Growing Internet Usage In The Middle East & North Africa

| Aug 24, 2009 | comment 4 Comments

EuromonitorAccess to the Internet has been expanding dramatically in the Middle East and North Africa over the past years. A new study by Euromonitor International provides some interesting general key indicators, as well as some indicators on the effect of this growth on the business environment, government and future prospects.

The following is a selection of some of the key points from the study:

  • Internet access in the Middle East and North Africa has expanded rapidly since 2003, reaching 85.5 million users in 2008, or 5.2% of the world’s users (The study includes Iran in these numbers);
  • Internet users in the region are typically under 35 years old and predominantly male, although there are indications that the digital gap between men and women is narrowing;
  • The young profile makes Internet users a promising consumer market as they are more likely to be influenced by global consumer trends. The dominance of Arabic is an advantage as it allows addressing a wide audience in many countries;
  • The spread of the Internet is part of a wider trend of growing access to media and communications in the region. In the 1990s and 2000s satellite TV systems and mobile phones became a standard household item even in poor countries in the Middle East;
  • Judging by blogs, Internet users seek primarily content relating closely to their country, rather than regional issues. Thus, bloggers tend to cluster according to country with interests varying between politics, religion and culture;
  • Online retailing offers consumers greater choice and convenience. Internet retailing is developing rapidly in the region, especially (though not exclusively) in the small Gulf states such as Kuwait and UAE. From international brand megastores offering electronics and entertainment products, to family-owned sweet shops, businesses are expanding their online presence to capture the growing market;
  • Internet literacy improves chances in the labour market. In addition, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is growing across the Middle East and North Africa, providing employment opportunities in countries such as Jordan and Egypt, which suffer from high unemployment;
  • Governments across the region are investing in e-government. According to a United Nations survey from 2008, UAE, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all substantially improved their e-government services between 2005 and 2008, and their level of readiness was above the global average. New e-government services in Middle East countries included online consultation, forms downloading and submission, and online payments for government services.
For more indicators from the study, you can go here:
Regional Focus: Growing Internet usage in the Middle East and North Africa

Bezaat, A New Classifieds Portal For The Arab World

| Aug 24, 2009 | comment 54 Comments

BezaatBezaat is a new free Arabic classifieds portal that was just launched out of Dubai in its beta version, and targeting all Arab countries and their major cities.

Even though there are local classifieds sites around the Arab world, with different levels of success, there hasn’t been one that covers the whole region and that has been that successful, and Bezaat hopes to fill that space by providing a region-wide platform for classified ads, aiming to solve users’ needs around the Arab world.

The Bezaat team chose to widen the scope and target the whole Arab world from day one so as to not be branded as a local classifieds site, limiting their chances to grow later on and expand.

To make the system more relevant for each country, the interface is customized according to local needs and interests, highlighting the more popular categories.

Bezaat

The interface is in Arabic only, and is really simple, straightforward and organized, making it easy to surf through the existing ads or to go through the process of posting a new one.

Bezaat is a product of Danat, the same company behind Logta and Laazi.

Wheels Express, Another Take At E-Commerce In Jordan

| Aug 23, 2009 | comment 5 Comments

Wheels ExpressWheels Express is a newly launched Jordanian e-commerce portal, taking another hit at cracking the e-commerce nut in the Arab world.

The company’s activity lies somewhere between an online shopping portal and an offline delivery service; providing a catalog of products covering DVDs, books, magazines, t-shirts, tickets, snacks, pre-paid mobile cards and more; and delivering orders directly to your doorstep in Amman (within the 12 daily delivery hours).

Users get to sign up and put in their orders, which for most types of products should be delivered within an hour, if within the 12 hours of service, with payment in cash upon delivery.

Wheels Express

Wheels Express does not keep a stock of its own. What it does is list products provided by third party stores, and then acting as the middle-man; handling the order, delivery and payment process.

Wheels Express was founded by a Ibrahim Manna’, Ibrahim Al-Mani and Mohamed Al-Mani.

The web solution was developed by the new Jordanian web company Ideation Box.

Total Country Connectivity Measure For The Arab World

| Aug 20, 2009 | comment Leave a comment

The annual results of Arab Advisors Group’s Total Country Connectivity Measure (TCCM) reveal substantial –mostly cellular service driven- improvements in overall scores. The Arab broadband Internet markets also registered very positive growth.

The United Arab Emirates is the most connected country in the Arab World according to the Arab Advisors Group’s annual report; Bahrain and Saudi Arabia followed in second and third ranks respectively.

