The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Google in the Middle East

As posted before, google has based its Middle East activities in Egypt, to the surprise of observers who expected the search engine would select Dubai.

I spoke to the regional manager of google, Sherif Iskander, a few days ago, and he told me that it was simply the size of Egypt that has attracted google here (time zones also were an issue).

Egypt has the region’s largest number of internet users as well as small and medium entreprises (and advertisers), the market segment that google’s business model is based upon. The booming tourism industry is a major client for google, and financial services which are underdeveloped in Egypt could become another major source of revenues soon.

But google can only sell its products if there’s content. Less then 1% of the internet’s content is in Arabic, although it is one of the world’s most spoken languages.

The research that Iskander referred to showed that 85% of the region’s internet users would in fact prefer content in Arabic. Google is thus working on creating more content. Until now, it has arabized its search function, its news portal and its email service. It also offers translation tools from English to Arabic and vice versa.

It also hopes to lower the significant cost barrier to local content, by offering advertising tools that automatically generate ads on local websites.

As access to the internet improves across the region – in Egypt ADSL prices came down recently – now it’s limited PC penetration and the lack of local content that is preventing the region from seeing higher numbers of internet users, it seems.