Web master 2.0

A Jordanian internet start-up is achieving great success tapping in to the Arab world's demand for Web 2.0-style digital content delivery services. Aaron Greenwood spoke with d1g.com founder and CEO Majied Qasem about the company's ambition to ride the crest of the Arabian online revolution.

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By  Aaron Greenwood Published  March 16, 2008

A Jordanian internet start-up is achieving great success tapping in to the Arab world's demand for Web 2.0-style digital content delivery services. Aaron Greenwood spoke with d1g.com founder and CEO Majied Qasem about the company's ambition to ride the crest of the Arabian online revolution.

Majied Qasem is a man with the Midas touch. One of the leading lights of Jordan's recent IT revolution, Qasem has quickly developed a reputation for playing a key role in turning small internet start-ups and software development firms into some of the regional IT industry's heaviest hitters, attracting interest from the likes of Microsoft in the process.

Qasem also ranks as one of the regional internet industry's most enduring pioneers, having co-founded the massively successful Arabic community portal, Arabia.com, in 1996. Qasem decided to sell his stakehold in the company long before the dot-com crash of 2000 saw its market value spiral - a fortuitous stroke of luck he attributes with much of his later success.

MAJIED QASEM: We’re not at the point where we can challenge the mainstream broadcasters. But we believe we’re developing a viable alternative content delivery platform that could open the door to new opportunities for both our business and consumers.

"I was the only shareholder who exited the company when it was at its peak, and the money I made from the deal enabled me to establish Oneworld Solutions, which in turn quickly became one of the largest enterprise software developers in the Middle East," he says proudly.

Qasem played an instrumental role in turning Oneworld into a thriving business, with annual revenues of more than $US13m, offices in five countries and a workforce of more than 200.

In the months following the dot.com crash, Oneworld merged with rival Jordanian IT solutions provider Zeine Technological Applications, to create a new company known as Estarta Solutions.

As a founding partner and director of the company, Qasem again saw his stocks rise, when Microsoft came calling.

"Microsoft decided to invest in Estarta, which was a massive coup for us, as it was the first time the company had acquired an interest in a standalone Middle East-based IT business," he says.

Qasem was named head of development for the company, a high-profile position which led to his recruitment by the Jordanian government to oversee the implementation of the Jordan Education Initiative (JEI), an ambitious e-learning project developed in conjunction with Cisco Systems.

With the internet revolutionising communications and social interaction across the globe, and given his previous experience with Arabia.com, Qasem recognised the commercial opportunities offered by establishing community-based web portals catering specifically to Arab internet users. From this, the seeds of d1g.com were sown.

"The Middle East is in the middle of an online revolution in terms of the proliferation of content and the number of users accessing community-based websites," Qasem declares. "It's mainly because of the deregulation of the telecoms sector throughout the region and the proliferation of new media content providers. We are working hard to position d1g.com as a platform linking both sectors.

Launched in November 2006, the website, pronounced "deewanji", which is taken from the Arabic word ‘dewan' meaning community meeting place, provides users with a range of social networking applications, including video and audio uploads, chat forums, and a proprietary Arabic-language search engine.

Qasem unabashedly admits to seeking inspiration from rival social networking platforms in developing the portal's key features, despite creating a customised look and feel to the website he says is specifically designed for local tastes.

"The Middle East online sector has traditionally been behind the curve of established markets such as Europe or the US in terms of technology and user trends," he says. "Basically, this situation has enabled us to analyse what service offerings are commercially successful elsewhere and pursue those we believe offer similar potential in this region.

Despite claims from some sectors of the media that d1g.com is an Arabic version of social networking site Facebook, Qasem says the multimedia-focused MySpace actually provided greater inspiration.

"Facebook was relatively unknown when we launched this business," he says. "If anything, we modelled d1g.com on MySpace. But in saying that, the fact that we are focusing predominantly on the Arab market means we're catering to fundamentally different users than sites like MySpace and Facebook.

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