Oct 27, 2011

Mauritius is not yet ready for Q&A web sites

If you are wondering what exactly a Q&A (Questions & Answers) website is, it's a website where users ask questions and other users answer. The most popular Q&A website is without doubt Yahoo! Answers, which, as far as I am concerned, is the only Yahoo! product we should all still be bothering about. You can find out more about Q&A websites on Wikipedia.

Since I'm bothering to write about Q&A websites on this awesome Mauritius blog, it is to express my concerns that Mauritius is not yet ready for such websites. While Q&A websites are plentiful on the Internet and range from general websites to more specific topics (some of which are downright dodgy but I will refrain from linking to these), there are actually only 2 Mauritius-related Questions & Answers websites.

The first Q&A website about Mauritius is Answers.mu (note: as pointed out in the comments section, Answers.mu actually came well after Clever Dodo -- by "first Q&A website about Mauritius", I am merely referring to the first website I will be discussing and NOT the first one that was launched; I apologize for the misinformation), which was created by Akash Callikan this year (he's the guy behind the Le Matinal website). I was inspired to write this article after signing up for Answers.mu, visiting it quite regularly since I am personally a big fan of Q&A websites, and eventually getting frustrated with the whole website. I first found out about the website via a traditional newspaper and my discovery of the website had nothing to do with the Internet, which says a lot about the marketing of the website (more on that later).


Answers.mu is an excellent concept, especially considering the complete lack of competition as far as Mauritian Question & Answers websites are related. When Answers.mu was created, its only competitor was Clever Dodo. As such, it should not be very hard to be listed within the first three results on the first page of Google. I have not gone into determining the volume of search and the competition for the website's audience but I'm positive the competition should be extremely low.

My main gripes about Answers.mu have nothing to do with its marketing though. A first issue is that the website is unusable. The text color is extremely annoying and I often find myself logging out after only fifteen minutes browsing the website (which is actually a lot given the website's apparent small user base). As for the top menu with the black background, I cannot even read the damn thing without squinting. However, even these usability concerns are a distant second behind the main problem with Answers.mu.

Answers.mu
Answers.mu


The biggest problem about the Mauritius Q&A website Answers.mu is that the community is mainly comprised of trolls. Now, I'm not saying everybody who signed up on Answers.mu is a troll with nothing better to do than to engage in Internet warfare. In fact, I signed up myself, so this alone shoots down all your mass conspiracy theories. In most cases, it would have been easy to chalk it off to the users themselves and to argue that the webmaster is not actually responsible for what's happening on his website and what the users are using it for (also known as The Facebook Excuse).

Except it is totally the webmaster's fault in this case! The huge flaw with Answers.mu's model is that it is using explicit incentives to encourage people to participate on the website. You are only awarded points (which to be fair cannot actually be used on anything other than to brag about them) but this has led to most users posting garbage questions and garbage answers to go with these to rack up their points. There are also many cases where questions are evolving into forum-style threads and the moderators (if any) seem quite unresponsive to these.

Answers.mu's concept of gift questions, where whoever first gets the right answer to a question, is also a poor decision as it means people are visiting Answers.mu simply for these particular questions. Below is an example of a gift question on Answers.mu.

Which of the following gives you the best survival chance? You must explain why this is so.
1. Flip 5 heads in a row or get your head cut off
2. Roll two sixes when throwing dice or eat cyanide for dinner
3. Roll a 4 twice in a row or be drawn and quartered
4. Get dealt 2 kings (standard 52 card deck; 2 cards dealt) or jump from the top of the Cyber Tower in Ebene


These gifts are probably given by sponsors but my guess is that Answers.mu will eventually face a huge problem in retaining its users once they figure out these gifts are not worth the hassle. Attracting news user on a long-term basis is another issue that will without doubt pop up.

In contrast, Clever Dodo, the other Mauritius Questions & Answers website, is actually well-done. The layout is extremely user friendly and the users frequenting the website are actually helpful. I have not signed up for Clever Dodo, but you do get the feeling that a community actually exists there. From what I have seen, the moderators are actually taking their duties seriously and actively moderating the website.

