An internet start-up in Dubai is hoping its mobile application that links social media services with local businesses will be a hit. Websites such as Twitter, Facebook and foursquare have rapidly grown in popularity in the UAE but businesses have yet to fully embrace their potential. The new mobile application taps into elements of those websites and allows people to share businesses they like with their friends and hopefully get a bargain, said Matt Beckner, the president of me360.
"Social networking is great and it's changed the world, but it's still digital," Mr Beckner said. "Much of it is spent behind a computer screen or your BlackBerry and it's not connecting people in the real world." Mr Beckner, a former analyst with the telecommunications consultancy Delta Partners, formed a partnership with a former colleague, Bart Janssen, and a school friend, Sherif Abaza, several months ago.
The application allows users to see what businesses their friends have recommended, post thelocations of those businesses on Twitter, "like" certain businesses on Facebook, and lets companies display local deals to be shown when a user is in close proximity. The application will generate revenues by having businesses bid for the chance to rank highly on a preferred list that a user can view once they "check into" a location, a similar model to that employed by Google for its online advertisement business. "We've talked to everyone you could imagine would be the types of businesses who would be interested in this," said Mr Beckner.
"For every 10 businesses, one is slightly enthusiastic, eight are very enthusiastic, and one is devastated that it can't already do it today." Mr Beckner said the application would be available on iPhone and BlackBerry devices after Eid concludes in September. Dubai will be the application's testing ground before it is made available in the US and Europe later this year. "Dubai's very tech-savvy, it's very western, there's a lot of high net-worth individuals and it's very easy to penetrate the business community here," he said.
"At the same time, it's the best way of keeping Silicon Valley and New York to not know what we're doing until we're ready to go global." Before the application's launch, me360 will try to generate some buzz of its own with a group buying service, the latest online retailing craze, this Wednesday - the UAE's Social Media Day. Group buying is a concept borrowed from established players in the US such as GroupOn and the UAE's GoNabit, where users sign up to buy a heavily discounted deal as long as a minimum number of people sign up for it.