First post of 2012. So let’s start with something like a wish list. In this post, I’ll run down through a list of online services Mauritius should have and why it doesn’t have these relatively common services.
I know a few of you will say that Mauritius has a few online shopping sites now. For example, the multishop is considered Mauritian. But you have to agree, there are not so many Mauritian online shopping sites online yet, despite many shopping malls opening in the country.
Sadly, even the big names in shopping don’t have websites. For example, none of our well-known bookstores have websites where you can check their catalogue! Come’on people, it’s 2011. Even if you don’t have online-shopping facilities, an online catalogue is a must! But nope, not even that.
Don’t bother trying to buy furniture online. Clothes? Hardly any local sites. I’d even say, no local sites as far as I know. Electronics? Same. Most other things? Nope.
I say, we don’t have local online shopping for 3 reasons:
Firstly, buyers will not have a method for safely paying online while sellers are unable to accept electronic money. Remember, Paypal does not accept Mauritian account holders to receive money. I don’t think any of the other payment processors let Mauritians accept money too. Local banks could have done something about that by implementing our own, local payment processor. Some effort is being done, such as paying by mobile phone. But those are not applicable online yet. For now, there is no method to buy online, short of putting your credit card online directly – something few Mauritians want to do. The fear that “people will steal my credit card number if I put it on the Internet” is very much present.
Second reason: lack of customers. Maybe I’m wrong here, but I think not many people know how to shop online yet. At least in Mauritius, they don’t. Even if we had local shops selling stuff online, not many people would know how to buy. Granted, we can teach them easily but the distrust of online shopping will remain present for quite a long time. Considering the few customers wanting the convenience of online shopping, I doubt many stores will want to invest in creating shopping websites. Although, that does not explain why they don’t even have online catalogues.
For the third reason, you only have to look at our postal service. It’s not that fast, not that reliable and worst of all, does not make an effort to encourage people to use its services. It’s not completely at fault here: there is just not enough reason to use the postal service for shopping at the moment – there are so few online shopping sites anyway! Let’s hope that in the future, the postal service standard increases in the country, as the number of shopping sites increase.
I’m not saying we should have a local Ebay.co.mu or something, but we could at least have a functional auction site by now.
I remember we had a few, but as far as I know, they’re all dead. Due to lack of interest? Probably not. Some even ran quite successful advertising campaigns, using bill-boards etc. But? They didn’t have the variety of products people were expecting.
Above all else, they were not very user-friendly. Most looked like pages filled with pictures and text, but not a simple, guided page on how to use the site to buy stuff.
We had a few but they all died I think. Due to lack of interest? Probably not. I’d say they went off quite well, but they didn’t
They were not real auction sites anyway. There were merely catalogues where people posted what they had to sell and others searched through. To buy stuff, you’d have to contact the seller manually, arrange for payment and collection offline. Not very secure, huh? And, no warranties!
Secondly, Orange.mu’s Classifieds site is king in this domain. It’ll not be easy to dislodge it and take its place as “auction catalogue”. You’d have to come up with a really creative solution. We’ve not reached there yet.
Finally, no online payment facilities. Again!
A portal / Discussion Forum
Strangely enough, Mauritius does not even have an “official” discussion forum! I mean, a place where people just sign in to have a chat and discuss country issues. Don’t tell me Facebook has completely obliterated forums – it has not.
Facebook is good for keeping track of what friends are doing but it’s not that good for discussions with people you don’t know personally.
Most countries have specialized forums for discussing specialist topics – such as, lowyat.net for Malaysia’s Tech Community to discuss about technology and buy/sell/trade computer or electronic parts.
We did have a few forums, such as Nubaz. I was a member there for a long time but finally, the discussions died down as people got more interested in Facebook and spam-bots overran the site.
Facebook mainly. It was much easier to use than a forum. You could have your own profile, stalk people’s pictures etc…, things which you cannot do when using a forum – most people use avatars and nicknames anyway. Posting on forums is relatively tedious and disorganized as compared to Facebook. Can Facebook pages replace a forum? Nope. Your discussions will get lost too quickly on the page walls. You’d also need one page per discussion topic.
I wish someone would spawn a Mauritian forum again, where we can discuss with fellow Mauritians about day-to-day topics, the news but also, buy and sell second-hand stuff. That at least would attenuate the need for an online auction site. One can run auctions quite easily using a forum.
I have one question: how come none of the private radios have forums? Are they THAT hard to moderate?!
Bus Route Planning
Update: Carrotmadman points me to this site: mauritius-buses.com. The site allows you to plan your journey by bus.
What I had in mind was a site, where you can set your current location on a map, and type in your destination, or again click on a map, and it’ll give you all possible bus routes to this destination, schedules, estimated travel times etc. But mauritius-buses certainly does the job. The presentation needs some work e.g. the map, and the prices need reviewing: “Total price: 19 / 9 / 10 MUR” from Port Louis (victoria) to Curepipe is only Rs. 19? But at least, that’s one more service we have. Thanks Carrotmadman.
A major annoyance to me. I never know which bus to take and where to find them in bus stations! I’d just ask friends if they know which bus to take then wander through bus stations trying to look for that bus, and if all else fail, ask around until I finally find it. So much for tourist-friendly!
