Google yesterday launched a new service to help Arab technology novices use the World Wide Web. The search company's new site, Ahlan Online, aims to tap into a major increase in the number of people signing on to the Web across the region. Users of the Ahlan Website - its name is Arabic for "hello" - will be able to watch three-minute YouTube video clips on how to use certain aspects of the Web, such as e-mailing, chatting and otherwise sharing information.
The site is at www.google.com/ahlan. "The Internet can often be intimidating for those who have not had to use it as part of their daily routine," said Wael Ghonim, the product and marketing manager for Google in the MENA region. "This is especially true in the Middle East as Arab content online is still a work in progress." There are about 56 million internet users in the Arab world, an increase of 228 per cent from 2004.
Technology analysts say internet use is growing fastest in Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, while the UAE has the highest internet penetration rate with 60 per cent of the population online. Google has given itself a mandate to improve the level of Arabic content online. It is believed that only about 1 per cent of all Web content is written in Arabic despite there being more than 221 million native speakers across the world.
Last September, Google launched Ejabat, a Middle Eastern question-and-answer website that has attracted more than 100,000 users. "This is the first step of many as we work towards raising awareness about the internet's vast capabilities, from access to information and resources to more complex business tools," Mr Ghonim said. "We live in a digital age, and it is important that the Arab world takes advantage of this new medium."