Talking tech with Erik Hersman

Too many people nowadays mortgage their sense of idealism for the present. Erik Hersman isn’t one of those people. He’s an optimist and a builder.

The Nairobi-based Senior TED Fellow transforms his idealism into productivity. In the past 5 years alone he’s started the AfriGadget blog (named one of TIME’s “Top 50 Sites of 2008”), co-founded Ushahidi (the open source project revolutionising how people crowdsource crisis information) and founded the iHub (Nairobi’s leading innovation hub). Impressive, right? It doesn’t stop there.

The kicker is that, while Erik is a busy and ambitious guy, he’s also one of the nicest people you can ever meet. And he was nice enough to sit down and talk tech with us.

So, what’s your current tech set-up look like?

MacBook Air 11″, iPhone 5, and a notebook plus zebra F-301 pen for when I’m in meetings.  There’s usually a 3g modem within reach too, soon to be replaced by a BRCK.

Erik Hersman2

What are your top 5 mobile apps?

Tweetbot (Twitter) – this is my news stream as well, I find it’s a great filter for what’s important and I also follow enough people who aren’t like me to ensure that I get a good mix of ideas and news that aren’t in my normal areas of interest.

Instapaper – God, I love this app.  I end up traveling a lot, so having articles that I didn’t have time to read when browsing online, available when offline on an airplane, is fantastic.

Alien Blue – Reddit.  That is all.

Camera+ – I take a lot of pictures with my iPhone, and only a portion of them make it to Instagram.  I end up doing a lot of fast post-editing via Camera+.

Basecamp – We use Basecamp for the Ushahidi, iHub and BRCK teams, so this is the easiest way for me to stay on top of everything.  I actually find it much easier to use than the desktop/browser version, especially when I’m testing products and doing quick-hit updates.

What’s your favorite place to consume content?

Twitter.  I’ve been thinking of reviving an RSS feed for myself via something like Newsify on my iPhone, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Is there a specific method to tackling your daily workflow?

Yes, I start and end the day with email, trying to keep it at inbox zero.  That gives me the middle of the day to focus on everything else.  Everything else ends up being focused on two types of days (they don’t mix well for me); days full of meetings, and days full of writing and thinking.  My goal is to have 3 days of writing/thinking each week, and 2 of meetings – I don’t always succeed at this.

I’ve tried multiple times to be a list person, but just can’t seem to get in the habit of it.  The closest I’ve gotten is with “The Hit List”, which I think is an amazingly good app for organizing myself.  I’m just not religious enough with it.

What’s your one tech-related guilty pleasure?

I play tower defense games on iOS, all of them.  If you haven’t played Kingdom Rush: Frontiers, then you’re not living.

Browser wars – where’s your loyalty and why?

Firefox.  I was an early adopter, even have one of the original t-shirts still.  Firefox makes a great browser, and they represent what I love about the web, which is the ability for it to be open and to remake itself when things go wrong.  Everything was going wrong when we only had Internet Explorer, Firefox saved us, I won’t forget that.  I also love that they’re working on amazing new things like Firefox OS and are at the forefront of keeping things open, accessible and fun.

What tech product are you most excited about?

I’d like to get the new MacBook Air that has super-long battery life.

You can learn more about Erik and his work by watching his latest talk below. You should also check out his blog, White African.