CleverDodo.mu
CleverDodo.mu


It probably will not matter to both webmasters, but Clever Dodo is actually more search engine friendly than Answers.mu, which is funny because the Answers.mu owner states that he specializes "in building user-friendly and well-structured W3C standard-compliant websites [sic]". However, a user-friendly and well-structured website should be easy to navigate(I still cannot use the top menu), not hurt my eyes and use a flat structure. This is not the case as each question's link on Answers.mu includes a question folder, which is completely necessary and which should not be that hard to remove (example below).

http://www.answers.mu/question/how-to-make-money-for-life-in-limited-time/


As a more general outline of these two websites, while Clever Dodo is clearly better, the user base on both websites is however still quite small. My guess is that Mauritians clearly do not have much time for such websites when they could be instead be spending all their time on Facebook and reading this blog. In any case, both websites are completely invisible on Google unless you actually know their name. A search of "q&a websites mauritius" yields nothing when they should logically be targeting these for traffic.

They do seem to have proper visibility for related queries on Google.mu but their main traffic should come from foreigners and thus other versions of Google (I verified on Google US, since it has the potential for the most traffic). In this aspect, Clever Dodo is winning as its home page title (Clever Dodo - Mauritius Questions & Answers) includes its main keywords. It would however gain from a rewrite though as it can easily be further optimized and I do not understand the point of putting the brand name first.

As usual, sharing is your best friend. I am also eager to feedback from both communities' users as long as these are not limited to trolling and spamming. If you want to troll me, it's easier to do so by sharing this post on Twitter and Facebook.

Oct 25, 2011

The public transport system and quality of buses in Mauritius

The transport system in Mauritius and the state of its buses are important topics because many Mauritians still rely almost exclusively on public means of transportation. With the huge tax imposed on vehicles, a huge portion of the population in Mauritius is still finding it tough to purchase a car, even with the advantages of leasing. Moreover, even car owners will often use public transport means during weekdays to go to work either because of a lack of parking space or because of the huge traffic congestion, especially if they work in Port Louis (rumors have it that the traffic problem will be "eliminated" by moving it to Ebène instead).

A bus station in Mauritius

$10 says the blue bus will win.


The bus transport system in Mauritius is comprised of four main companies regulated by the National Transport Authority along with numerous individual operators. These four easily recognizable companies are:

  • Rose Hill Transport
  • National Transport Corporation (mostly known as CNT)
  • United Bus Service (commonly known UBS)
  • Triolet Bus Service

I do not know much about the Triolet Bus Service and the individual operators as I do not use them much (ie. not at all). Moreover, my opinion is mainly based on week days since I travel by car on week-ends. However, I daresay there's not much difference between what happens on a weekday and what happens on a Saturday or Sunday other than the fact that more people are puking in the buses and that the bus staff gets irritated quicker.

Out of these four bus operators, Rose Hill Transport is the only one with a website, which can be found at www.rht.mu. Their website has a great layout and offers a lot of useful information including routes and time tables, and is a great resource for anybody who needs to rely exclusively on Rose Hill Transport buses. The other bus operators do not have websites yet. Hopefully, this changes soon as RHT is actually the single company that probably does not need to offer this information since their buses are the most punctual out of the lot.

The fact that their most frequented route (the Port Louis to Rose Hill route) is also covered by CNT and UBS buses also means it's not big deal if you actually miss a Rose Hill Transport bus to Rose Hill or Port Louis. In most cases, you will not have to wait very long before a bus from any of those three companies comes along. In other cases, you could just walk!

However, Rose Hill Transport is now spectacularly popular for the Port Louis-Rose Hill route for a very simple reason. Their air conditioned buses are absolute quality in terms of comfort and the rates are the same as their not-so-quality buses. Contrast this with CNT Blueline buses, which charge higher than their traditional counterparts , and it's not surprising that most Mauritians will flock to these Rose Hill Transport buses as soon as they appear (although I personally think the air conditioning in these buses is a tad too cold, but that's just me).


I win!

Criticisms of the Mauritius transport system


The transport system in Mauritius has been extremely criticized and does not seem like it will end soon, considering most complaints get ignored. The most common complaint concerns the cleanliness of the buses. Many buses, particularly the older ones, are often extremely dirty and consequently harbor annoying insects such as cockroaches. These buses are also quite uncomfortable and there does not seem to be any form on proper maintenance carried out on these buses.