Why can’t we have a simple journey planner in Mauritius? You enter your starting point and your destination and it gives you the potential bus routes you can take, the route numbers, where the buses are found at which bus stations and their schedules.
Too many bus companies! How can one expect to have a site that regroups all those companies and plan their routes, give their fares, schedules etc…?
Turns out you can. Ever heard of crowd-sourcing?
You just need to have a website, maybe powered by Google Maps. Then leave it to regular travelers or even the companies themselves to add their details and maintain it. That should be easier than having one entity maintain the whole thing. If a company doesn’t want to maintain their routes, too bad. That’s lost money for them.
I can’t imagine why a service like that doesn’t exist when almost every year, computer science students at the University of Mauritius are given projects that often contain route-planning and geo-location. I’m pretty sure it’s the same for University of Technology students too.
Can’t one of the companies take one of these projects as a prototype, have it refined and implemented? Can’t UoM / UTM themselves run one of these projects on their infrastructure and maintain it? What’s the point of Universities if none of their research ever gets used?
You want even more features? How about the service letting you buy and print your ticket in advance? How about buying long-term tickets for e.g. a ticket which you can use for a whole week?
Oh I forget… payment facilities. AGAIN!
Movie Renting service
Piracy is high in Mauritius. Why? Because we don’t have good things to watch on TV, buying original media is ridiculously expensive (Rs. 2000 for a recent DVD, are you kidding me?) and you can’t rent legal media to watch / listen. Video on Demand, while available, is not great.
What I want is a Netflix-like service. I understand that our local Internet speeds may prevent streaming HD content without Orange complaining that everyone’s leeching off its bandwidth. And I can tell you, if we did have a streaming service, Orange will probably charge you additional just to watch stuff. You’d be a “heavy downloader” or whatnot and therefore, must pay more.
So what can we have? A site that allows you to rent movies / music online. You pay a monthly fee, just like you’d pay a monthly utility bill. You then access your account on their site and they post what you’ve chosen to you.
Think of it like an online video club. Instead of going there in person, you choose what you want in person and they post it to you. After that, you just post it back to them. Posting charges are paid by the company and included in your monthly bill.
Not a critical service, but it’d be interesting to have.
Our postal service. First, it’s relatively slow. A letter takes around 3 days to come from Mahebourg to Port-Louis. Second, there’s a big risk of breakage. Third, it’s quite expensive to post small parcels, even locally. Fourth… it’s easier to just pirate the damn thing if you want it so much. But hey, I was trying to suggest a legal alternative here!
Do we have a Business-to-Business marketplace for SMEs and handicrafts in Mauritius? Nope. What if I wanted to say, buy 1000 mini-dodos to give as gift? Where do I go to find that? I’d have to contact SMEDA probably, then get the address of a few artisans. Then contact each of them individually and see if they can match my order of 1000 dodos. Etc etc… Basically, a long process.
If they had an online B2B market place, I’d just browse through, find who makes dodos and what size of order they can take. The site would list their contact details, pictures of their products etc…
I’d like a site like Etsy or Alibaba but for Mauritius. I don’t think there is such a site yet. In what way would this help? Boost our SMEs and startups of course! If no one knows what they’re doing, how can they hope to secure clients? A site like this may even help them reach an international market, who knows.
You can even extend the site to make it into a business directory with an SME corner, so that the site is able to help Mauritian businesses in general. For example, if I ask you to find me all the resellers of Logitech in Mauritus, how would you go about it? Open the Yellow Pages directory and go through the “Computer” sections? How about all the website hosting providers in Mauritius that can offer unmetered bandwidth and hosting space? Good luck searching!
Lack of will. I can’t imagine any other reason such a site doesn’t exist. There is simply no will to invest effort in implementing such a service.
Local knowledge / Search service
Ever tried Orange.mu’s site? It is supposed to search the Mauritian webspace. Do try it and you’ll notice that it never returns anything Mauritian.
We need a local knowledge site, sort of like a Wiki for Mauritius or something similar. Say I want to find a mechanic in Quatre Bornes. Where do I search for that? Google? You won’t get meaningful results. There are no good places to search for local info about Mauritius.
Another example: You’re in the south and want to find a good restaurant to have lunch with some friends, especially Chinese food. How do you search for that? Would Google tell you that there’s a good restaurant, with good user reviews, found on the 2nd floor of some building that sells awesome noodles? Nah, I doubt it. You’d need local knowledge for that. Even better, searchable local knowledge. With pictures and user reviews if possible.
Here’s another example of where crowd-sourcing could help: just create the service and allow users to add their own local knowledge to it.
No one wants to invest in such a service? I don’t really know why Orange.mu doesn’t offer this service. One could think local knowledge would be important, but I guess, not enough for Mauritius.
P.s. for fun: Orange.mu search just searches Google for you anyway! So much for local search! Is our local web space so meaningless?
So there you have it. My list of online services Mauritius ought to have but sadly, doesn’t. Can you think of other online services that would be good to have in Mauritius? Are there other reasons why we don’t already have these services? Is there one particular serivce you know of and want to recommend to others? Comment below!