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Google launches ‘grassroots effort’ to educate new netizens

Ahlan Online aims to educate young Arab users about all the Internet has to offer

Google launches ‘grassroots effort’ to educate new netizens
Wael Ghonim , product and marketing manager for Google MENA.
Google launches ‘grassroots effort’ to educate new netizens
Screenshot of Google's Ahlan Online.

Google has launched a beta version of a new website - Ahlan Online - that aims to educate young Arab users in the Middle East about navigating the world of online using Google tools.

Based on studies from a number of research firms including Nielsen and Madar Research, Internet users in the Arab world has shot up 228% from 16.5 million just six years ago to 56 million today. Statistics also show that 30% of  new users online are under the age of 18, with top online activities in the region involving entertainment or communication elements.

According to Wael Ghonim , product and marketing manager for Google MENA, Ahlan Online was developed  to address a gap in the market for educational content related to the different activities and services that exist online. He described it as a ‘grassroots effort' to boost awareness.

"The goal is to upgrade user experience online. It tell users what is available and how the Internet can be used in a number of ways, beyond just entertainment and chatting," explained Ghonim to itp.net.

Google collaborated with local agencies to make Ahlan Online a reality based on existing market knowledge. The site has short educational videos that provide a brief description of a topic followed by a simple tutorial. Initial topics covered on Ahlan include browser and bookmarks, search, mail, chat, sharing and collaboration and privacy.

While educational content on the site is primarily targeted at young people, Google believes that Ahlan Online can be of help to everyone, irrespective of their age, and says there'll be more to come based on user feedback.

"We try to produce the best value with our services and communicate that to users with the intention for it to spread in viral way. If it benefits 10,000 people, we'll be happy and if it's 1 million that's great but we have not set a specific target to measure its (Ahlan's) success. As with all our products, we hope it provides value and if people like it, they will use it," added Ghonim.

A few months ago, Google's managing director for Emerging Markets Mohammad Gawdat hinted at more localised products and services following the successful launch of Google's Arabic Q&A Ejabat service that has already seen more than 1.5 million questions answered since it was launched in September 2009.

It is all part of Google's role as a ‘content enabler' and Gawdhat recently called on people in the Middle East to start innovating and create more locally-relevant and Arabic content online.

"We have to become a lot more innovative where the (Middle East) region starts, not catch up with the rest of the world in terms of the Internet, but honestly try to leapfrog the rest of the world...,"stated Gawdat.


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