Digital Media in UAE

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UAE Internet Stats.png

Background

Source: http://www.sparrowstravels.com/uae%20flag.gif
General Info about the UAE[1]


The United Arab Emirates (Arabic: دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة‎ ), often abbreviated as UAE or shortened to The Emirates, is a federation in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula. The constituent emirates are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. The capital, Abu Dhabi, is the country's center of political, industrial and cultural activities. The UAE's official religion is Islam, and its official language is Arabic.

The UAE possesses one of the most-developed economies in West Asia. Estimated to be the thirtieth-largest economy and eleventh in purchasing power per capita in 2011, the UAE has a relatively high Human Development Index for the Asian continent, ranking thirtieth globally. The UAE is classified as a high-income developing economy by the IMF.

Digital Literacy

Internet

Internet penetration in UAE compared to rest of the Middle East

Demographics, Behaviour and Penetration

The UAE shows the 5th highest internet penetration in the entire Middle Eastern region. Approximately 3.78 million internet users out of 4.98 million people in the country shows a penetration rate of 75.9%. The country’s internet growth rate is 4 times faster than that of the rest of the world.

YEAR Users Population % Pen. Usage Source
2008 2,260,000 4,621,677 48.9% New Media Trend Watch
2009 3,558,000 4,801,619 74.1% New Media Trend Watch
2010 3,777,900 4,975,593 75.9 % Internet World Stats
2011 3,555,100 5,148,664 69.0% Internet World Stats


Mobile


Demographics, Behaviour and Mobile Market Value

Amongst the Arab States, the UAE has the highest mobile penetration with about 2 subscriptions per inhabitant on average. While still high, the growth rate of mobile penetration has started declining in 2011. UAE's mobile subscriber base of 11.15 million (as of 2011) is primarily served by of two wireless operators, Etisalat and Du.

Estimated market penetration rates in the UAE’s telecoms sector end 2010 from Internet World Statistics:

Market Penetration
Fixed 31 %
Mobile 217%
Broadband 40%
Pay TV (Households) 20%
3G 30%


Social Media Forums

The most popular social media forum in the UAE is The Social Media Forum, held annually in Dubai, and is usually headed by a prominent speaker from the Digital Media sphere.

The objectives of the forum are:

  • Understand how to connect and engage with social networks
  • Discover the full range of social media opportunities
  • Practical guide to getting started with blogs, Twitter and communities
  • Build a successful and integrated PR strategy using social media channels
  • Manage a crisis online and protect your brand

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Traditional Media Platforms

Broadcasting and Televisions

Dubai Media City

Dubai Media City is a tax-free media zone within Dubai, and was built by the government in order to strengthen UAE's media foothold. It has since become a regional hub for a myriad of media organizations including news agencies, publishers, online media houses, advertising firms, and broadcasting facilities. In order to encourage firms from the media sector to join Dubai Media City, fiber optic cables were built into the infrastructure of the media zone, allowing for easy set-up. Firms operating within DMC also are granted more relaxed visa and operational procedures.

Some major broadcasters based at DMC include:


Media Censorship

Variety and diversity of media in UAE, however, doesn’t necessarily indicates media and press freedom.

UAE media follows accordinglyto a prevailing but unspoken tradition(censorship) among newspaper, television and radio outlets in the Arab world, that is, "Keep it pretty and clean, or else there would be consequences." Journalists and readers themselve are also well aware of this simple, but infuriating guideline. The media may debate and argue of issues in the west in however way, but nothing disrespectful towards the Muslim religion or against the local rulers should be spoken.

Quoting a Arab journalist, Dana El-Baltaji, in a posting on Arab Media Society:

"...The repercussions that follows the breach vary with the crime and who is in the case. Some occasions so you never know whether you’ll simply be reprimanded and asked not to repeat your ‘mistake’, or whether you’ll know first hand if Dubai’s jails are like people say they are: a three-star hotel...

But there are several fundamental contradictions at play here. As an Arab journalist, I’m aware that there are subjects I can’t explore; namely sex, drugs, alcohol and local politics. However, Arab journalists working on English publications are rare breeds, leaving most magazines in the hands of foreign, usually British reporters who are accustomed to breaking news, getting scoops, exposing wounds. They transfer their journalistic practices from their home countries to Dubai, and are very quickly catapulted into a media wasteland. They realize soon after they arrive that they cannot pursue the grit and grime inherent in any cosmopolitan city, not because it doesn’t exist in Dubai, but because the government is keen on keeping its glossy image as perfect as it appears in the multitude of advertising campaigns it pays so much to produce.

And it’s this image that journalists in Dubai are so wary of tarnishing; plastic fantastic Dubai, where anything is possible and opportunities abound for Arabs and Europeans alike. In many ways, the emirate shoulders its success on this construct, using it to lure more and more professionals from across the world with promises of a better life, a higher standard of living, and more job opportunities. While the reality for many expatriates isn’t far from this glowing image, as journalists, we’re trained to analyze the basis of all this success, and sadly, it’s seldom clean or pretty..."


Newspaper

Publications in United Arab Emirates

There are more then 20 publications circulating within UAE including the small and Arabic language papers. All of these publications have online versions as internet usage has increased significantly over the last 5 years in the country.International publications such as Financial Times and International Herald Tribune followed The Times by launching local editions in 2003. The more prominent publications are:

  1. Arabic daily political newspaper published in Dubai, United Arab Emirates:
    1. Al Khaleej
    2. Al Bayan UAE
    3. Emarat Al Youm
    4. Al Ittihad Newspaper, UAE
    5. Khaleej Times
    6. Gulf News Online
  2. The National Newspaper, UAE: English newspaper published in Abu Dhabi, UAE covering news, sports, opinion, arts and more.
  3. Emirates News 24|7: Business newspaper provides investors with insight on all business related topics, from commodities and construction to telecoms and tourism.
  4. Arab Eastern Newspaper, Dubai: Daily online newspaper published from Dubai, UAE. Breaking news and updates about politics, business, sports, science, technology, art, culture and lifestyle in Dubai.
  5. Mumtazz UAE: Weekly newsletter offering latest news and information about events and parties in Dubai, UAE.
  6. Xpress Newspaper, UAE: Involved in the daily lives of the multicultural communities of UAE covering news and articles about the modern life and sports in Dubai, UAE.
  7. 7 Days UAE: English morning daily political newspaper published in United Arab Emirates.
  8. Sport 360, UAE: Daily English language sports newspaper, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Covering international and UAE sports.
  9. Al-Roya Al-Eqtisadiya Newspaper, UAE: Daily specialized business and financial Arabic newspaper in UAE, covering the Gulf and world business and economy news.
  10. Akhbar Al-Arab, UAE: Arabic daily political newspaper published in United Arab Emirates.

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Digital Media Platforms

Overview

In the UAE, netizens mainly use social media as a means of communication, building a community and entertainment.

Value of Social Media in UAE. Source: Interactive Middle East
Illustration of social media network in the UAE. Source: Sulaiman Alhasawi - Arab Entrepreneurs' Blog

Blogs

Personality Blogging

UAE is considered one of the most active blogging communities around the world. A place where you see UAE blogs aggregate is UAE community blog.Within this community blog, you would find over 100 active UAE blogs being listed.

