Archive for the 'yoza' Category

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.


What Do You Want from Yoza? The Yoza Community Responds

Launched 22 August 2010, Yoza Cellphone Stories is now more than 100 days old!

From 2009, when the pilot phase of the m4Lit project was kicked off, our m-novels have collectively been read more than 60,000 times and our readers have posted more than 40,000 comments.

Now you can imagine the growth in terms of diversity in preference and taste of our readers  who come to Yoza to be entertained, stimulated and more importantly, learn something new from an m-novel of their choice.

Seeking the guidance of our Yoza community, we asked them “What do you want from Yoza” and we awarded the THREE best suggestions with a prize of R500 worth of airtime each.

We received 600 entries and it was interesting to see just how many readers took this as an opportunity to suggest one or more genre of their liking.

Genre requests included: Historical fiction – “about famous South Africans that many youth don’t know about”, Classical (as in Edwardian, Victorian etc), Crime and Fantasy.

Along with our readers just suggesting a genre or two, they made sure to add their ideas on topics they would like to read about it, as seen in the word cloud above.

On improvements, there was definitely a consensus from the Yoza community that there should be more m-novels, more frequent releases of new m-novels, and m-novels written in indigenous South African languages. See below for the full list of improvements suggested by our readers…

  • More stories
  • Longer stories and chapters
  • Publish frequently
  • More chapters per story
  • A logo that better reflects the stories
  • More Sisterz stories
  • More Confessions stories
  • Like the educational aspect of the stories
  • “Better” plot resolution at the end
  • Some like daily chapter
  • Two chapters a day?
  • More Afrikaans
  • More indigenous languages
  • Image for each chapter

Some very well thought and interesting additions were proposed by our readers too. To these suggestions:

  • Print books of Yoza stories
  • Choose/write your own story endings
  • “Create chat rooms where users can chat about the situations in the particular story (not just comment).
  • Yoza Poems section (read, write, vote)
  • Advice column about issues
  • Quizzes
  • Chapter notification
  • Book reviews
  • Showcase user writing
  • Downloadable content

The THREE winning suggestions were:

Phumelela from Cape Town who wrote:

“ur stories are very interesting and nice, when u start reading them just can’t wait till the next day in order to read the next chapter. Maybe u guys should release 2 chapters a day, and just try and make ur stories longer, i’ve learned alot from the stories that i’ve read, every teenager can relate to ur stories, maybe u should do a story based on xenophobia, AIDS, or just the violence that happens around our communities.”

Astrid from Kempton Park who wrote:

“It would be cool if the reader could choose the way they want the story to go. That is, not strictly have chapters following one another, but options. So at the end of a passage, have ”latoya leans in for a kiss….” or ”latoya backs away,crying….” etc. as options, and so the viewer chooses the way they want the story to develop. Also, it would be cool if the commentary could take place at a set time in a multimix type of environment, because it is sort of difficult to comment in response to the comments of others. Thanks :)”

Kirthi from Durban who wrote:

“Today its obvious that mostly teenagers use mxit and read the stories. As an 18 year old girl who went through a lot during high school,i personally think that the stories should be bowt real ‘dramas’ as some people call it. And have logical happy endings which can guide other teenagers and help them through their difficult times. If i could give advice to younger girls out there i would,bt these stories can and would put a lot of girls in a better position.thank you”

In conclusion, most of the suggestions were well thought out and showed us just how interested and aware of Yoza readers are. Thank you to all those who participated!

m4Lit gets Honourable Mention in the Stockholm Challenge

Stockholm ChallengeSince 1994, the Stockholm Challenge has rewarded social entrepreneurs in the field of ICT. This year, more than 290 projects from 90 countries joined the Challenge. We entered m4Lit into this years Challenge (read the entry here), and while we didn’t win, the project received an Honourable Mention. Well done to everyone on the team! This is a nice achievement, given that there were 49 finalists in the Education category.

One of the jurors described m4Lit as follows:

m4Lit is an interesting project, down to earth, applicable. Nice case of adjusting to the local context ideas that are operational elsewhere. It is a superb application of technology which leads to the empowerment of a very large audience. M4Lit has the potential to become sustainable. If entrepreneurship depends upon potential “spin-offs” or enhancements, there would appear to be excellent possibilities. Before iPad and Kindle, reading books on PDA and mobile phones did not catch on in most countries. Perhaps using an Interactive device to do solitary activity is counter-intuitive. However, the idea in the context of Africa seems reasonable and the initial success should be congratulated.

10 Reader comments that make it all worthwhile

Below are a few comments posted by readers over the last few days that make Yoza worthwhile. We are clearly doing something right — not only entertaining but teaching. The participative nature of mobile phones means that we get immediate feedback (which the story authors just love).

