Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sawafi: The Arabic Google

A dedicated Arabic language search engine will debut later this year under the name "Sawafi." There is currently no Arabic search engine on the Internet and with 65% of Arab Internet users unable to read English, it would appear that the success of Sawafi is a foregone conclusion. Sawafi is hoping to follow the example set by Baidu, the local Chinese language search engine, which is exploding with over 100 million web surfers. Baidu is doing so well in fact that Google had to change its Chinese name to better compete. (You can also see the Chinese Online Search Survey showing stats between Baidu and Google here). Sawafi's goal is to help Arabs get online and find what they need, making profits along the way.

According to CNET, there are only 100 million web pages in Arabic (that's only 0.2% of all the web pages out there), generated by more than 16 million internet users. And all of those Arab speaking users that can't read English have to deal with a web where 70% of the total content is in English. So here's the rub:
There is not enough Arabic content available on the Internet. But there's no motivation to put more Arabic content on the Internet as long as you don't have a system to find the content.
It's interesting to watch the Internet creep into new areas and see how people deal with it. Clear here is the enormous value that a good search engine provides to all the content out there. It even encourages the creation of more content because people will know that someone can find theirs! Wow.

I know it's not that profound of an idea, but its simplicity seems lost on those seeking to enforce their copyrights against Google and other search engines. There is hardly a market for digital content without a good search engine, yet search engines get sued for copyright infringement under the theory that they are appropriating the value of copyrighted work. I would say that maybe we have forgotten how annoyingly little content was on the Internet 10 years ago, before search got really good, and if we have in fact forgotten, I would remind people to watch things like Sawafi and Baidu take off and watch the populations they serve become Internet savvy rather quickly.

I would also remind people that copyright is supposed to promote the progress of the useful arts and that extending copyright law in a way that restricts what search engines can do does not promote anything that looks like progress.

Bonus Addition (9:23pm):
Do you know what Sawafi means? It's actually surprisingly tough to figure out Arabic to English on the Internet (for me at least), but Sawafi is a version of al-safiyah, which is the:
Share taken by the leader of an army before division of booty, such as horse or a sword. The term was later used as sawafi (singular, safiya) lands or possessions which the sultan (ruler) appropriated exclusively for himself. It also means all lands which their owners have abandoned or the owners of which have died leaving no heirs.
That means its in the public domain, right? What a nifty play on words.
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