The topics being covered however, are not diverse as most of the blogs are most predominantly used for personality blogging and social conversations. Common topics being blogged about in UAE include media freedom, politics, gender relationships and social activities. Some blogs even venture into taboo topics such as sex and are subjected to internet filtering.

Some top blogging sites in UAE are:

1 - Secret Dubai

2 - Dubai Daily Photo

3 - Dubai Consumer MIrror

4 - GrapeShisha

5 - UAE Community



Corporate blogging

Corporate blogging on the other hand is not common in UAE. Based on some research and interviews, few reasons that may have attributed to why corporates are still not taking up corporate blogging are:

  • Blogs are still not taken seriously as most bloggers are generally youths or journalists in UAE
  • Prevailing topics are generally controversial or even border along being taboo
  • Corporate sharing itself is not common in the region
  • Language may still pose a barrier

However, the blogging scene in UAE looks set to evolve in time to come. One indication of this change is the the first conference in the Middle East on blogging and consumer-generated or social media, due to be held in Jordan in June 2008. this will help bloggers the region over by addressing how to catch up with Europe and the US in terms of platforms, adoption and available content.

One of the few corporate blogs found is KR Bright Sparks, a blog created and maintained by KR Corporate Communications Department in partnership with UMS Interactive – Oman’s leading web solutions provider, the KR blog connects KR to customers in Oman and people elsewhere who are interested in knowing more about KR, its products, services, activities and promotions. KR brings over 100 global brands to Oman, touching almost every aspect of life. The KR blog will keep visitors updated on the latest buzz on these brands. Being an organization with diversified business interests, KR will use the blog as an influential channel to talk to people about technology, fashion, lifestyle, health, cuisine and more.



Instant Messaging

As in any country, there are a plethora of instant messaging clients used all over the UAE by a wide variety of people, based on their preferences, and demographics.

Im bb screenshot1.jpg

However, the overwhelming favourites are:

  • Windows Live Messenger
  • Gtalk
  • Yahoo Messenger
  • Facebook Chat
  • Myspace IM
  • AIM/iChat

Given that most VOIP services are banned in the UAE (Jump to UAE Controversies), Skype has been unable to find a large number of users, despite most people clamouring for a fully functioning internal VOIP service. However, even the use of proxies has been unable to circumvent the government led blockage of all forms of VOIP services. Along with Skype, even the popular Blackberry messaging service BBM has been banned in the UAE, on the grounds that it cannot be regulated, and can pose a security threat to both the users, and the UAE. (Read more here)



Microblogging

Arab TwitterSource: Artwitter

There are 201,060 twitter users in UAE. After the revolution on Tunisia and Egypt, Twitter become a household name in the Arab world just like Facebook. An infographic about Digital Marketing Trends in the Middle East from socialbakers and IQPC estimated the number of Twitter users in the Arab region to be around 5.5 Million users. The infographic indicates that 40% of them are from UAE. In addition, UAE has the second highest twitter penetration in the Middle East but this penetration lags far behind that of Facebook.

To a large extent, this rapid growth rate has been fuelled by increasing censorship and government regulation of other social networks, such as Facebook and Orkut, which while popular amongst the majority of users, have been largely banned in the Middle East. However, Twitter so far has remained free of government regulation in the UAE, leading to an increasing adoption of Twitter as the informal news medium and information sharing network of choice.

However, it seems that female users prefer using twitter because it is “safer” communicating with males on a public platform.

Popular Tweeters in Dubai include:



Podcast-Sharing Websites

The UAE Podcast - http://uaepodcast.mypodcast.com/

The UAE podcast service is powered by Mypodcast.com. It allows users to create podcasts for free and allows unlimited storage on their servers. The service also provides users with a free software specifically designed to record their podcasts and upload them to the internet.



Search Engines

There are a wide variety of localized search engines used in the UAE, but the international search engines are still the first choice for most people looking for information.

International Search Engines

  1. Google.ae: Enables users to search the Web, Usenet, and images. Features include PageRank, caching and translation of results, and an option to find similar pages.
  2. Yahoo!: Personalized content and search options. Chatrooms, free e-mail, clubs, and pager.
  3. Microsoft Bing: Most people use Bing for their personalized social media search, by linking their Facebook and Twitter accounts to find more relevant results.

Localized Search Engines

Some of the localized search engines popular in the UAE include:

  1. Yellowpages.ae
  2. Alkhaleej
  3. Arabo
  4. 4Arabs.com

Social Networking Sites

UAE social media bandwagon Image source:Venturebeat


Social networking plays a big part in shaping the social media scene in UAE. Even though Orkut was recently banned, Facebook is still predominant (even as the threat of being banned looms ahead) with 1.56 million users, and 11% of all Facebook users in the Middle East.[2] The UAE network is littered with active groups and discussion boards on taboo topics such as sex, and these are great avenues from which businesses could glean information on what really interests and concerns the consumer. In these social networks, popular topics include sex, religion and politics. These social networks are used to propagate new ideas as well as to spread opinions and experiences to others. These networks are so popular as they allow people to have a "voice" in the sea of internet filtering.

Apart from the obvious uses as a means of re-connecting with classmates, and staying in touch with friends, Facebook and Orkut have been used as a means of spreading information about various causes and international events, such as the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt. While brands have been yet to jump on the social media bandwagon in full force, FMCG's such as Unilever and P&G, and other MNC's such as Coca Cola have been quick to capitalize on the vast reach of the various social networks, with 30% of the total users being below the age of 25 [3]


UAE Facebook Stats



Video-Sharing Websites

ShoofTV is an Arab video sharing website. Users generate their own content, and can directly upload files of sizes upto 50MB. Larger files have to be sent via email to the website.Image Source:Topsharepoint

There are a vast plethora of video-sharing websites in the UAE, but many of them have their own eclectic fan following. Of the mainstream channels, Youtube is the most popular. It is the third most accessed website in UAE after Google and Yahoo, and is used to mainly search for music videos, and to subscribe to popular Middle Eastern channels.. ShoofTV targets those segments who are looking for local content. Other popular websites which are accessed infrequently include Sidereel.com, http://videobb.com Videobb] and Facebook, when users find an working link or proxy.

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Market Trends

Business

The UAE leads the region in digital media development. It was reported in early 2010 that more than 20% of the population was using social networking tools. By May 2010 it was reported that 36% of the population was registered on Facebook, around 1.7 million residents. Netlog is also popular in the Middle Eastern Digital Media, Broadband and Internet Markets United Arab Emirates region, partly because its Arabic social network is completely separated from its English sister network. Unusually, 80% of Netlog’s UAE members were UAE nationals in 2010.

1. Tejari

TejariLogo.jpg
Tejari.com is a major portal for all Business-to-Business (B2B) e-commerce transactions. It was established by the Dubai government in mid-2000 and is owned by Dubai World. By early 2010 Tejari had around 200,000 member companies and operated in 15 countries, with around 400 auctions per day.


2. Bayt

Bayt.jpg
Recruitment and careers site Bayt.com was founded in 2000. Based in Dubai, by 2009 it had 12 offices across the Arab region. It claimed a database of 3.5 million users in 2009, with over 150,000 new jobseekers registering every month, and to be used by over 40,000 employers. Bayt has used its profits to invest as a venture capital fund into other new technology start-up companies.



