Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lebanese launch Arabic search engine

Lebanese launch Arabic search engine
Us-based company offers access to web sites with non-latin characters

By Christian Porth
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: In 2007, Lebanese Habib Haddad and Lebanese-American Imad Jureidini founded Language Analytics LLC, an Internet start-up company based in Boston, Massachusetts. The introduction of a new Internet start-up may be old news, but what is not is their unique, first-of-a-kind YAMLI Internet search engine, designed specifically for Arabic speakers. The initial idea came in the aftermath of the 2006 war with Israel. Haddad, a graduate of both the American University of Beirut and the University of Southern California, was in the US at the time and desperate for news from Lebanon. He began searching for Arabic news on the Internet regarding what was happening, only to be met with frustration by the inability of most search engines to accurately locate Arabic news. "It was very frustrating. I could express myself in Arabic perfectly, but it's hard to use English to find sites in Arabic. Then it hit me," Haddad said. "From people I've spoken to, no one else recognized it as a problem until I brought it up and then they were like 'yeah, I've never thought of that,'" he told The Daily Star. Haddad suggested the idea to his then-colleague at another firm, Jureidini, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The two launched YAMLI, a sophisticated but extremely user-friendly piece of software, on November 15, 2007. While the site is new, the pair hopes to begin focusing on acquiring partners for their venture. The most interesting thing about YAMLI, aside from the software itself, is the new business opportunities it can create. "Our goal is to give the Arab culture and language a chance on the Internet," Haddad said. According to research done by Haddad and Jureidini, out of the 30 billion sites on the Internet there are only 150 million Arabic sites. Two key reasons for this are that typing in Arabic is complex and that the majority of the world uses Latin-based keyboards.

What YAMLI does is open the Arabic Internet for Arabic speakers who are accustomed to using English transliteration - phonetically typing out Arabic words into English. "Most Arabic speakers are not using Arabic content so there is a low demand for Arabic content, which in turn creates a low supply," Haddad said. With more Arabic speakers able to access the Arabic portion of the Internet, Haddad and Jureidini hope there will be greater demand for sites with Arabic content that companies will be more willing to advertise on. "It's complicated enough to find Arabic Web sites through search engines like Google or Yahoo, so businesses don't see the value in advertising," said Jureidini, who holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A lot of companies are interested in using YAMLI in their services as well. We're also hoping that through the ad cycle we can provide a revenue model for bloggers and small businesses to have and write content in Arabic as well," Jureidini said. "We don't want end users to bear any costs in using our services, we need businesses and advertisers to invest in our functionality," he added.

While they are currently based in Boston, the two hope to expand into the Middle East as soon as possible. "We are a small company and YAMLI just started but once we expand we are looking to open offices in the Middle East," Haddad said. YAMLI is easy to use. Haddad and Jureidini designed it that way, recognizing differences in the Arabic dialect and that there are words that do not exist in English which can only be spelled phonetically. "Lebanese, Egyptians and even Saudis can find the Arabic word they are looking for," Haddad explained, "because YAMLI will return multiple spellings and words to match what they want."

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