Oct 16 2010
You could call it the battle of Islamic search engines. First, there was Imhalal.com, now there’s Taqwa.me, the “conscience engine” eyeing a Muslim audience and all those looking for a safe browsing experience on the Web.
Imhalal completed a year of existence last month. Taqwa has been online for just four months and was officially launched two months ago.
Reza Sardeha’s Imhalal may have had a head start in the quest for online eyeballs in this segment, but the founders of the younger Taqwa, Kerim Nu’man, Sourabh Behra and Catalin Vasili La’zar, believe their online product has what it takes to stay in contention for a slice of this pie.
“We really want to give Muslim users a more culturally and religious sensitive search and browsing experience,” says La’zar, the chief operating officer of the search firm based in the US and Australia. The “what” of results is important to Taqwa, which wants to move beyond, to the ‘how’ of searching and browsing.
“It brings a more relevant and richer search experience to Muslim users, it’s about the needs and preferences of the user in the end,” La’zar explained. So, how different is Taqwa from Imhalal? La’zar says the site uses crowd sourcing for the halal (clean) and haram (forbidden) rating system.
“With the exception of a fairly short list of terms, we allow the user to self censor their own results.”
It’s about the power of choice. La’zar also claims the site offers a rich-media experience and user interaction that is not found in this segment. Despite being under Google’s large and secular shadow, La’zar is confident speciality search engines are here to stay as long as site owners can add value to the experience.
“About 70 per cent of users use more than one search engine with regularity so we believe it’s achievable, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but it can be done.”
Like Imhalal, Taqwa has Dubai in sights as it charts out expansion plans. Indonesia is another location for a future HQ. “That will depend on but not limited to, which market has the greatest growth, available talent pool and proximity to partners,” La’zar said. The numbers are small on Taqwa, with only between 5,000 to 7,500 searches daily, while competitor Imhalal claims to serve around 300,000. That’s a huge difference as this start-up plays search and catch-up. The owners are, however, upbeat about the engine attracting 1,000,000 daily users in 12 months.
Revenues are expected to come from advertising with the site pursuing deals with larger portals and partners. La’zar is not willing to go into details, but is “happy to collaborate with any portal that like our product and wish to work with us.”
On the issue of segmenting search based on religion, La’zar denies there is a moral dilemma. The World Wide Web is building its own walls whether people acknowledge them or not, according to La’zar. “Taqwa.me is not trying to build more walls, our goal is rather make those walls a little more transparent. We say, ‘you know this is what’s on the other side, it’s your choice, go there or not.’”
Last month, Imhalal CEO Sardehah echoed similar views, saying search is culture driven. Islamic search engines like these can be partners for clean surfing on the Internet.
The rest, as they say, is business. May the best search win.