communities,” Bekuma said.
Currently, the application in English and Amharic is available for iPhone and Android phones for free. Users can search for other users using their names or email addresses, and can make a friendship request. “People Nearby” is function that Kakao Talk doesn’t yet possess. “This function enables users to search for a nearby Agerigna user. It is useful because two users may know each other, but they might not know that they are living near the same place.”
Agerigna allows users to communicate with their friends using a chat-based forum, and enable search user to tell their own story. A user may post a photo in his/her storyboard, and other users can see a friend’s story and put a comment or like on the story. It also provides users the option of applying different types of effect on their photo before posting to their storyboard.
Agerigna goes global
The first developer of this application was named Tewdro, a friend of Bekuma and fellow Ajou University Ethiopian graduate student. Seeing the immense success of Kakao Talk, he formulated the idea of developing a similar program for his own people. After spending a few years on developing Agerigna, he launched the service last July and Bekuma joined three months later to improve functions.
This application hasn’t yet generated any revenue. “Currently, we have focused on developing more functions and attracting more subscribers rather than making profits. In the future, we are planning to integrate various business models into Agerigna such as mobile shopping or gift emoticons,” said Im Byoung-min, supervisor of marketing and promotion for Agerigna.
Even Kakao Talk ran under a deficit for its initial three years as it provided a free service for users. However, with the surge in users, sales jumped from 3 million won in 2009 to 45.8 billion won last year. With the growing number of smart phones in a country of 85 million residents, Agerigna’s potential also seems enormous.
“Thankfully, many people have shown great support to promote this application. Kwon, Ho-yeol, head of IT College at the Addis Ababa University as well as the Ethiopian embassy have been active in marketing this application,” Im said.
The successful beginning of Agerigna has a significant meaning for both Korea and Ethiopia. This year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the countries. Since Ethiopia sent over 6,000 soldiers to support South Korea during the Korean War, the two nations have maintained a good relationship in the decades that have followed. As a token of thanks, the Korean government has financially supported hundreds of talented young Ethiopians to study in Korea.
Tewdro and Bekuma are among the many Ethiopians who study in Korea’s universities backed by both the college and the government. After receiving his bachelor’s degree at the Addis Ababa University, the state university in Ethiopia, they were invited to study at Ajou University to pursue their graduate degrees.
“I hope that the success of Agerigna becomes a model for many aspiring Ethiopian people, and that more investors have an interest for the project to grow in the global market,” Im said
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