Comments on Kontax 5: The Sext Files:

“I must say: the story line it self is gripping, for somereasen everytime i read the kontax stories am kept at the erge of my sit. They are always grattifiying and i can hardly wait for another1. Thank you to the contax team cause for the 1st time in years i am reading again and i lov reading now, and am a guy so you i just dont lyk readin. So thank u again guyz you da best.” By Mphuthumi Busakwe

“I like da simplicity en educative strategy of da writer,tee en biga people nid to take std’s seriously.precautions shud b takin b4 angagin into sex life.” By Alex

“airtym is a gud guy :).. Lovin this story.. But a pity is its…..FINISHED! 😥 NOOOOOOO! BWAHAHAHAHA 😦 XX” By Brittsicles 🙂

Comments on Sisterz 2: Hidden Danger:

“Plz dnt end nw! i wana hear mre bowt dis. i lov sistaz. nd it ws abt tym da mum open ha earz. amanda nd jayden. awesum mense! jayden…:}We nid mre dudes lyk dat” By Xoliswa

“Gr8 story guyz.. I can’t wait 4 th nxt one 2 b published. I’m totally addicted! Love th fact tht Jayden nd Latoya r bck 2gethr. P.s Please give us more than one chapter a day” By Ms. Makes

“You know since the introduction of kontax i’ve always suggested that they should make these stories some kind of a series acted on tv. I think that many children even adults for that matter would learn alot. What do you readers and yoza team think? Post your comments if you agree i’d love to hear your views. Yoza? Keep up the good work. I love every single chapter of every story. Thanks for the entertainment/education” By Chris Rooimes

“This has been an interestn nd influencial book. I loved evey chapter nd lierally stayed up tl 12 for the next nd the nxt nd the nxt…. Jayden wer are u?:( im in need of my very own jayden, latoya hav a blast in ur r.hip nd embrace evey mmnt.. Cant wait 4 the continuation” By Veronique

Comments on Streetskillz 2: Silver’s Treasure:

“J0h wt a st0ry,plz write it until i die” By The viper

“M nt a soccer fan bt the streetskillz caught me off guard,i cnt wait 4 da next chapter” By Likeleli

“2 all soccer lovers,esp players,here r technical tips,grab them. Gud luck 2d team!” By Assah

Digital reading resources for literacy month

Beyond the printed word is an article written by Steve Vosloo for the M&G’s The Teacher about digital reading resources … especially relevant during the month of September, which is literacy month in South Africa. Yoza gets some good coverage.

Press release: Launch of Yoza m-Novel Library

Download press release (pdf)

On 22 August a new library of cellphone stories – also known as mobile novels or m-novels – was launched by the Shuttleworth Foundation as part of its m4Lit (mobiles for literacy) project. Yoza is the name of the m-novel library, which uses cellphones to support teen reading and writing. The m-novels are cool, interactive and free. Yoza is available on and on MXit (go to Tradepost > MXit Cares > mobiBooks) on all WAP-enabled cellphones, as well as on Facebook (search for Yoza Cellphone Stories).

Steve Vosloo, founder of Yoza and fellow for 21st century learning at the Shuttleworth Foundation, says: “For the foreseeable future the cellphone, not the Kindle or iPad, is the ereader of Africa. Yoza aims to capitalise on that to get Africa’s teens reading and writing.”

The m4Lit project began in 2009 as a pilot initiative to explore whether and how teens in South Africa would read stories on their cellphones. Most of the reading and writing that happens on cellphones is of very short texts, e.g. SMSes and chat messages on MXit. The Shuttleworth Foundation published a story called Kontax in September last year– twenty pages in length – and actively invited reader participation through this longer content; cellphones are interactive after all. Readers could leave comments on chapters, vote in opinion polls related to the story and enter a writing competition. By the end of May 2010 another Kontax story had been published.

The uptake was tremendous. 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. Encouraged by the high uptake of the stories and by these reader requests, the Shuttleworth Foundation decided to launch Yoza.

To get young people reading and writing
Yoza’s goal is to get young people reading and writing, and in the ‘book-poor’ but ‘cellphone-rich’ context of South Africa, the phone is a viable complement and sometimes alternative to a printed book. If, as a country, we want our youth to read, then both books printed on paper and books on cellphones are needed. The paper versus pixels debate consistently takes up a lot of page space, but in a country with a severe literacy problem, it is necessary to move beyond that and focus on reading and writing, whatever the medium.

To create good reading material
First and foremost, stories published on Yoza offer compelling, entertaining reading for teens in South Africa. The aim is to captivate teens and inspire them to catch the reading bug. To that end, an initial line up of appealing stories in different genres have been planned (see Yoza’s story line up below). Enjoying well-written stories by good authors is part of the Yoza experience. The m-novels are written in conventional language, with txtspeak only used when a character is writing or reading SMSes or instant message chats. Also included is prescribed school reading that is in the public domain, for example, Macbeth.