The Arab Advisors Group calculates its Total Country Connectivity Measure (TCCM) by adding the household mainlines penetration, cellular penetration, and Internet users penetration rates in each country. The household mainlines penetration is measured by dividing the residential mainlines by the number of households in each country.

The TCCM shows the extent of connectivity of individuals in a certain country whether via fixed lines, cellular lines and/or Internet. Of course, there will be an overlap since many individuals will be using these three communications technologies at the same time. However, the measure still yields an accurate and informative picture on the level of ICT services penetration in each country.

As previously mentioned the Total Country Connectivity Measure results for 2009 revealed that UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia still dominate the top three spots as the highest adopters of telecommunication services, with values of 321%, 249% and 248% respectively.
The results for the rest of the Arab World came as follows: Qatar (205%), Libya (199%), Kuwait (184%), Oman (170%), Algeria (141%), Jordan (141%), Syria (129%), Egypt (128%), Tunisia (128%), Morocco (127%), Lebanon (125%), Iraq (100%), Palestine (95%), Mauritania (74%), Yemen (55%) and in last place Sudan with a TCCM value of 34%.

“Only four out of the nineteen countries covered in this year’s study have a total country connectivity measure that exceeds a 200%. This indicates a substantial potential for more growth in most Arab markets, especially in the under penetrated Internet markets.” Mr. Andrawes Snobar, Arab Advisors’ Research Manager wrote in the report.

Active Facebook Users In Middle East & North Africa

| Aug 19, 2009 | comment 8 Comments

FacebookA newly released study by O’Reilly Research, focusing on the numbers of active Facebook users around the world by country and region (August 2009), shows the following numbers coming out of the Middle East & North Africa:

  • 8.3% of active Facebook users come from the Middle East & North Africa, representing a 7.9% penetration.
  • The number of users under 25 years of age represent 60% of active Facebook users in the region.
  • Fastest growth in user adoption in the region is in the 55+ age group.
  • Male users outnumber Female users, with 59% of the user base being male, and 35% Female. (The difference consists in the users who declined to state their gender.)
  • Among the Arab countries, the top 10 countries in active Facebook user numbers are:
    • Egypt (1,820,000)
    • Saudi Arabia (920,000)
    • Morocco (860,000)
    • UAE (840,000)
    • Tunisia (690,000)
    • Lebanon (680,000)
    • Jordan (490,000)
    • Kuwait (220,000)
    • Qatar (160,000)
    • Palestine (150,000)

facebook active MENA users

The numbers were determined based on user IP addresses for location, as well as user supplied demographics (age, gender, etc.)

For more details and numbers, you can check out the O’Reilly presentation: Active Facebook Users By Country & Region: August 2009.

TweetShell, A Web Based Shell Interface For Twitter

| Aug 15, 2009 | comment 2 Comments

TweetShellTweetShell is a fun, in a geeky kind of way, new Twitter web application that provides a command line interface for users who are more comfortable working in the shell environment.

The site’s idea is to provide a way to use everyday shell commands to interact with twitter. So for starters, users might want to run a man command to discover the available commands and how they work within the twitter context.

TweetShell is still in early alpha and doesn’t cover all Twitter functionalities yet, but it very nicely covers the most basic ones, enabling the viewing of user timelines (using directory commands like cd and ls), tweeting (using wall), logging in to your Twitter account (using the ssh command) and more.

TweetShell

The site’s tag line is quite a fun one as well: “You know, in linux they say everything is a file. In TweetShell everything is a tweet!!”

Tweetshell is a creation of Monther AbuShaikh from Jordan, who is also CTO at Ikbis, the popular video and photo sharing service.

Google Launches Google.ps Domain Name For Palestine

| Aug 13, 2009 | comment 6 Comments

GoogleGoogle just announced the addition of a new domain to their list of international domain names google.ps for Palestine.

The new domain will give Arabic-speaking users in the Palestinian Territories, who use Palestinian ISPs, access to Google in Arabic–and eventually, access to more locally-relevant content.

Local domain names are part of a bigger strategy for Google, they’re a first step towards making the web more accessible and relevant for users from around the world, providing local services to them wherever they happen to be.

Google.ps screenshot

Google has already previously launched a number of local domain names for other countries including Jordan, Morocco, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Libya among others and plans to continue doing so.

With the launch of google.ps, the total number of international Google domains goes up to more than 160.

