Arabnet Forum Days kick off
Wikipedia calls on Arab community to boost Arabic content on the website
Following the Opening Ceremony, an interesting panel on hot trends in web and mobile kicked off with TechCrunch editor MikeButcher, National Net Ventures CEO Rashid AlBallaa, Angel Investor Hussein Khanji, CMEA’s Saad Khan and Hummingbird Venture’s Pamir Gelenbe.
According to AlBallaa, mobile youtube in Saudi Arabua is the second worldwide. “The Middle East market is hugely growing and most of start-ups tend to evolve around entertainment or e-commerce, entertainment because a huge percentage of the population in the Middle East is young.”
Kanji highlighted the issue of Arabic content, and said that it was the lowest indexed despite the huge demand.”
Khan described the consumption in the Middle East as “mobile driven”.
“iPhone penetration is growing in the MENA,” AlBallaa added. “Mobile penetration in Saudi Arabia is 200%, with 26% of phones being smartphones, a percentage higher than the UK (25%)”.
“However, we need more local applications related to the region, instead of copying international applications.”
According to the panel, Facebook has more than 35 million users in the Middle East, but has no region.
Regarding e-commerce, Pamel said the boom in e-commerce in Turkey happened in 3 years.
Khan explained that enthusiasm and creativity have unlocked in Egypt following the Arab spring. “If you support one another, you will achieve success in the next 5 years,” he added.
Barry Newstead, Chief Global Development Officer at Wikimedia Foundation explained why Wikipedia is important for future of Arabic language.
Wikipedia, according to Wikimedia stats, is the 5th most visited website worldwide. 10 million visitors per month come from MENA. Only 154,000 articles on Wikipedia are in Arabic, despite the fact that there are 374 million Arabic speakers.
Newstead spoke of a strong Arabic Wikipedia community, with over 600 active editors. “Half of the site’s Arabic content comes from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. There other half comes from the rest of the world,” he said.
According to Newstead, Arabic is ranked at number 27 in terms of volume, with 280 languages available on Wikipedia. “We are excited about the potential for growth here, as more people come on to the Internet, to build an Arabic Wikipedia,” he said.
As part of the Industry Day on Wednesday, Arabnet organized four different tracks to discuss the latest trends in education, healthcare, banking and travel and tourism sectors.
As part of the Industry Day, the education track highlighted 21st century integration, role of social media in class rooms & e-learning.
Dr. Michael Orey, Program Chair for the Learning, at the University of Georgia, portrayed the 21st century student as active, engaged, interactive and social. The real challenge he said lies in how the 20th century teacher can help a 21st century learners.
The latest trends in educational technology were discussed by panelists Wael Amin, President & CEO at ITWorks, Walid Tahabism, President & CEO at Integral Technology Group, Alessio Artuffo, Director of International Business Operation at Docebo and Josh Squires, Co-founder of MoWerks Learning.
The panelists said that technology will not replace how teaching is conducted, “it is just a tool for teachers to perform better in classrooms,” said Tahabism.
According to the panel, real change did not yet occur in the educational sector.
Talks on national e-education program, e-learning in higher education, distance learning, interactive whiteboard implementation, social media and education followed.
Lelia Khauli Hanna, Instructor of Marketing at AUB and Ayman Itani, Instructor at LAU, use social media to engage more with students. According to Khauli, shy students connect and communicate more via social media. Khauli, who uses Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest for educational person says she respects her students’ privacy and does not follow them.
Several panels, talks and case studies highlighted the importance of technology in enhancing the services and performance of the healthcare sector.
The main challenges that face mobilizing healthcare and integrating technology in healthcare are privacy and accuracy, according to Asmaa Hosny, the Head of Business Development at Mobinil.
Melanie Clancy, Head of Content, Digital Arts, at TBWA/RAAD and Hani Chohan, Marketing Manager, Imagination Breakthrough at GE Healthcare highlighted the importance of building health-related communities through social media and content via a case study that women are the gatekeepers of family health in Saudi Arabia, but lack awareness. As such, GE used websites, Facebook and twitter to create a buzz, conversation and educational material as tools for an awareness campaign.
The healthcare track also included talks and case studies on health information systems with Youssef Ghosheh from Dimensions Healthcare, National e-Health programs with Ashrf Busila from Electronic Health Solutions, Telemedicine with Riad Farah from St George Hospital in Beirut, Electronic Medical Records with Ayman Ibrahim from the Children’s Cancer Hospital, The Business of Medical Content with Chris Schroeder.
Wassim Wazzan, CEO of Rafik Hariri University Hospital and Dr.Mounes Kalaawi, CEO of Clemenceau Medical Center also talked about their experience with integrating electronic medical records and their expectations for the future of medical technology in their hospitals.
Tourism and Travel Track
A third of the world’s travel sales will be booked online by the end of 2012, according to travel industry research firm PhoCusWright. As such, a panel to discuss the rise of the OTA (a trade group developing a common standard for the exchange of information within the travel industry) was organized. Panelists, Tarique khatri, SVP at Cleartrip.com, Elie Diab, Managing director at Hoojoozat.com and Hani Dahlan, GM at Dahlan Tours and Travels highlighted popular places to book, the markets that engage in online booking and reaching customers through social media,
According to Dahlan, Travel Agencies offer cheaper rates to encourage people to buy online. “Most online bookings are made in Dubai,” Diab said. “Lebanon is a very promising market for online reservations, and we are receiving much more feedback than Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Travel agencies keep an open eye on social media to monitor feedback. Elie Diab said “We were the first to have this kind of websites in Arabic and to cut the language barrier. Booking is mostly done in Arabic even when customers speak English.”
Don Stuart, Dan Stuart Managing Director ME at LivingSocial gave an insight on the performance of the company now spread in 23 countries around the world.
The track also included case-studies on e-commerce strategies for hotels, social media in the F&B business, augmented reality in tourism and establishing a mobile presence for your tourism company.
According to Safa rahal, e-commerce and revenue executive at Coral Suites Al Hamra, 57% of guests tend to go to reviews on internet. “A successful E-commerce strategy would include: exposure on all OTAs, social media exposure, building profiles for every hotel and mobile applications,” he added.
Ziad kamel, Founder and CEO of The Alleyway group raised concern over social media. “Be careful with social media because unhappy customers can quickly spread bad news on the web,” he said. “Although solving the problem can be quick and automatic through social media as the customer is in direct contact with the CEO.”
“If you are not on social media, you do not exist,” he added.
Hala Zawati from EasyInfo announced that smartphones are being used to replace traditional guides for tourists by using augmented reality tools and QR codes.
“We have created the application Dalili. The application sees where you are and what activities you are interested in. It’s free for tourists, but the venues who want their information displayed have to pay,” he explained.
Banking and Finance Track
SolidPass CEO Selahaddin Karatas raised the issue of online privacy, user’s identity, security of passwords and mobile banking.
On virtual banking, Raffy Karamian from Bank Audi highlighted the digital services provided by the bank, mainly the Novo technology. “40,000 banking operations and 19,000 video consultations have been conducted since the launch of Novo is citymall earlier this year,” he said.
Krystel Jaber, Head of Retail Communication at Blom Bank highlighted the bank’s experience on social media platforms, mainly, engagement with the fans and making them a part of the decision making process.
“Once banks adopt mobile banking, traditional operations will decrease by 55%,” Ubanquity Systems CEO Roy Zakka said.