Economy

Digital Media Economy

UAE governments at both federal and emirate level have been very interventionist, particularly Dubai, with programs to encourage computer and Internet use. Government policy has included encouragement for IT and Internet related businesses. There has also been a strong emphasis on e- government initiatives, attempting to make most government services accessible online. The Dubai government was particularly early to establish laws governing business conducted over the Internet and several businesses based in Dubai are extending their reach over the Middle East. Use of e-commerce in the UAE varies depending on the survey. A 2008 survey by 6th Dimension TNS found that 61% of UAE Internet users had never bought something online. However, a survey by MasterCard in late 2008 found that the UAE had the highest average online shopping spend in the Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa region, at US$1,193. According to the survey, online shoppers conducted 26% of their overall shopping online. The most popular items bought included airline tickets (59%), home appliances and electronic products (37%) and hotel accommodation (30%). A further positive survey by Google in mid-2009 found that 69% of respondents had bought online. According to EuroMonitor International, consumers in the UAE spent on average over US$1,000 online during the fourth quarter of 2009, the highest in the Middle East and Africa. The UAE’s advertisers allot a 3.5% share of their budgets to online advertising compared to a regional average of 1%.


Government

Source:Dubai eGovernmenthttp://www.deg.gov.ae/SiteCollectionImages/Content/Our%20Brand/AskDubai.jpg
Both the Federal Government and the individual Emirate governments have placed great importance on e-government. In 2008 the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs eGovernment Survey ranked the UAE in fifth position in terms of transactional services, behind Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the United States. It was placed twelfth in the web measurement index, which rated the online presence of national websites and selected ministries, including health, education, welfare, labour and finance.

Dubai particularly has been an e-government pioneer, both at Emirate level and at municipal level, establishing a central e-government office in October 2001 at DIC and launching a government portal. The Dubai e-government portal, Dubai.ae, gave access to 90% of all government services in mid-2007. However, a survey conducted in 2008 found that over half of Arabic-speaking users could not find the information they were looking for. Results were better for English-speaking users. In addition to the Dubai.ae portal the government also has AskDubai, a bilingual contact centre and website. It aims to provide a single point of contact for selected department services.

Dubai Municipality began offering electronic services in 2000. By end-2008 it had converted 100% of its services to electronic. The Dubai Trade portal, DubaiTrade.ae, enables online dealings with ports, free zones and customs. Over six million transactions took place during 2008, up by 50% from 2007.

Some government bodies have been very proactive. The Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) uses Blogger and Twitter in addition to the YouTube and Facebook sites. Many e-government services have also been mobile enabled, including visas and traffic fine payment.


Society

E-commerce

HmiZate is one of the most popular e-commerce websites in the UAE. Image Source: ArabCrunch
The most important trend in UAE is the rise of the number of people engaging in e-commerce, with an increase to 42% of the total population in 2010 from 29% in 2009, as per a Mastercard survey [4]. Categories leading the growth in the UAE in 2010 include airline tickets (74 percent) and hotel bookings (66 percent), followed by home appliances and electronic products (32 percent), clothing & accessories (34 percent), restaurants/home delivery of food (32 percent) and supermarkets/superstores (32 percent). Notably, convenience shopping such as restaurants/ home delivery of food and supermarkets/superstores grew to a third from about a fifth.

Eyad Al-Kourdi, vice president and country manager, UAE, MasterCard Worldwide said[5]: It is encouraging to see the positive trends in online and mobile shopping in the UAE. We are seeing more UAE consumers go online for lifestyle purchases as well as day-to-day household items. This trend in consumer behavior shows that todays tech savvy shoppers are diversifying not only what they buy, but how and where.


Concerns About Internet Privacy[6]

Global survey shows that 3 in 4 UAE Internet users are concerned about their Internet privacy and prefer advertising based upon what they do online rather than who they are

New research from Real Opinions shows that 60% of UAE Internet users favor behavioral targeting for customized advertising and Internet content, whilst 76% said their searches for products and visits to websites should never be monitored unless they have given express permission to do so beforehand. The survey clearly shows that consumers are increasingly attracted to the convenience and relevance that behavioral targeting brings to online content but also have concerns regarding the ways in which data collected about their online habits is being collected.


Expatriates use Internet to keep track of news and politics[7]

While the population of the UAE has grown by 75% from 1995 to 2009, the rate of growth of the expatriate population has been much higher than that of nationals. While these expatriates still retain their home country spirit, they have also assimilated into Arab culture. Even when they return to their home countries, they continue to follow Emirati politics and news online. Many of them even participate in polls and elections using the Internet, and keep track of important developments in Emirati politics.

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Controversies

Censorship and site blocking

In August 2008 the TRA issued a new ‘Internet Access Management Policy’. Etisalat and du are responsible for withholding access to prohibited sites. Sites are blocked that are deemed to be socially, politically or religiously unacceptable. Historically many popular sites have been blocked in the UAE. Arab Media Group claimed that 40% of the Internet was blocked in April 2007. Etisalat claimed that in a survey of its domestic subscribers, 60% were in favour of the filtering. Blocked sites include YouTube (partially), Orkut and Flickr. Orkut and Flickr fall under the TRA’s censorship policy as they are considered ‘dating’ sites. MySpace has been banned at times but not permanently. Facebook is blocked only partially. Despite the censorship problems, the UAE has a very high membership of social networking sites.


VOIP

International calls using VoIP from computers to telephones are banned. In the UAE, local calls made from fixed-line telephones are free but international calls are expensive. Lifting the ban would thus have a large impact on Etisalat’s revenue, particularly when one considers the UAE’s large expatriate population. The TRA said that as much as 60% of telecoms revenue comes from international calls. Etisalat has blocked access to Skype and similar providers. The crackdown intensified in mid-2006 with warnings and fines on Internet cafes offering the service. VoIP had been a large part of Internet cafe revenues. VoIP services had been freely available in Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City but these are now also limited. However, Skype phones are retailed in malls all over Dubai. In addition, VoIP provider Efonica, owned by Fusion Telecommunications, has a regional base in Dubai Internet City, although its website is also blocked to UAE residents.

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Hear from experts

Podcasts

Click on the link under the picture for a podcast interview with Kishore Dharmarajan General Manager at WSI Digital Marketing, UAE, for his insights on corporate use of digital media.


Click on the link under the picture for a podcast interview with Akanksha Goel, social media consultant and co-founder of Socialize, a social media consultancy based in Dubai, UAE. Akanksha talks about the social media landscape in the Middle East, and what the future holds for social media for both businesses and individuals, in the face of censorship and government regulation.




E-mail Interview

Interview with Dr. Matt J. Duffy, 28 March 2012

Matt J Duffy

Assistant prof of communication at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Teaches journalism, ethics and media law. Researches Arab media. Follow him on MattJDuffy


How would you describe the Social Media scene in the UAE today?

Very active. Huge debates are taking place on the Twittersphere.

How does it differ compared to the US?

I don't really know much about the US twitter-sphere. I usually just get updates about news articles and whatnot. Not much conversation. But, that could be just who I'm following.

What is the first thing you teach your students in your classes

I like to stress the importance of independent verification of information.

