A much-delayed $10 million project to develop an Arabic search engine is set for a year-end launch with new backers.
A partnership between Seekport Internet Technologies, Saudi Arabian firm Mitsco Group and Dubai-based Madar Research was supposed to have launched a search engine named Sawafi last October.
The project sought to provide a local alternative to Google and serve the growing number of web users in the Middle East and North Africa whose first language was Arabic.
But Hermann Havermann, CEO of Seekport's Middle East operations, said the project ran into difficulties when finance partner Mitsco Group unexpectedly pulled out late last year.
A person familiar with the deal said Saudi investors formed Mitsco for the sole purpose of financing the search engine, and the company has since been disbanded.
After Seekport's funding crisis, the company has since lined up new investors, decided to rebrand under a different name and reformulated its business plan, according to Havermann.
Online advertising, the primary source of revenue for search engines, amounted to $15 million in the Arab world in 2005 compared with $15 billion in the US, according to Madar Research.
The projections see advertising climbing dramatically in the coming years and by 2010 ad revenue could top $150 million.
"Online advertising in the Arab world is small, but we feel it is growing quickly," Havermann told Gulf News. Currently there are an estimated 100 million to 150 million Arabic web sites.
The Swiss-based Seekport is still retaining Madar Research as consultant, and is now working with three backers "from outside the Gulf" contributing more than $10 million to the project.
The Sawafi name has since been dropped because the Arabic word is too specific to Saudi Arabia and not understood in the wider region. A new name will be announced soon.
The search engine will allow searches in several languages to reflect the various sources where information on or by Middle Eastern countries originates. In addition to Arabic, the site will also accommodate English, Farsi, French, Italian and German.
Havermann said online advertising is expected to serve as the primary source of income at later stages. In the beginning, the project hopes to depend on value-added paid services. A consulting division will also help companies to develop a web presence in the Arab world. ( Gulf )