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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

1TAM: the Emirati vlogging app that ‘wraps Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube into one’

'We want it to grow to a regional big player where everyone would use it to communicate various messages and voice opinions, and it becomes the go-to platform to hear someone’s opinion,' says co-founder Khaled Ismail

1TAM founders Khaled Ismail, right, and Emirati Anwar Nusseibah. 
1TAM founders Khaled Ismail, right, and Emirati Anwar Nusseibah. 

When Emirati Anwar Nusseibah and Canadian Khaled Ismail set out to create the UAE’s first home-grown social media app to connect users two years ago, their original idea was very different to the avatar the app has taken on.

The app was meant to be called My Sign, and the idea was that it would use existing facial-recognition technology – the kind in place to promote safety in public places – to help users find each other on the app while out in public.

“If I scan you and, of course you allow me, you would be able to find out my sign and that sign can be a sticker, it can be a billboard … you scan it and you go into a profile,” Ismail says. But, he admits: “It was a little creepy.” But, as happens with many start-ups, the idea evolved into something quite different, he says with a laugh.

A go-to platform to hear someone’s opinion

Not only was 1TAM – which stands for One Thing About Me – cheaper to produce, it’s also more user-friendly and based entirely around video. “That’s where the world is going,” Ismail says. The trick with 1TAM is that it allows users to create 60-second videos that other users can then reply to directly, also via video.

The users can then message back and forth individually and in groups. Think Twitter with video, or an Instagram story that you can reply to with a public Instagram story. In a way, 1TAM wraps Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube all into one, Ismail says.

1TAM allows users to create 60-second videos that other users can then reply to directly, also via video. 
1TAM allows users to create 60-second videos that other users can then reply to directly, also via video. 

“We want it to grow to a regional big player where everyone would use it to communicate various messages and voice opinions, and it becomes the go-to platform to hear someone’s opinion,” Ismail says. “It’s Twitter, but I can see you now. You, the person, speaking about a topic, I can see you and I can answer you back.”

1TAM also allows users to send videos directly to influencers rather than direct-messaging them, he says. Other unique features include a question of the day (example: what would you do with a million dollars if you were about to die tomorrow?), with the first people to answer receiving gift vouchers they can spend locally.

The possibilities for having conversations and creating content are endless, and Ismail says that since it’s early days, the founders don’t yet know all the ways in which the app will be used.

The current setbacks

The drawback is that there are only a few thousand users on 1TAM at the moment – from the United States, South Africa and Australia as well as within the region – and it’s not available on Android, although that is about to change with the support of a second round of funding the founders are seeking. And there is, of course, no telling if it will catch on. But for influencers looking to get in on the ground floor of a made-in-the-Middle East social media app, there is a wide open playing field of potential opportunities not possible with other, well-established apps developed in the West.

“When we have a strong base, they will dictate where this app goes in terms of its usability,” Ismail says.

When we have a strong base, they will dictate where this app goes in terms of its usability.

Khaled Ismail

“We’ve seen [this with] other platforms; for example, Instagram was just an app for photographers to share a couple of static photos and now it’s a mainstream everyday showing-off of where you are and what you are doing.”

As for the potential for online abuse and bullying, the app enables users to block and report abusers, and abusive comments and content, and for developers to remove anything offensive.

When it comes to privacy, the founders have no plan to sell or give away user information – although they may reach out with more obvious marketing schemes as opportunities present themselves. The polling feature could also prove attractive to advertisers and brands as they develop and launch new products, Ismail says.

Not just another app

Nusseibah is well placed in the UAE – his father Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh is a federal minister of state – and 1TAM is in line with Dubai’s goals in the field of innovation. “The emirate has huge ambition to make technology part of its DNA, so there’s [scope for] innovation here,” says Ismail, who is vice-president of communications for Tetra Pak’s Middle East and North Africa region. He is also an entrepreneur who has invested in a range of businesses, from an American company that recycles tyres into shoe soles to a Swedish company that makes organic juice.

Many of the early tech site announcements of 1TAM had an excited-yet-grudging aspect to them, reflecting the inundation of apps in our lives already. For example, when the app was officially launched in early January, TechRadar’s story began: “Prepare to add one more social media app to your life.”

Ismail says he doesn’t disagree with the sentiment, but argues that 1TAM has a place on regional phones. “I am a user and I don’t need yet another app on my phone,” he says. “But this one is hopefully going to cater to a need that’s not necessarily available out there and if someone can call it their own, I think it will be something different for people to venture into.”

Updated: March 21, 2019 12:37 PM

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