These have of course resulted in a few accidents along the way, such as sudden fires in these buses while they were packed with people and buses break down on a freakishly consistent basis, especially in the morning. The rates ironically keep increasing without any noticeable impact on the bus fleets, and some routes are now EXTREMELY expensive.

Punctuality used to be a huge issue but this is now largely a bad souvenir. Most buses stick to their schedule and will shop up on time, give or take 5 minutes. If they are running late, it usually is due to traffic and there's not much the drivers can do about it. My research (funnily enough, I do research my topics properly before blogging) has indeed shown that the buses in Mauritius actually leave the station according to their schedule. Of course, you do get some who will leave early or late, and sometimes not at all because the bus broke down upon reaching the bus station, but this is a problem that probably cannot be completely eliminated.

One of the most persistent criticisms of recent times concerns the speed at which some drivers work. Many buses are often criticized for going too fast and there have been numerous occasions where these have resulted in accidents. I personally know a couple of individuals who have been involved in accidents with buses, one of which was a serious one. Of course, I'm not saying it's always the bus's fault when an accident involving one occurs, but it would help if they were not going so damn fast in the first place, especially since so many people and children use these.

As usual, don't forget to share this article, especially if you've traveled in a bus in Mauritius during the past 100 years.

Oct 14, 2011

Another Mauritius news and online newspapers roundup

The first post on this blog was a list of the newspapers in Mauritius along with a little resume of each newspaper's popularity and website. If you've already read it (highly recommended if you have not done so), you will have noticed that it was posted in May 2011. Obviously, there have been some changes in the Mauritius news landscape since and this was then pointed out in the comments section.

This is consequently my second roundup of the Mauritius newspaper websites currently available. Since the original post is already quite detailed, I am only going over noticeable changes on these news websites and additional notes I may have missed the first time. The biggest change that has since occurred is a revamp of the Le Mauricien website, which is a huge improvement over the previous horrible website.

Good news, bad news
He got good news!

Le Mauricien

The old Le Mauricien website was by far one of the worst Mauritius newspaper websites (which you can find here) when the first post was published. However, they have since launched a new website which seems to be using Drupal. The new layout is actually excellent and this is a great improvement over the last website. However they are also getting some basics wrong. For example, while they are using Google Analytics to track their traffic, their tracking snippet is found in the footer when it should be at the top of the page.

This is obviously not a big issue for visitors and is more of a problem for the marketing department or whoever is monitoring these stats. The Le Mauricien website is actually now one of the best websites to check out for your Mauritius news. It however does not have the level of user engagement that Le Defi and Le Matinal currently have, but this may eventually change. There is also the fact that many web users are still unaware that the Le Mauricien website has changed and are thus still automatically heading over to competitors.

Website: Le Mauricien

Le Matinal

I had a lot of praise for the Le Matinal website in my previous article and still do. In fact, my ongoing research has proven that I am not alone in these views as there are a lot of people that are huge fans of Le Matinal. However, one thing that I find very annoying is the over-emphasis on their social media sharing options.

Of course, as a web marketing specialist, I know the importance of social sharing in the new web landscape and can never overstate what a difference social media traffic can make to any website. With search engines now taking social signals into consideration for their results and the partnership between Microsoft and Facebook, it would be foolish to underestimate the importance of social shares. However, the website's overall usability is constantly broken by the Facebook pop-up that appears every time you read an article. This gets extremely frustrating after some time and there is no need for such an over-zealous implementation.

It is always a mistake to sacrifice usability for these options. In fact, if someone really wants to share something, a simple icon at the bottom of the content often does the trick. I am also not a big fan of their animated social sharing options at the bottom of each article. They can be quite annoying to use and a huge time-waster. They should again just use regular icons which take less time to load and can be quickly clicked to promote an article.

Website: Le Matinal

See that SHARE button below? That's the easiest implementation of sharing features you could have on a website. Try using it and compare your experience with the one on Le Matinal. Better yet, sign up for my newsletter!

