The new site is finally live. Well at least it’s in the process of going live. What you see now is a site being built from the ground up with a core focus on community. All the old content will slowly be migrated over and features such as the chat room will be revamped and re-launched. We hope that you’ll continue to visit as we continue to make steady incremental improvements to The Zambian.
To be totally honest, this new site upgrade is one that should have happened over 4 years ago. Whilst most visitors may see this as an evolutionary upgrade, to all of us here, this is a revolutionary upgrade. Aside from the new community features such as a forum or picture gallery, so much has been added to empower authors and writers to share their work with the rest of the world. We hope The Zambian is the place where new stories are written and old stories shared. In fact, we can’t ask for others stories without sharing our own, and so dear friends here is our story.
Most of you may not know that The Zambian first started in 1999 in a small dorm room as a small incubator project. The project was a result of a home work assignment requiring the creation of an HTML form. To try and earn some extra points for the assignment I decided to launch a small fictitious company based on an incubator project called Memeza – a name selected based on the title of an album playing on the radio. A name that was popularied by the South African singer, Brenda Fassie, from a Xhosa word that means scream. I wanted the .com dream and so to transform from a fictitious company to one with employees, I sent an e-mail to former friends from high school asking if they wanted to be part of this grand idea. So in 1999 Memeza was born as a web design firm with the goal of designing the biggest and greatest websites for firms for free. My friends were located in three different continents and thus I felt we were uniquely positioned to leverage the affordable labor of Asian economies but target clientelle in high paying North America and build a reputation for free services in Africa. Perhaps we were a bit ahead of the curve, because try as we may, all the projects we received were small requests for developing Intranet sites. We didn’t have a clear business plan, yet still I felt that if I did approach venture capitalists they would definitely want to invest in a web design firm with such a global presence. How naive. No one wanted to invest in our company. Furthermore, none of our clients wanted to register a domain name on their own or try and have someone create a website presence for them on the Internet. Everyone wanted a computer company to fix problems related to Y2K. So here we were, with the best skill sets available, the finest tools in the industry with no websites to design. The lack of clients put us in a situation where promoting the services of Memeza quickly became a secondary priority and class room assignments took on a new meaning since staying in school actually meant we were fed and had a bed to sleep on. Looking back, I remember desperately trying to attract new clients by posting messages on old high school message boards asking if anyone wanted a free site in exchange for client referrals. Alas, all efforts failed to materialize. From free design services, to free hosting services we tried every play in the book only to lose every single round of play. Memeza slowly started withering away and the dreams of riches and glory were beginning to fade.
Around the same time, I had decided to start cataloging a list of resources on Zambia as a subdirectory on Memeza. The site was simply referred to as Zambia Today and contained link after link of resources all nicely catalogued in various folders. To market the site for cheap, I learnt every trick in the book for optimizing a site for the top 3 search engines i.e. Yahoo, Altavista and Excite. These efforts slowly paid of because in late 2000, imagine my glee when Zambia Today was selected as a link to appear on Yahoo! In 2000, Yahoo was famous for being a human reviewed search engine. So a listing on Yahoo implied credibility. Within a few weeks, this link had spread and hundreds of Zambians living outside of Zambia were suddenly e-mailing praise for the central repository of links. It quickly became apparent that Zambians outside the country wanted a place they could call home on the Internet. With these messages and the steady growth of incoming traffic I decided to start developing a full fledged Zambian portal called The Zambian. Due to Network Solutions’ monopoly as a domain name registrar, in 2000, the cost of a domain name was almost $30.00 and a year of hosting was over $200.00 However, thanks to a university job I had enough money to pay for a new domain name and a year of hosting services. This price point actually proved to be a blessing in disguise as not many competitors were willing to spend that amount to enter an African market. This also meant that it was time to redefine Memeza’s offerings and services. As a web design firm Memeza was now officially dead. The site lay dormant until early 2007 when it was re-launched as a citizen powered news site on Zambia. The old remnants of a web design firm hidden behind the archives of the Internet.