6 October 2010
Yoza, a library of mobile novels or “m-novels” that harnesses cellphone technology and popularity to promote reading and writing among South African youngsters, is being incubated by the Shuttleworth Foundation while it looks out for sponsors or partners.
Yoza offers young people a growing library of free, hip, interactive novels, encouraging them not only to read but also to participate in commenting on and reviewing them, and to submit their own stories – with the aim of turning reading into a social, sharing experience.
“For the foreseeable future, the cellphone, not the Kindle or iPad, is the e-reader of Africa,” Steve Vosloo, founder of Yoza and fellow for 21st century learning at the Shuttleworth Foundation, said in a statement at Yoza’s launch in August. “Yoza aims to capitalise on that to get Africa’s teens reading and writing.”
- Yoza is available on MXit (go to Tradepost > MXit Cares > mobiBooks), on WAP-enabled mobile phones at www.yoza.mobi, as well as on Facebook.
Pilot project: making Kontax
Yoza is part of the Shuttleworth Foundation’s m4Lit (mobiles for literacy) project, which began as a pilot initiative with the publication of a 20-page story called Kontax, in English and isiXhosa, in September 2009, followed by Kontax 2 in May 2010.
Readers were encouraged to comments on chapters, vote in opinion polls related to the story, and enter a writing competition.
“The uptake was tremendous,” the foundation said in a statement. “Since launch, the two stories have been read over 34 000 times on cellphones. Over 4 000 entries have been received in the writing competitions, and over 4 000 comments have been left by readers on individual chapters. Many of the readers asked for more stories and in different genres.”
Catching the reading bug
Yoza was launched on the back of this response – in order to complement, not attempt to replace, the printed page. Yoza’s m-novels are written in conventional language, with “txtspeak” only used when a character is writing or reading SMSes or instant message chats.
Most importantly, the m-novels offer “compelling, entertaining reading for teens in South Africa,” says the Shuttleworth Foundation. “The aim is to captivate teens and inspire them to catch the reading bug.”
Competitions with airtime prizes prompt readers to answer the questions at the end of chapters, keeping them engaged and coming back for more.
- Write a story for Yoza and submit it at www.yoza.mobi/write – if they like it, they’ll publish it.
Yoza’s initial line-up
Included in the initial line-up are four m-novel series – Kontax, Streetskillz, Sisterz, and Confessions of a Virgin Loser – with a sequel to each to be launched near the start of each month from October onwards (Streetskillz 2, Sisterz 2 and Kontax 5 are already live).
Yoza Classics will feature a range of public domain titles such as the school-prescribed work Macbeth. “The idea is not necessarily that teens will read the whole of Macbeth on their cellphones, but if they have to read Act 1, Scene 1 for homework and they don’t have a textbook, then they can do so on their phones.”
There is no charge for the actual stories, though users do pay the usual mobile data charges. To keep these low, Yoza uses images sparingly – data charges on local cellphones range from 5c to 9c per m-novel chapter.
Current story languages include English and isiXhosa, an Afrikaans story is on the way, and the ultimate aim is to publish in all 11 South African languages. Yoza encourages the public to get involved in translating its m-novels into local languages – “if you translate it, we’ll gladly publish it”.
“Over the next six months, the plan for Yoza is to build a library of cellphone stories of multiple genres that are available to teens not only in South Africa, but ultimately throughout Africa,” says Vosloo, noting that Kontax has already been published in Kenya through MXit.
Seeking sponsors, partners
While the Shuttleworth Foundation is incubating the project, it will need to be sustainable from early 2010, and is actively seeking sponsors or partners.
“There is a growing awareness around the impact that a lack of books has on literacy levels in South Africa,” says Vosloo. “Books are scarce and prohibitively expensive for most South Africans. Stats show that 51% of households in South Africa do not own a single leisure book, while an elite 6% of households own 40 books or more. Only 7% of schools have functioning libraries.
“What South Africa’s teens do have access to are cellphones, with stats indicating that 90% of urban youth have their own cellphone. The take-up and interaction with the first two Kontax stories clearly demonstrates that cellphones are a viable platform for local teen reading and writing.”
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