/ 10 September 2009

Winston the homing pigeon draws tweets of support

It may not translate into “You’ve Got Mail” being replaced by down-feathers and birdie-poo on your study table, but Winston, the homing pigeon who beat Telkom’s broadband capacity to transfer information in a race this week, is emerging as a media and internet darling.

This, after Winston carried four gigabytes of information strapped to his leg from The Unlimited company’s call-centre in Howick near Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal to his home in Gillits outside Durban on Wednesday.

From there the carrier pigeon and memory card were driven to The Unlimited head office in nearby Hillcrest to be uploaded. The entire exercise took approximately two hours, six minutes and 57 seconds. At that point a concurrent ADSL download at the company’s offices had managed to move just 100MB of data.

Kevin Rolfe, head of IT at The Unlimited, the call-centre company behind the stunt to highlight the inadequate broadband service available in South Africa, said this transfer of information between the company’s offices would usually take between four hours and two days depending on weather conditions adversely affecting broadband.

Media in countries like Germany, Australia and England have picked up on Winston’s exploits, with stories also being run by news agencies like Bloomberg and Reuters.

According to Mark Smith, online marketing manager for The Unlimited, Winston’s home page has had 21 528 page views since the race. Winston also has 2 467 fans on Facebook and 374 Twitter followers, while his exploits garnered 2 108 YouTube views at the time of writing.

Kevin Rolfe, head of IT at The Unlimited, admitted that the race was an attention-grabbing stunt, but with the aim of “not blaming at anyone, merely to try and get businesses and service providers together to think about innovative ways to access and move information better”.

Rolfe attributed the current state of broadband service in South Africa, which he described as “inadequate” to Telkom’s telecommunications monopoly and unwillingness to update current broadband infrastructure.

Birdie supporters in South Africa are already tweeting and squawking their approval, with Facebookers like Rihzia Van Tonder posting message like “Hey Winston, thanks for the awesome comparison — let’s cross fingers that this bold statement will get us all faster, cheaper internet,” on the pigeon’s Facebook page.

The Mail & Guardian has, meanwhile, not been able to confirm rumours that Telkom has called for a gender and doping tests to be conducted on the 10-month-old Winston. At the time of going to press, the company had yet to respond to this, and other emailed questions.