What do people in UAE primarily use Social media for? Building friendships, status, etc.?

Networking.

How is censorship in the UAE?

It's here -- mostly self-censorship from journalists who have learned what the boundaries are. But there is a fair amount of good journalism and some honest, open discussion. The "red lines" surround security issues and direct criticism of the rulers. And, even then, it's often more about tone than anything else.

Have you ever faced problems with censorship in the UAE?

Nope. I've published several pieces for the Dubai newspaper Gulf News that discuss sensitive topics -- including changes to the press laws to help strengthen journalism.

In one of your blog posts, you said that: "Social media changes UAE landscape" What is the most visible change?

Well, the point I made in the editorial I was referring to is that some of the discussions taking place on a website that was blocked two years ago are now taking place on Twitter. It's a wonderful tool for communication.

What do you think is the biggest factor that prevents the people in UAE from adopting social media?

Lethargy. Many people simple worry that social media will take too much time. But, many people here have. Twitter, btw, is more popular here than Facebook. The reason, some of my female students tell me, is that it's "safer" to be in a network with men when it's public rather than private.



Interview with Secret Dubai Diary, A Blogger's perspective

Secret Dubai Diary

Secretdubai of Secret Dubai Diary is a anonyblogger in Dubai who specializes in the intrigue and adventure of the United Arab Emirates, regularly prodding its dark and seedy underbelly. In this interview, Secretdubai shares how his blog originated and evolved as well as sharing his encounters with the regulatory authority of UAE.


You’ve been writing Secret Dubai Diary since 2002, which is forever in blog time, let alone Dubai blog time. What got you started?

When I first lived overseas, I had an email newsletter that I sent to friends and family, and it turned into a useful record of my travels, which I later put onto a website. This was before blogging had arrived. After I’d been in Dubai for nearly a year, I realised it would be useful to have some sort of record of my time here – of all the intrigue and adventure in the UAE – and by then blogging was available, so I thought that would be a useful method.

Why a secret (i.e. anonymous) blog?

Quite a lot of reasons. I’ve never imagined for one moment that I’m actually anonymous to authorities here; I haven’t got the knowledge or the effort to hide my ID from telco authorities. The main reasons though are privacy: I don’t think anyone should use their real name/details online, except in work-related activities, and also because the journal is not really about me. It’s about Dubai and the UAE.

What has reader reaction been like, good and bad?

A mix. But mainly supportive as a whole. Most of the bad reactions are from people who really misunderstand something. Mainly humour/satire – it just doesn’t translate unless you have very high English ability and are fairly well exposed to western culture.

You seem to get a huge amount of comments on your postings. Why do think that is?

I think partly because of the notoriety gained when the blog was briefly banned mid last year (2005). Before then it was quite unknown, just a few LiveJournal friends for much of its life (it was originally at LiveJournal, then I “moved” it to Blogger, but still maintain both sites). The comments are reducing now because there are so many other great UAE blogs emerging, something which I tried to encourage by starting the UAE Community Blog. Comments are nice, but they are a responsibility in a country with strict censorship laws. I haven’t had to delete too many, but there have been some which required rapid action. This is a particular headache if I go overseas.

You also relish the hate mail, running what can only be called “anti- testimonials” from disgruntled readers in your blog’s sidebar. What’s the story there?

Oh – I did that one day because I was bored, and partly because the haters were so stupid. I actually copied the idea from Hong Kong Hemlock, one of my all-time favourite blogs.

Who do you see as your primary readership these days?

A core group of UAE residents, mainly expats, most of whom blog themselves. Plus a few casual, non-commenting readers from a little further afield.

Have you run into any problems with censorship?

In July 2005 I was blocked for a few days, when some people misunderstood a satirical poem I posted. I didn’t actually write the poem myself, it was written in a blog comment on the LiveJournal blog (and reproduced with permission). Despite the hassle it caused, I am still glad I published it, and I still desperately wish I had written it, because it is brilliant.

What’s your opinion of print media in Dubai and the region? Best and worst examples?

Well, it’s getting better. The problem is that basically anyone who can write “English” can get a job in journalism/copywriting/PR in Dubai. The entry bar has been so low for so long that you end up with the blind leading the blind.

7Days is an enjoyable rag with a nice western tabloid flavour, and its writing is solid enough. Gulf News was getting good but has waned in recent months. Emirates Today has solid writing but government shackles. Khaleej Times is … unique. Generally the only decent magazines are those published by overseas publishing companies, or those with strict overseas franchise arrangements, e.g. MEED, Arabies Trends, Time Out.

Do you personally know of any cases where someone has gotten into trouble – minor or major – by posting something online that was critical of the establishment?

There was a blogger who claimed in an email to have been arrested, jailed, and fined for his blog, which was blocked. However, he never replied to any more emails sent. He hasn’t reappeared online so it’s hard to know what to think.

How have sites/blogs like yours evolved in the UAE, as compared to other parts of the world?

Much slower here, and much less read. I don’t think any UAE blog gets more than 1,000 unique visitors a day; top international blogs get hundreds of thousands a day. The population is tiny here, Internet usage low, and in the rest of the region abysmally low.

Care to recommend any particularly good sites or blogs about Dubai or the UAE?

Definitely! UAE Community Blog is a community site for UAE bloggers with heaps of links. Those that specifically blog about UAE news and issues are in the blogroll in the right hand column. Great blogs are Adventures in Dubai, An Emirati’s Thoughts, Desert Idleness, Dubai Consumer Mirror, Dubai Sunshine,One Big Construction Site, Grapeshisha, The Desert Weasel, and The Emirates Economist.




Interview with Precious de Leon, Business Journalist, and Bhavishya Kanjhan, Clique Media

What is social media to you and how has it influenced you?

PL: Although for the most part, the UAE is still finding its feet when it comes to social media, my work as a journalist in the region has completely changed. Social media networks have enabled me to reach readers and find news leads quicker and it has expanded my reach for story coverage and for networking with people within the same industry. On a more personal level, it is now forcing me to be more considerate about my personal branding and how I present myself as an individual (with my convictions, principles and thoughts) to the world. It has also allowed me to reconnect with people who I've lost touch with years ago.

BK: Social Media is a lot of things to me. It’s a way for me to stay connected with my friends, both local and international. It’s a set of tools that makes my social life easier – sharing photos and videos, organizing events etc. It’s a set of tools for me to stay ‘in the know’, where I get relevant information in a timelier manner at a place I choose. It’s also a means for my to build my Personal Brand and build thought leadership around what I do.

How has the social media scene evolved since then?

BK: I have lived in Dubai pretty much all my life. I’ve seen the UAE, and the Middle East in general has always lagged behind the west in technology trends. E-commerce is still not as prevalent - especially physical goods – for a variety of reasons. Although the purchase of services (movie tickets, hotel bookings etc.) seem to be picking up. So while the number of Social Media users in the region is relatively small, it’s growing at a steady pace. As is the case worldwide, Facebook remains the dominant platform, especially with the relatively recent introduction of the Arabic language.

What do you think is the potential for social media in UAE?

PL:As much as it has affected other regions, social media could have a profound impact in the UAE. The key here is how much freedom of content will be allowed by the government. This is an ongoing issue for other media platforms and I suspect this will become even more of an issue as moderation and control--a norm around these parts--have almost no place in social media platforms.

