x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

Yahoo grabs Arabic translator start-up

Yahoo has acquired a license to use Yamli, a service that promises to reduce the amount of Arabic "gibberish" on the internet.

Yahoo has teamed up with a Middle Eastern start-up that promises to reduce the amount of what it calls online gibberish in Arabic.

The United States internet giant has acquired a licence to use software developed by Yamli, a transliteration service formed by two Lebanese entrepreneurs.

Users of Yamli's application can type words phonetically on a Latin keyboard, which then appear in Arabic script. It is designed for internet users who do not have an Arabic keyboard, or are not used to typing on one.

Habib Haddad, one of Yamli's founders, said the deal with Yahoo would help to create more precise Arabic-language content on the internet.

Many Arab internet users write in Latin script, and often use numbers in place of Arabic letters that do not have a direct equivalent.

"Unfortunately a lot of the young people are used to this chat message, the gibberish of using 3s, 7s and 2s. And for the Arabic language, that's bad," said Mr Haddad.

"What Yamli creates is a way to transform this gibberish into real Arabic language," he added.

The Yamli app also helps to standardise the use of Arabic words online, making them more easily searchable by computer, Mr Haddad said.

Ahmed Nassef, the vice president and managing director of YahooMiddle East, said the Yamli service was already live on Yahoo's portal and would gradually be incorporated into its services such as Messenger and Mail.

"We've acquired a licence for the technology of Yamli," he said. "There are millions of [users] out there who prefer to type [using] the Latin keyboard."

Mr Nassef declined to specify the value of the licensing deal.

Yamli was founded in 2007 by Mr Haddad and Imad Jureidini. To date, more than 3.5 billion words have been typed with Yamli, at a rate of 150 million words per month, the company says.

Mr Haddad said he hoped the Yahoo deal would encourage other companies to work with Middle Eastern start-ups.

"I'm hoping it will create a domino effect for private-sector companies to engage with start-ups," he said.

Yahoo said last month that it would cut its workforce by 2,000,but Mr Nassef said that the company was still hiring in this region, amid growth in the local advertising market.He pegged "It is very high growth here in the Middle East. There's still a lot more growth to come," he said. "We're continuing to hire people"

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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