Oct 11, 2011

The main book stores in Mauritius

The relationship between books and Mauritius is a dying one. Bookstore owners keep complaining that Mauritians are not into reading and that sales are steadily declining. Of course, with competition from the Phoenix beer, horse racing, and the lotto, it is clear that it is somewhat difficult for books to compete with these important foundations of the Mauritian culture.

Note that I am talking about novel and casual reading - educational books obviously do not have this problem, proven by the fact that a primary school student's bag is often 5 times heavier than his own weight. I could also start rambling about the fact that the book stores in Mauritius are sometimes spectacularly ill-equipped and that the staff are often unable to help a prospective customer.

For example, around three months ago, I went around the main bookstores in Mauritius to purchase the legendary Heart of Darkness novel by the equally legendary Joseph Conrad, a literary classic and a must-read book for anybody into reading (Heart of Darkness was also the basis for Francis Ford Coppola's influential Apocalypse Now). None of them actually had it and many had not even heard of Joseph Conrad. The poor guy must be crying himself to sleep in his coffin every morning. However, I will leave this for another blog post. The main purpose of this article is the run-down of the main book stores in Mauritius.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
He does not like Mauritius either.


I will be only focusing on the main ones as there are technically dozens of book stores of varying sizes in Mauritius and it would be downright impossible to talk about all of them. If you wish to chime in with your own opinion about book stores I have not covered, feel free to do so in the comments section.

Le Cygne

Le Cygne is obviously the first on this list given that it is the most successful book store in Mauritius and is pretty much a staple of the Mauritian culture. I am personally a big fan of Le Cygne as it often has the books that nobody else has and often does great deals on other books Mauritians are not fan of (basically everything that does not deal with gay vampires). If you need a full collection from a single author, Le Cygne is also the single shop where you may find it.

My advice is to check out Le Cygne first if you need any book. You will probably obtain it there at a cheaper price. The only gripe I have about the Le Cygne book store is that it has a single branch in Mauritius, but it gets away with murder by being strategically located and thus impossible to miss.

Librarie Bookcourt

The Librarie Bookcourt is found in the Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis and in the Shoprite complex in Trianon. It is probably the second most popular book store in Mauritius but is let down by often excessive prices. Its selection is also sometimes surprising. As an example, when I inquired about the availability of Agatha Christie books at the Caudan Waterfront branch, they only had a few in french. I mean, who the hell wants to read Agatha Christie books in french? They do give you the possibility to order books, but these are again quite expensive and there is sometimes a long waiting period. You are much better buying these books from eBay.

Le Bookstore

Le Bookstore is a personal favorite of mine. They often look uninteresting on the outside but actually have great collections of books once you bother to go inside. They are also found all over the island with shops in Port Louis and Belle Rose. Their prices are additionally extremely affordable. They often have complete book collections and cover a vast range of popular authors. Le Bookstore is also very well organized regardless of the branch you actually visit. If the book you are desperately looking for can only be found in another branch, they will be glad to bring it to your closest branch for pickup.

Librairie Bourbon

Librairie Bourbon, located in Port Louis, is one of the oldest book shops in Mauritius. It focuses entirely on second hand books and will pretty much buy and sell any book as long as it's not too shabby and therefore readable. If you want to get rid of some books to make space for your Steve Jobs life-size statue, you can easily sell these at the Bourbon library. You will not obtain a fortune but it is still better than just throwing books away, which is officially one of the biggest crimes in the world (second to not sharing this post).

If you are into second hand books, the Librairie Bourbon book store is pretty much all you need in Mauritius. It is my opinion that you could easily find extremely rare books and collections of books for next to nothing there. Unfortunately, trying to find a particular book at the Librairie Bourbon is easier said than done as the shop is not computerized.

Antara Editions Ltee

At a first glance, The Antara Editions Ltee bookstore combines the best of both worlds as it sells new and used books. However, it does not have a very interesting collection compared to the other Mauritius book stores mentioned above. It does have the convenience of being located off the main road in Quatre Bornes, which means you can drop there for a quick look whenever you are in the region. However, if you are looking for a book that is difficult to get in Mauritius, Antara Editions should be the last book store on your list. In fact, you're better off just buying that book on eBay directly without even bothering about Antara.



As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, feel free to comment on other book stores I have not included. Moreover, 108 users have already liked the Mauritius news page on Facebook. Why haven't you joined them yet?

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