Bedaya Angel Network’s First Pitching Session For Startups

| Aug 9, 2009 | comment Leave a comment

Bedaya Angel NetworkA group of 10 Angel investors gathered in Jordan to attend the first match-making event for the newly created Bedaya Angel Network, where 20 pre-selected entrepreneurs got to pitch their projects to the investors.

Entrepreneurs were given 20 minutes to present their project and explain why they were looking for investment. Presentations were followed by another 20 minutes with questions from the attending Business Angels about their project’s details and concept, business development, the market for their project and what any eventually invested money would be used for.

The Bedaya Angel Network initiative was launched only a few months ago, in May of 2009, and has attracted over 30 important figures from the Jordanian investment, business and economic development communities.

The founding institutions of the Bedaya Angel Network are: the Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship, the iPark business incubator and the Arab Science and Technology Foundation. It is supported by the European program Medibtikar.

The goal behind the creation of Bedaya is to offer national financing vehicles for innovative business startups as part of the El Hassan Science City’s mandate to foster knowledge-based enterprises with a promising potential for growth. The network will be offering investments for early stage start-ups with a focus on science and technology.

Bedaya Angel Network - Match-making Event

The process starts with the selection of entrepreneurs who are looking for funding and giving the ones that are most ready the opportunity to pitch their projects to an audience of business angels at match-making events that should be held every 2 months.

Before pitching to investors, the entrepreneurs received special full-day training and coaching by Mr. Nelson Grey, a seasonal expert on business angel investments.

The next Bedaya pitching session is planned to happen next October.

[Business Angels are private individuals willing to invest their own money into high growth potential startups; not only offering money to the companies they invest in, but also a lot of experience and their personal business networks.]

BberryApp.com Releases Free “Forward, Reply & Edit” BlackBerry Application

| Aug 6, 2009 | comment 7 Comments

BberryApp.com is a new Jordanian startup, that specializes in Blackberry application development, both as a service for clients with specific needs, as well as with products for the general market.

They just released their first public application for Blackberry Smartphones called “Forward, Reply and Edit” on August 2nd 2009. This application integrates with your BlackBerry messages and allows you to do exactly what its name suggests: open an email message, choose ‘Forward & Edit’ or ‘Reply & Edit’ from the menu and be able to change any of the content in the email before sending it.

“Forward, Reply and Edit” has seen very good success in the few days since it’s been out with over 3,500 downloads so far.

Forward, Reply & Edit

You can download the application for free here: Forward, Reply & Edit. To activate the software, all you need to do is send an email to a friend letting them know about the application too.

According to people who have tested the application, the only downside of this application is that you cannot use it with emails that have attachments, as it strips off the attachments when editing. But that is also the case of other paid solutions that do similar tasks.

BberryApp.com was founded by Adey Salamin, Razi Al Qasem and Tariq Shadid from Jordan.

[Application screenshot courtesy of BerryReview]

Arabic Language Domains & Internet Growth In The Arab World

| Aug 6, 2009 | comment 9 Comments

A lot of talk has been going on these past couple of days about Arabic language domain names which should become possible within the coming year, with the major changes planned for the web addressing system, allowing the use of international scripts such as Arabic, Chinese and Hindi in domain names, as well as the liberalization of the registration process for top-level domains.

The Arab league already has plans to play a big role in the midst of all this by operating its own “.arab” domain, registered in Arabic and Latin characters.

The officials at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) think that this move will help boost internet growth in the region, as more and more Arabic speakers find it more accessible to them.

According to Baher Esmat, the Middle East relations manager of ICANN, “The next 10 million or 20 million Arab internet users will be those who do not speak English,” as “They will want to do everything in Arabic, including the addresses.”

Now even though I’m not really a supporter of the move to liberalize the registration of top-level domains, because of the big hassle and mess I fear it will create, I think the other change adding the possibility to use international scripts in domain names is a great step forward for the web addressing system.

I’m sure a lot of Arab websites will be registering web addresses in Arabic once it becomes possible next year, and it will be interesting to analyze the statistics and see how many people prefer using them.

Still, I’m not sure it’ll really have that big of an effect on internet growth in the region. I mean, is using a web address typed in Latin characters really a big barrier holding back people from getting online and surfing the web?
Of course, it’s more practical to just do everything in Arabic for many, but how many people do you think have skipped using the internet altogether just because they don’t want to type urls in Latin?

What do you think? Will Arabic domain names help boost internet growth in the region? Why?

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