BK: Social Networking gives you access to the power of a very strong and generous community, access that hasn’t really been seen in any other media before. We talk about permission marketing, and Social Media is a medium that exemplifies that concept perfectly. People connect with brands that they choose to, and once that connection is established, people are much more welcoming to the updates and messages by the brands. With more and more people getting online, and using various forms of social Media to make their purchase decisions [8], there lies an immense potential for brands which still, for the most part, remains untapped.

How can businesses benefit from using social media in UAE?

PL: Small and medium businesses are keen to use social media to create interest within the community, with some like Wild Peeta really using social media to the fullest. There have been very good examples for multinationals, as well. However, the reality is, for the most part, social media as a marketing strategy is still yet to catch on. Spend is mostly coming from what is 'left over' from having budgeted for more traditional media.

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Case Studies

  1. Case Study on Wild Peeta – The Evolution of a Shawarma
  2. Case Studies on Internet Filtering
  3. Case Studies on Social Media Activities
  4. Case Studies on Telecommunications

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Case Study on Wild Peeta – The Evolution of a Shawarma

Wild peeta.jpg

The Al Awadhi brothers commenced their business, Wild Peeta[9], in November 2009 with no real advertising or marketing budget. This seemed like a great disadvantage when starting a restaurant in Dubai. However, they decided to leverage on social media tools as its main means of marketing. Prior to the opening, they started a group on Facebook, and also branched into MySpace and Twitter. The ripple effect of their online followers has been significant, with word of mouth escalating.

The Al Awadi brothers aim to benefit from the personal touch enabled by social media, an area in which larger corporations struggle to do well. They believe that though building relationships with customers online is time-consuming, this will build lasting customer loyalty and a strong brand. According to Palestinian-American social media strategist Said Hamideh[10], “if you tweet them, they’ll personally tell you where you can park your car at any of their outlets. Everything from their artwork to their potato chips is a local product of the UAE, which of course means that much of what they do or embody becomes a hyperlink to some other aspect of the culture which they operate within. It seems understandable enough in theory, but how many people do you see practicing it with a fully functioning business on their back?”

The brothers are continuing to develop their use of social media. Their second outlet is known for its unique Twitter wall, where live tweets are projected in giant size so diners and staff can read them.[11] The business places strong emphasis on not just gathering, but acting on feedback. "If somebody comes in and says: 'I had the worst shawarma, I'm never ever coming back to Wild Peeta', and they tweet it, our staff acts on it. They contact that person on social media and say, 'We're so sorry, how can we make it better?' ” said Mohamed Al Awadhi. Wild Peeta also crowdsources for product ideas from employees and customers

Today, Wild Peeta has received more than 1000 likes on its Facebook page, and garnered almost 9000 followers on Twitter. The company’s success with social media has earned much media attention in newspapers, TV and radio across the region. The business is expanding and several new outlets are set to open in 2012.

Case Studies on Internet Filtering

Case Study on VoIP Ban: UAE blocks Skype.com

Skype.jpg
Skype, a software that allows users to make free or discounted international calls through voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology is blocked in UAE. This is confirmed by Skype Journal, a blog that started by Skype's founders.The block was based on Telecom Regulatory Authority of UAE's ban on all sorts of Internet calls in the free zones of Dubai.

Skype users in the United Arab Emirates are blocked from the Skype.com web site which prevents users of the Skype internet telephone system from buying minutes to call at highly discounted rates relative to the international calling rates charged by incumbent telco, Etisalat - Emirates Telecommunications Corporation.

Despite the ban, Etisalat has announced that they are VoIP ready. This contradicting move have since sparked many speculation that Etisalat has plans to monopolize the VoIP market in Dubai. With the exact motivation behind TRA's ban unknown, it further adds to the speculation that the move to ban VoIP is for economic reason, given that a large proportion or residents in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are expatriates, affordable international callingrates are highly sought after. Political control was another possible motive behind such a ban. Skype automatically encrypts conversations, making it costly and difficult to tap conversations or determine calling patterns.

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Case Study on ban on Social Networking websites: Orkut Banned, Facebook at risk

Social networking sites like Orkut have been on occasion, banned. Most internet users in the UAE have been denied access to Orkut, following reports that the site contains sexually explicit material and is being used for 'immoral activities'.

Image Source: Orkut http://orkut.com

Facebook too, might be banned since it is littered with groups and discussion boards about sex. Graphic images and descriptions are freely available to view on many of the site’s pages, with surfers encouraged to join in by adding pictures and comments. Some sexually explicit material is found under the UAE 'network' on the site. The majority of the members of this 'network' are likely to live in the UAE.

The UAE also has a ban on social networking websites flicker and Hi5, and only recently lifted a ban MySpace and video-sharing site YouTube.

The Emirates' monopoly internet service provider Etisalat banned Orkut.com on Tuesday upon orders from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

The TRA issued a formal letter to the UAE's internet service providers to block the site after receiving complaints - flagged by the UAE's Gulf News newspaper - that the site posted ‘objectionable' material.

Google-owned Orkut claims to be designed to reunite old friends, and help users keep in touch and meet new friends.

However recent reports have claimed that thousands of users in the UAE were joining sexually explicit communities which some say are plentiful on the website.

Google executives have said they will try and negotiate with UAE authorities after they blocked the website.

"We're disappointed that Orkut is being blocked because it's a great way for people to meet, socialise and share interests. We will be reaching out to the authorities to try to resolve this," a Google spokesperson told Gulf News.

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Case on Internet censorship in UAE

The TRA (Telecom Regulatory Authority) decides what internet censorship policy is in the UAE, not the telecom companies Etisalat and Du, although many residents will feel that Etisalat in particular is the decider of what is and is not allowed.[12] This perception is possibly because there are some areas in the Du Telecom network that have no, or less, censorship of the internet, for example Dubai Media Zone and the TECOM area. [13]The TRA has said in 2008 and 2009 that these areas will have to come under the UAE censorship policy though.

Image Source: Tele TechWire http://teletechwire.com/20110517/3798.php

For the most part, internet censorship is not overly draconian in the UAE. Certainly, much less so than somewhere like China or Iran for example. It would be rare that any news is censored, even news critical of the UAE. The filtering policy concentrates more on pornography, dating, gambling, and other culturally or religiously offensive internet content. For many families, the blocking of porn might be seen as a plus when considering a move to Dubai. And those who desperately want to access the blocked websites usually find a way eventually (using a VPN is one way to access blocked websites from what we've heard).

The most irritating censorship is likely to be the increasing number of Wikipedia pages that are blocked; Skype and other VOIP websites; and some search terms. Children looking for feline related material might wonder what they've done wrong when entering one particular synonym for a cat for example. Or anyone wanting to do some research into gambling or casinos will find their web searches return no results. One wonders how Dubai World (a Dubai Government owned company) ever managed to find out enough information to feel confident about investing in Las Vegas. [14]Then again, had they been able to search more freely on the internet in the UAE, perhaps they wouldn't have lost quite so much money on their gamble ... er ... investment with MGM, the casino operator.

