Cafe Connect is a chat portal designed for conversation with Internet cafe users in Kampala, Uganda. Through engaging the clientele of Internet cafes, Cafe Connect explored the social imaginary around the Internet, how Ugandans perceive their digital identity, and the multiple dimensions of ‘Internet access.’
Internet cafes foster extreme sociality online but a limited amount of face-to-face sociability offline. In collaboration with An Xiao Mina, Cafe Connect was launched in KayeNet Internet Cafe (10/30/2012), Access Point Internet Cafe (10/31/2012), and remotely (11/30/2012). The arrangement consisted of offering clients 20 minutes of free net time if they agreed to chat on Cafe Connect. As a design intervention, Cafe Connect facilitated anonymous and casual conversation without undermining the valuableness of clients’ pay-per-minute Internet usage.
In addition to casual conversation, Cafe Connect used the following questions as topics for discussion:
- Which websites do you use?
- What is your weekly Internet Cafe expenditure?
- Which Internet Cafes do you frequent and why?
- How would you improve this Internet Cafe?
- How else do you access the Internet?
- Do you own a computer?
Cafe Connect provided insight into the use practices of the typical Internet cafe user, usually young professionals or students, in Wandegeya, Kampala. Each user exhibited varying levels of connectivity. Students from Makerere University depended on the Internet cafes when university computer labs were full. Young professionals, mostly men, regularly stopped at Internet cafes on their way home from work. But for many, visiting an Internet cafe was a carefully budgeted treat. In addition, interactions with female users were rare.