Google shutting down Woza Online service

Johannesburg - Thousands of websites belonging to small to medium businesses on Google’s Woza Online service will be shut down in South Africa.

The search giant’s free website builder is shutting down on February 28 2015 after it was launched in January 2012 in partnership with the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI), mobile network Vodacom and the Human Resources Development Council (HRDC).

Google described Woza Online as an ‘easy-to-build’ website system that offered free ‘wozaonline.co.za’ sub-domain names and a hosting service.

And last year, Google said Woza Online was used by 40 000 websites in South Africa.

But Woza Online is being closed after Google also shut down similar website builder services in Nigeria and Kenya at the end of December. Woza Online users can log in to their accounts to retrieve photos and text until May 1 2015, Google said.

“Closing offerings always involve tough choices, but we do think very hard about each decision and its implications for our users, and we want to ensure that businesses in South Africa get the best of the web, which is why we’re introducing new options," said Google in an emailed statement to Fin24.

Google said users can transfer their sites or use the search company’s ‘My Business’ offering, which helps customers find businesses via searches and illustrates where the businesses are located.

“We are now improving our suite of offerings for small business owners, with the launch of Google My Business in South Africa,” Google said.

The My Business service, though, is just a listing-type service and does not offer website building and hosting packages.

Scam artists abuse Woza Online

Complaints of fraudsters turning to Woza Online to create fake websites have dragged down the Google service.

In 2013, MyBroadband reported that “fraudsters are now abusing the free platform to impersonate legitimate retailers, scam unsuspecting consumers, and harvest credit card details”.

E-commerce website Bidorbuy even issued a warning to customers about Woza Online in 2013.

“We have received a number of reports from sellers that store-pages on wozaonline.co.za impersonate sellers on Bidorbuy,” said the e-commerce service.

“As an example, the following two Woza Online stores link to Bidorbuy sellers (http://electronics4less.wozaonline.co.za/ and http://camerahouse.wozaonline.co.za/home) and try to convince people to purchase goods via Woza Online.

“The Woza Online stores link to Bidorbuy sellers to promote that the store is credible and safe (note that the operator of the Woza Online store IS NOT the Bidorbuy user linked to),” said Bidorbuy.

Woza Online users make a plan

In light of the Woza Online closure, the service’s small business users are making alternative plans.

Robin Makayi, the owner of Good Purpose Tar Surfacing & Civils, said Google emailed him two months ago to tell him about the Woza Online service shutting down.

Makayi told Fin24 that he registered ‘goodpurpose.wozaonline.co.za’ about a year ago after a friend told him about the service.

Makayi further said he was previously planning on building a new website for his business anyway, and that the Woza Online closure won’t affect him.

"It was more like a free website and we're actually planning to get a commercial one,” Makayi told Fin24.

Lianne de Beer, owner of 'partyplatters.wozaonline.co.za', told Fin24 that she was also notified of the closure via a notice on the administration system of her website.

"They (Google) basically said that they can just help you put your website onto a new platform,” de Beer told Fin24.

"I already have one, so it's not too much of an issue for me actually but other people might have a bit of an issue with it,” she said.

Are you affected by the Woza Online closure? Tell us by clicking here.

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