Most of the time a message will appear when a website is blocked, that makes it clear the UAE authorities have blocked the site. Occasionally though, either a blank page, or Network Error type message will appear, leaving viewers confused as to whether a site has been blocked, or there really is a problem with the website. It's not clear why the UAE telecom companies and/or telecom authorities are reluctant to let customers know about internet filtering for some sites.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports on internet censorship in the UAE

2010 HRW report on UAE (released 26 January 2011) noted that websites that were blocked in 2010 included www.localnewsuae.com, www.uaehewar.net (UAE Hewar) with its discussion forums (topics include freedom of expression and politics) along with its Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Case Studies on Social Media Activities

CASE: du supports largest global Twitter event in Dubai 23 March 2010'

Dubai Twestival to take place on Thursday March 25th; part of a global fund raising initiative in support of education for disadvantaged children

Dubai will join more than 175 other cities worldwide later this month when it hosts Dubai Twestival Global, part of a global fund raising campaign to help millions of children around the world who don't have the opportunity to go to school. Based around the social media service Twitter, the Twestival™ (or Twitter Festival) uses social media for social good. Dubai Twestival will take place on Thursday March 25th at the SKYYline lounge, InterContinental Hotel Dubai Festival City and is supported by the UAE's integrated telecom service provider du, a keen promoter of both innovation and charitable activities in the region.

"This is the second time that Dubai takes part in Twestival Global and gets the chance to demonstrate how powerful 140 character Twitter messages can be," said PK Gulati (@PKGulati on Twitter), one of the co-organisers of the Dubai Twestival. "Whilst last year's event was held in support of Charity:Water, 2010's Twestival Global turns its focus to education and the 72 million children in the world who are not able to attend school due to extreme poverty. And so we're very proud to be part of Twestival Global, as it supports Concern Worldwide."

Concern Worldwide (@Concern on Twitter) was selected by the Twestival global team and local organisers around the world to be this year's charity because of its comprehensive and well respected approach to education. Education in areas of extreme poverty is an issue complicated by many different elements including hunger, clean water, teacher training, building of schools. Twestival Global hopes to use the power of Twitter and social media influence as a vehicle to give people insight into this cause on a deeper level. All donations to Concern Worldwide are being made directly by individuals and organisations online via twestival.com.

Hala Badri, EVP Brand and Communications, du, said: "We are an innovative brand and we not only help our customers stay connected but also believe in giving back to the community by means of our corporate social responsibility initiatives. We use all possible mediums to reach out to customers and communities, and Twitter is an important and fast-growing social media platform. Since our own dutweets account has been a success and this is an extremely worthy cause, we are very pleased to join more than 175 countries around the globe to support Twestival Global Dubai and the work of the Twitter community in bringing people together to raise funds and promote global education for disadvantaged communities."

In support of the event, du will be running a special online media campaign by providing regular updates on @dutweets, YouTube and Facebook®. Du will also set up facilities for avid Twitter users to go online at the venue itself. The highlight of du's presence will be a giant tweet-screen that will enable visitors to tweet directly into it and share their thoughts, Bios, tweet name and Q&A. Eco-friendly flogos - logos that float and disappear will entertain visitors. A du customer representative will be available at hand as well to answer queries about products and services. Twitter is the online service that allows people to share short messages of under 140 characters. Usage of Twitter grew 579% last year from a total of 2.7 million unique visitors at the start of 2008 to 18.9 million unique visitors worldwide at the end of 2009. The UAE's Twitter community now numbers about 15,000 at present, out of an estimated 40,000 Twitter users across the Middle East and North Africa.

The first Twestival Global was held in 202 international cities last year to support Charity:Water, a charity helping people across the world that don't have access to clean and safe drinking water. Over 1,000 volunteers and 10,000 donors fundraised $250,000 in just a few weeks, which resulted in more than 55 wells in Uganda, Ethiopia and India having a direct impact for over 17,000 people. Organisers hope that 2010's Twestival Global will raise even more funds for this year's worthy cause.

"Twitter and other social media have provided brands, such as our hotel (@InterConDFC) with an exciting new platform to engage with their customers," said Rob Singleton, Online Marketing Executive for the InterContinental Hotels Group properties in Dubai Festival City . "However, social media is all about the community and brands have to remember that if they want to interact with the community, they also have to be a part of it. Dubai Twestival is a great opportunity to bring together the UAE's Twitter community for a good cause and the InterContinental team is looking forward to hosting a great event."

Concern Worldwide's education programs target the poorest people in the poorest countries in the world, with particular emphasis on reaching out-of-school children such as girls, orphans, street children, working children, children affected by conflict, children affected by HIV and AIDS, and children with disabilities. Concern's education programs currently reach over 700,000 people in 25 countries across the regions of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Twitter users can follow @concern to gain an insight into Concern's work, with staff tweeting from around the world.

"Information often moves faster across Twitter than any other platform and also tends to bring people closer together in times of crisis, such as recent events in Haiti and Chile," said Gulati. "And this helps to make Twitter an ideal platform for crowdsourcing help and fund-raising for worthy causes."The local Twitter community has grown fast and now plays a key role in social networking and information sharing. Although Twitter was intended as a purely social application (the idea being to answer the question 'What are you doing?' in 140 characters), it is finding an increasingly strong place in company communications, acting as a marketing platform and a customer service tool. Dubai Twestival sponsor du (@dutweets on Twitter) itself uses Twitter daily to provide customer services and seek feedback from its customers on Twitter, as does Dubai Twestival venue InterContinental Hotel DFC (@InterconDFC on Twitter). Dubai Twestival Global will be held on Thursday March 25th, 2010 at the InterContinental Hotel Dubai Festival City from 7pm to 11pm. For updates regarding the event follow @DubaiTwestival on Twitter.

About Twestival Global

Twestival Global brings together people in hundreds of cities around the world to rally aroundimportant causes by hosting local events to have fun and create awareness. Twestival Global 2010 takes place on Thursday 25 March 2010. All of the local events are organized 100% by volunteers and 100% of all donations go directly to projects.If you would like to get involved, see the Dubai Twestival home page for more details: http://dubai.twestival.com and follow @dubaitwestival on Twitter for daily updates.

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Case study on UAE eGovernment Social Media Guidelines

Ibrahim Elbadawi:eGovernment Strategist at the United Arab Emirates Federal eGovernment & researcher

A few days ago the United Arab Emirates (UAE) eGovernment officially released a set of guidelines documents; one of them was Guidelines for Social Media Usage in UAE Government Entities.[15]

This document offers a set of guidelines for government entities in the UAE to manage their presence on social media websites and take action on social media related issues. More specifically, the document tackles the following topics: access to social media sites from within government offices, account management, employee conduct, content management, citizen code of conduct, security, privacy and some other legal issues.

