Yoza stories and comments move to FunDza

FunDzaIn September 2009 I set out to answer the question: would South African teens read short stories, or m-novels, on their mobile phones? We knew that teens were “addicted” – as the media often claimed – to their phones, but this was mainly for chatting on MXit, the instant messaging platform that had millions of users at that time. Would they also stay glued to their phones to read a 10,000 word story, and even comment on it?

Back then I was the Fellow for 21st Century Learning at the Shuttleworth Foundation and sought to develop innovative technology-based solutions to the country’s pressing education problems. When speaking to teachers and parents I often heard that mobile phones were a major part of the low-literacy problem in SA. And so this Mobiles for Literacy, or m4Lit, project was born, setting out to challenge that notion. In such a book-poor society, where only 7% of schools had a functioning library, could the mobile phones already in the hands of youth be a new channel to reading material, albeit in digital?

The first story was Kontax, a teen adventure set in Cape Town. In less than a month 63,000 readers had signed up and 17,200 of them had read the full story. One of the first comments on the site was from dotty1: “It’s great … for me it really hard to pick up a book to start readin but i don mind readin on my phone”. It was clear that mobile phones are a viable distribution platform for longer form content and for enabling user participation, something not possible in print.

Encouraged by the response, I officially launched Yoza Cellphone Stories in 2010, which over time grew to 31 m-novels, 18 poems and five Shakespeare plays. The content was in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa, and garnered more than 50,000 comments from our readers. Louise McCann edited the stories we commissioned to ensure they were mobile friendly: short, punchy chapters that we serialised every day. The University of Cape Town also published two research reports on the project.

Since those early days it has been exciting to watch the growth of the m-novel space. The clear leader in South Africa is FunDza, who not only share m-novels and run reader competitions, but also have these stories published in print, develop new young writers and constantly push the boundaries to instil a love of reading in our youth.

When looking for a home for the Yoza stories, there was no doubt that FunDza would provide a happy one. It’s active user base and substantial library of content would be fertile ground for the Yoza content and user comments. Interestingly, all Yoza content is either licensed as Creative Commons or is in the Public Domain. FunDza has indicated the license type for the content so readers are able to distinguish between the different licenses.

I have also joined the FunDza board of trustees, which is both an honour and the perfect way to remain active in the pioneering world of using technology to improve literacy in South Africa.

From now onwards, you can find the Yoza stories here.

I remain deeply grateful to the Shuttleworth Foundation for funding the project, as well as to Ian Harrison of the Content Company, and his talented engineer, Louan du Toit, for hosting Yoza in the years between Shuttleworth and FunDza.

Yoza presentation given at NetExplo awards

Below is the presentation given by Steve Vosloo at the Netexplo Awards in Paris, 15 February  2013. It contains the latest stats on Yoza as well as examples of other mobile reading initiatives that have published Yoza stories or perhaps benefited from lessons learned by creating Yoza. The more reading and writing that happens via mobile the better!

Yoza wins NetExplo Award

Yoza Cellphone Stories is extremely proud to be a winner of the prestigious Netexplo Award in Paris.

Netexplo Award Winner“Every year the Netexplo global observatory of digital innovations identifies the latest and most promising projects and experiments on every continent through its international network of more than 200 spotters. This initial material, comprised of several hundred projects, companies and technologies, is then analyzed in greater depth. A college of international experts next selects the 100 most interesting cases, forming the annual Netexplo 100.”

There is even a short video describing the project.

Steve Vosloo receiving the NetExplo Award for Yoza Cellphone Stories

Steve Vosloo receiving the NetExplo Award for Yoza Cellphone Stories

Congratulations to the other winners for 2013.

Yoza nominated for WSA Mobile

In September last Yoza Cellphone Stories was nominated for a World Summit Award for Mobile Content.

The goal of WSA Mobile is “selecting the world’s most outstanding mobile apps, putting UN-WSIS targets into action. WSA mobile is a global initiative that awards local apps with global relevance. It selects outstanding mobile content and promotes it on a global congress in Abu Dhabi.”

WSA Mobile Award Nominee

While Yoza did not make the finals, it was a great honour to represent South Africa in the global contest.

Teenage collaborative writing workshop

Over the last few months, Yoza editor-in-chief, Louise McCann has been leading a collaborative story writing workshop with four teenagers from Khayelitsha. Anthony Baatjies, Zandile Ntlatli, Christopher Mzamo and Lamla Nyikila have produced the m-novel Someone like me for publication on Yoza.

Read the Mobook Story Co-Lab Report about the writing workshop.

What does “number of reads” mean?

To calculate how many times our m-novels are read we look at the number of page views of the last chapter (assumption: if a reader is on the last chapter of a story then he or she has read all previous chapters). Every time someone loads the last chapter, the page view count is incremented. A problem here is that if a user leaves a comment, then she will go the last chapter (page view+1), post her comment, and then see the last chapter reloaded (page view+1 again). So she is racking up two page views, but would’ve most likely only read the chapter once. Clicking “Back” can also reload a page that probably isn’t being read, again pushing up the page view count.

To mitigate against this we reduce the page views by a factor to arrive at an estimated figure for number of genuine reads. Since September 2009 that factor has been one third, meaning that if the last chapter had 3,000 page views then we say that it has been read 2,000 times. The one third factor stemmed from Kontax 1, where we had 94,185 page views of chapter 1 in it’s first month of publication, but only 63,310 subscribers had added Kontax as a MXit contact. (For more on this see the report by Dr Marion Walton titled Mobile literacies & South African teens: Leisure reading, writing, and MXit chatting for teens in Langa and Guguletu). Today, on Yoza, there are more subscribers than page views on most chapters (the opposite situation to Kontax 1). Furthermore, the number of comments posted on a chapter is vastly below the number of page views for that chapter (usually the number of comments is about 3% the number of page views on a chapter — and that’s for the most commented on chapters). This means that the number of non-reading page view increments due to users posting comments is very low. Lastly, the Yoza interface is also better than with Kontax, meaning fewer Back clicks are needed.

Given this shift, our page view reduction factor is changing from 33% to 10%, which is probably still higher than it should be (but rather be safe than sorry!) So, from now on when we say the number of reads of a particular story was 9,000, it means that the page view count of the last chapter was 10,000. The new reduction factor can be applied to all Yoza statistics since it launched on 22 August 2010.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 7,600 times in 2010. That’s about 18 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 30 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 50 posts. There were 23 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 21mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was August 25th with 153 views. The most popular post that day was Press release: Launch of Yoza m-Novel Library.


Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, shuttleworthfoundation.org, innovatingeducation.wordpress.com, vosloo.net, and facebook.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for m4lit, m4lit project, kontax, book logo, and literature survey for project.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Press release: Launch of Yoza m-Novel Library August 2010


About the project August 2009


Reports March 2010


Literature Survey September 2009


Read the m-novels April 2010