To use cellphones to make reading material affordable and widely accessible
There is a growing awareness around the impact that a lack of books has on literacy levels in South Africa. 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 published in English and isiXhosa clearly demonstrates that cellphones are a viable platform for local teen reading and writing. There is no charge for the actual stories, but users do pay their mobile network operator for mobile data traffic. Images have been kept to a minimum to keep the mobile data charges low – these data charges on local cellphones range from 5c to 9c per chapter, making Yoza m-novels a very affordable option for great reading material for teens.

To be “open”
Part of Yoza’s success will be measured on the number of teens that read, enjoy and share its stories. The more, the better. For this reason stories are published under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike licence. This means that anyone can freely copy, distribute, display and remix the content, as long as they credit the original and subsequent authors.

The Praekelt Foundation was commissioned to develop the software platform that drives Yoza, and this too will be released as open-source software.

To grow the library of stories and create a community of readers
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. Kontax has already been published in Kenya through MXit. Competitions with airtime prizes prompt readers to participate in the interactive questions at the end of chapters, keeping readers engaged and coming back for more.

Current story languages include English and isiXhosa, an Afrikaans story is being written, and ideally stories in all of the South African languages will ultimately be published on Yoza. The Shuttleworth Foundation encourages the public to get involved in translating the stories into local languages – “if you translate it we’ll gladly publish it.”

To reach sustainability
While the Foundation is incubating the project, it will need to be sustainable from early next year. The project is actively looking for sponsors or partners to help make it sustainable.


  • Kontax, the flagship title about a group of four teenage friends in Cape Town. In trial publications, the first two instalments of this m-novel series were read 34 000 times in seven months! The Yoza library features all m-novels in the series, with a fourth sequel launched on 22 August. This series is written by Sam Wilson and Lauren Beukes of Clockwork Zoo.
  • Streetskillz is a brand new soccer series written by talented young writer and soccer fanatic Charlie Human. The first story – Golden Goal – launched on 22 August and is set in the month of the soccer World Cup. Unforgettable international soccer reality merges with a dramatic fictional street soccer competition in Du Noon township in Cape Town.
  • Sisterz is a sassy new series by local chic lit star Fiona Snyckers. On 22 August Latoya’s Secret launched straight into the depths of dark family secrets, the highs of friendship, school Pop Idols auditions, and the breath-stopping sensations of first love.
  • Confessions of a Virgin Loser by talented, thoughtful novelist Edyth Bulbring is the story of a Joburg boy steering his way through the complicated world of peer pressure, teenage sex and HIV/AIDS, while just trying to be a cool kid at school.

Sequels to the above stories will generally launch on the first of each month from October 2010. .

  • A Bicycle Ride through Lesotho by Duncan Guy – of Learn the News fame – tells the entertaining tale of riding through the Mountain Kingdom on a bicycle.
  • Yoza Classics is a section of its own, featuring a range of public domain titles. School prescribed work Macbeth is one of the first titles selected for Yoza Classics. 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.

Steve Vosloo, founder of Yoza, is the fellow for 21st century learning at the Shuttleworth Foundation. He has a technology background and focuses on youth and digital media.

Quote from Steve Vosloo
“We are looking to grow the library of stories as well as a vibrant community of young users who not only read the stories but participate in the commenting, reviewing and writing of them. We’re turning reading into a social, sharing experience.”

Teens – get reading on Yoza!

  • Look out for interactive questions at the end of each chapter – there are airtime prizes to be won! Also look out for regular writing competitions to win more airtime.
  • In August and September, Yoza and READ Educational Trust are giving away great prizes for the best story comments as part of Readathon 2010.
  • Write a story for Yoza and submit it at – if they like it, they’ll publish it.

Parents and teachers – get involved

  • Encourage teens to read the stories, write comments and story reviews and enter the writing competitions.
  • Bring Yoza into the classroom by using one of the stories as prescribed reading and have learners write assignments on it.
  • Write a story for Yoza, or encourage your learners or child to submit a story at If they like it, they’ll publish it.

For further information contact:
Steve Vosloo
m4Lit Project Leader
Shuttleworth Foundation
Call: +27 (0)83 208 9891
Blog: (for project updates)

Press Release
Issued by: Emerging Media
Contact person: Renee Conradie
Call: +27 (0)11 792 4706

Guerilla user testing of Yoza

On Saturday afternoon I headed into Khayelitsha to get a group of high schoolers who have Saturday school to user test Yoza. It was very late in the development cycle — Yoza officially launched twelve hours later! — but it was the only time we had to do this. As always, the user testing was incredibly valuable. I’m proud to say that most of the feedback from the Khayelitsha session was implemented as feature tweaks before the launch. Thank you Praekelt Foundation developers, thank you kids from Students for Humanity.

All images: Steve Vosloo, CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0. See them on Flickr.