26 March, 2009

In Search of an Arab Search Engine

As I always use English on the computer and Internet, I have never given much thought to Arab search engines. A few days ago, I needed to find on the Net, in Arabic, certain answers. And so: for the last few days, I have been trying to find out if there are any good Arab search engines; several claimed to be so, but the only one I found to be good enough was Yamli. Unlike most of the others, it is a search engine; and, unlike Maktoob - which is a very poor copy of Yahoo!, it is innovative, smooth and loads fast. As I searched, I found these high praises for Yamli:

Yamli.com is an Internet start-up focused on addressing the problems specific to the Arabic web. Yamli currently offers two main products: the Smart Arabic Keyboard, and Yamli Arabic Search. The Smart Arabic Keyboard allows users to type Arabic without an Arabic keyboard from within their web browser. This technology is based on a real-time transliteration engine which converts words typed with Latin characters to their closest Arabic equivalent. Yamli Arabic Search is a search engine focused on providing more relevant search results for an Arabic query by expanding it to its most frequently used Latin representations. CrunchBase

Approximately 60% of Arabic-speaking Internet users dislike using an Arabic keyboard, according to Yamli, a Massachusetts-based startup that launched last year. CEO Habib Haddad explains that many users have to use a Latin keyboard for their jobs or school, which makes the keyboards impractical (and many think they’re just hard to type with). When it comes time to type in Arabic, many Internet users have adopted a phonetic web language that spells out Arabic words with these Latin letters. The result, Haddad says, is messy - especially when it comes to making sounds that don’t exist in English.

Yamli has built a system that solves this problem. Users enter words phonetically into a special text box that displays a list of matching words that are written in Arabic. This allows them to keep using their Latin keyboard, without having the resulting text look like gibberish. Because there are around 22 dialects in the Arab world, Yamli has to deal with multiple different phonetic spellings, which Haddad says it does with around 95% accuracy. TechCrunch

Language Analytics, LLC, a software startup, has won 'Best Web Technology Award' during the 4th Year Pan Arab Web Awards 2008 for its flagship website, Yamli.com. AmeInfo

It's rather shocking and disheartening; with all the oil wealth and resources that the Arab world has, now, I am very surprised that I could find only one Arab search engine, Yamli, as good and competitive enough. It seems Arabs and the Muslim world, once, before, for a long time, the leading light and beacon for knowledge and innovation - have permanently been reduced to a people who only consume and wait. We don't even have enough food to feed ourselves and we have to import most foods; we purchase all our weapons and other means for defending ourselves from outside; we import most pharmaceutical and tech products from foreign places; and, as for knowledge, creativity and innovation, we seem to be dormant and in a slumber. Even Yamli, is foreign based in Cambridge, MA, USA, and is funded by ex-Googlers; not with petro-dollars.