I’ll get back to discuss some of these guidelines in another post, but I find it important to highlight three reasons why the release of these guidelines is both important and timely:

Reason #1: Citizens and residents of UAE are very active on social media

A recent report by Dubai School of Government (DSG) on the status of social media in the Arab world unveiled some interesting statistics about the penetration of social media in UAE.[16]

According to the report, UAE is among the top ten countries in the world in Facebook usage with 45% of its population having accounts on the most popular social networking site. Although its population is relatively small when compared to many other Arab countries, the number of Facebook users in UAE represents 10% of the total number of users in the entire Arab world. Another interesting fact unveiled by the report is that the UAE has the most balanced age structure among its Facebook users, young users (between the ages of 15 and 29) represent 55% while this percentage goes up to 75% among the entire Facebook users in the Arab world. (If you are a Twitter lover, you can try to search for hash tags like #UAE or #Dubai)

In such a society with high presence on social media, government entities can’t afford to ignore social media and insist to continue communicating with the public through traditional channels only, such an approach could lead us to a “government-society social media divide” which would negatively affect any government plans to move towards more citizen-centered services and hinder its progress towards successful adoption of Government 2.0 concepts and practices.

Reason #2: Government employees in UAE believe in the power of social media

A national survey of UAE government employees in federal and local government entities was conducted by DSG and published in 2010.[17] This survey aimed at exploring the factors that drive the shift of these entities from “silos” and “competition” governance modes to the “collaborative” mode. According to the study, the majority of surveyed government employees considered social networking one of the top technologies that can enable this shift. What I find most interesting about this is that it shows the enthusiasm for social networking and social media within the government entities at the personal level not the organizational level. This could be considered an asset by itself keeping in mind that communication over social media is personal and horizontal by nature; the traditional vertical hierarchical based communication methods of government wouldn’t provide much help. In fact, I consider these old methods with their legacy practices as barriers.

Reason #3: The social media presence of government entities need to be expanded and enriched

Although the social media guidelines document was released few days ago, many government entities in UAE have been using social media for a few years. However, based on my own quick research, the number of these government entities is still below what is needed. In addition, most of these entities need to go beyond just establishing accounts on Facebook and Twitter. In a nutshell, we can say that the social media guidelines can offer great help to government entities in the UAE to leverage the enthusiasm and skills of its employees to bridge the gap in their social media presence in order to tackle the opportunity of having nearly half of the UAE population on Facebook.

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Case Study on Web Hosting in UAE:

Jeeran was launched in 2000 as the first Arab web hosting community, with a young a futuristic vision to provide Arab users with the latest web technologies and the means to communicate and connect. Its services translate to more than innovation and creativity and they open new opportunities to the advertiser to reach millions of users by relating to their interest and demands. The Jeeran community has reached over 1 million members, and over 600,000 thousand websites built and over 75,000 active blogs. Its social network revolves around its user's content and the relationships between its members, and thus it has been a pioneer in pushing for the power of user generated content ever since it was launched.

Set in the hub of Dubai Media City, Jeeran.com will service the region’s increasing demand for online advertising on social media. The opening of the office in Dubai places Jeeran.com in the centre of the Middle East media agency hub, and lines the company up to compete with other local rivals for the expected boom in localized and social regional media spending.

With its user generated content applications including blogs, personal websites, and user profiles, Jeeran.com claims over one million users on its platform with other tools that facilitate members generating their own online content.

The company’s content base of user generated blogs, videos, photos and files is growing rapidly in line with internet growth in the region. The growing trend of internet use at home in the region, combined with the use of the internet as a primary form of communication for individuals to share their thoughts and ideas places Jeeran.com in an excellent market position.

“The establishment of our Dubai Office allows us to better service our media and advertising customers that need to understand exactly how powerful social media has become. With over 3Bn USD spent in the UAE market on advertising and the growing migration from off the page advertising towards online media channels we felt that now was the right time to invest in our local office as internet growth has already hit 45 million users” said Mr. Omar F. Koudsi, President and Co-Founder of Jeeran.com

“We took a long term investment decision to open our media and sales business in Dubai. Dubai really has achieved an incredible feat in its growth and with Dubai having the internet and media community in such proximity to each other it made perfect sense for us” continued Mr. Omar

The Middle East media market to follow the trends displayed in the USA and in Europe where page advertising has decreased whilst online advertising has increased dramatically. The effectiveness of Internet advertising, which can be measured using a variety of methods, is where the customer gets a real return on investment. It is extremely difficult to measure how effectively television, newspaper, radio or magazine ads drive sales but with online, an advertiser can tell who clicked on an Internet ad and even who bought a product or service during an internet session.

Companies such as Google and Yahoo have really been dominant in the Global search market but social media innovation requires a different skill set you only have to look at recent social media acquisitions by both companies to understand how big social media really is. Jeeran.com offers media, the power to reach wider demographic and advertisers segment to the very specific interest group, age, or geographic location quickly – resulting in a much higher return on investment for the companies’ customers.

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Case Studies on Telecommunications

Case study on the popularity of telcos: du and Etsilat set to achieve parity By Ben Flannagan on Sunday, May 22, 2011[18]

The Emirates' second telecommunications operator, du, is expected to take half of the UAE mobile market by as early as next year, a survey by The National reveals. The rival to Etisalat controls almost 42 per cent of the mobile market, and is forecast to achieve parity with its larger competitor, which has seen heavy losses in its subscriber base. In the first three months of this year, du added 272,000 mobile subscribers, while Etisalat said it lost 334,000 subscribers during the same period.

According to a survey of six analysts, du is expected to continue to build market share at the expense of its rival - although the commentators were divided in their expectations of when the two operators would have equal shares of the market.

"I think parity will be reached within the next 18 to 24 months," said Philip Brazeau, who heads the telecoms practice at the Middle East law firm Al Tamimi. He said the planned introduction of mobile number portability, in which customers can switch between operators without changing their number, was likely to benefit du. "The market will likely be in their favour in terms of growth when mobile number portability is implemented in the UAE," he said.

Irfan Ellam, a telecoms analyst with Al Mal Capital, said he expected du and Etisalat to have near-equal shares of the UAE mobile market by 2014. "The majority of new subscribers are going to du - [about] two thirds," said Mr Ellam. "According to our projections du could reach 49 per cent active market share in the mobile space by 2014."

Matthew Reed, an analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, said Etisalat's heavy losses in the first quarter may have been an "exception". However, he said it was likely the company would shed more subscribers. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are still some substantial losses in the coming few quarters," said Mr Reed.

Mr Ellam said du was also forecast to grow its revenues from its mobile operations. The company, which launched mobile services in 2007, initially targeted low-revenue mobile users. However, it is now expected to target higher-spending customers. "Over the medium term, I think du is going to target Etisalat's postpaid subscribers, who typically pay more than pre-paid customers," said Mr Ellam. He forecast du's total revenues would increase by 54 per cent between 2010 and 2015, while Etisalat's UAE top line was expected to grow by 17.7 per cent during the same period. "For 2015, we are forecasting that du will have revenues of [about] Dh10.7 billion (US2.91bn). That's against Etisalat's forecast UAE revenues of Dh28.6bn," said Mr Ellam.

Other commentators said it could take longer for du to achieve parity with Etisalat in the mobile market - and it may never happen if the UAE Government decided to licence a third mobile operator. "I'd expect market share parity in the mobile market in six to seven years, if everything else stays the same," said Jawad Abbassi, the founder and general manager of the Arab Advisors Group, a regional consultancy. "If you add a third or fourth operator, all bets are off."

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Case study on UAE's rising mobile broadband penetration rate and plans to reach 100% by 2012.

Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, UAE Minister of Economy, announced that not only was the UAE placed in the top 10 globally for the quality of its broadband service, it is forecast that the UAE will lead the world with 100 per cent broadband penetration by 2012, while mobile market penetration had already crossed the 200 per cent mark.[19]

Using the latest fibre optic technology which is currently being implemented by Etisalat, the ambitious plan has the capability of making the UAE the first country in the world with 100 per cent broadband penetration by the year 2012.

“I am proud of this achievement and what this initiative means for the growth of the telecoms industry, according to the TRA [UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority], spending on telecommunications this year may be the biggest ever.”

Al Mansoori was delivering the keynote address at the Mecom CEO Summit in Abu Dhabi. Top telecoms bosses from around the region have gathered to discuss the latest industry issues and examine, the leading international trends affecting next generation ICT solutions.

Underscoring the rate of progress, Al Mansoori added: “Mobile penetration [usage] rate in the UAE has now crossed 200 per cent, while household broadband penetration currently stands at 40 per cent. According to industry giants Cisco, the UAE is already in the top ten worldwide in terms of the quality of its broadband service.”

In his address at the forum, Etisalat CEO Nasser Bin Obood announced that with an average connection speed of 27.2Mbps, the UAE ranked No. 5 in the world in fastest connection speeds during Q4 2010, as ranked by a recent Akamai report.

“As per the latest report findings, UAE’s average Internet connection speed has seen a dramatically impressive 68 per cent increase in quarter-on-quarter and 309 per cent increase in year-on-year. The Internet and telecommunications sector is one of the fastest growing and technologically innovative sectors. We are committed to constantly working hard to ensure that we remain one of the most connected nations in the world,” said bin Obood.

Al Mansoori went on to say that the TRA has also predicted that the Middle East and Africa will continue to be the fastest growing market globally. “A perfect example of this is Etisalat, which is at present competing in more than 18 countries and has an estimated 100 million customers,” said Binu Pillai, Exhibition Director of IIR Middle East, the organiser of MECOM.

Speaking on behalf of the TRA, Deputy Director General, Majed Al Mesmar, commented: “In 2010, the telecommunications sector contributed 5.5 per cent towards the UAE’s GDP. Collectively, Etisalat and du shared 11 million mobile subscribers, 1.6 million fixed telephone subscribers and 1.4 million Internet service subscribers generating over Dh24b.”

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Case Study on New Developments in Internet Filtering: Internet Penetration Policy and its Implications. (Sources: “Dubai’s Du to Block Offensive Websites")

by Derek Baldwin Sr, [20]

Issuing a press statement on 20 February 2008, Mohammed Al Ghanim, Board Member and Director-General of the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) announced the implementation of the Internet Penetration Policy (IPP) by end 2008. TRA allowed Du one month’s grace from the date of announcement of the policy for compliance. This is in light of the fact that Du was a new company which had just started to implement the concept of internet monitoring. TRA stressed that Etisalat was already abiding by the policy and both telecom operators have to be regulated by TRA. The TRA claimed that the IPP would in effect liberate web access by having more specific definitions for the types of online content which should be filtered out. Allegedly, the IPP will open up many sections of sites or sites which are currently blocked. A TRA spokesperson told UAE newspaper Emirates Business 24-7, “"The penetration policy will be liberalised in the sense that it will be more specific. We do not want to deny access to websites that are social portals and encourage cultural interaction in today's globalised world. At the same time it has to be done without losing our identity, traditions, ethics, morals and culture." In April 2008, Du issued an advisory informing that it would begin blocking all and any websites which were not in tandem with the values of the UAE. Du sent an SMS text to all its customers saying: “We wish to inform you that from 14 April 2008 we will be blocking sites with content that do not conform to the moral, social and cultural values of the UAE,” Du stated in an SMS text sent to its customers. Thus, the unrestricted internet access enjoyed by some Dubai residents living in freezones officially came to an end. Du subsequently issued an official press statement as follows: "It is our constant endeavour to maintain the perfect balance between ensuring that all our customers' requirements are met, and that we comply with all the guidelines of the TRA, including those on internet content filtering.

The World Wide Web offers us great opportunities to get and share information and to communicate. However, it is imperative that when making use of this technology for its enormous benefits, we respect the moral, social and cultural values of the United Arab Emirates.

du will be blocking all content that is not in line with these values, effective from 14 April 2008. Due to the nature of the content filtering process, some harmless sites may also inadvertently be blocked. We request our customers' assistance in informing us when a site that they consider harmless has been blocked, by writing to safesurf@du.ae so we can look into the matter." Source: “Dubai’s Du to Block Offensive Websites”, by Derek Baldwin Sr, 13 April 2008, www.xpress4me.com The blocking decision was subsequently confirmed by a TRA spokesman, Mr. Rasheed Joumblatt, saying, “The proxy server is there and everyone should follow the rules and regulations or the TRA regarding the values, traditions and ethics of the UAE.” He added that websites containing pornography, hatred, child abuse, alcohol, gambling or terrorism are blocked via filtering software which recognizes the subject material and blocks the sites from being viewed. Under the IPP, elements of social networking websites, such as Facebook’s dating-related sections, would be banned in future.

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About Concern Worldwide (@Concern on Twitter)

80% of UAE consumers use social media to make purchase decisions, reveals YouGovSiraj poll

Concern Worldwide was founded in 1968 to meet the needs of people living in extreme poverty, for whom every day is a fight for survival. Concern is a non-governmental, international, humanitarian organization dedicated to the reduction of suffering and working towards the ultimate elimination of poverty. Their mission is to help people living in extreme poverty achieve major improvements in their lives - improvements they can sustain without ongoing support. Concern meets the needs of these people in a caring and personalized manner, respecting their human and cultural dignity. They are committed to reaching the most vulnerable, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

UAE. The first of its kind survey in the UAE on Social Media and consumer behaviour shows that a large majority of customers are actively seeking and searching product information online and through social media platforms. The survey findings were conducted by market research firm YouGovSiraj, through their online Omnibus service during February 2010. It covered a sample size of more than 750 people across the Emirates and included multiple income groups, ages, nationality groups, etc. 70% of the sample group stated that they would look for online reviews before making a purchase decision, while over 80% of them said that they would look for the website of the seller.

Concern Worldwide Logo

When asked about the growing demographic of online customers and the use of Social Media Marketing, Akanksha Goel, Chief Enthusiast at Socialize, a social media training house, said, “Most companies in the region are aware of the importance of including social media in their overall media relations and marketing plan, but lack the know-how to successfully create buzz online.

The hospitality sector however, has been an early adopter of social media marketing and use tools like Twitter and Facebook proactively.” “Government institutions too are jumping onto the social media marketing bandwagon with DIFC using professional social media training to supplement their marketing efforts.” Interaction levels with corporate bodies online are still rising where 41% of the respondents said they interact with their favourite brands through platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and LinkedIn, while 65% said they would more likely to interact with emails sent to their inboxes. “This kind of research is important because it gives us numbers behind what we know to be a growing trend. The figures show us that businesses cannot afford to dismiss social media.

We are also able to see which platforms are popular, which is very useful for companies deciding which social media to focus on. “,” said Joanna Longworth, chief marketing officer, YouGov Siraj.

"The bottom line is that Social Media Marketing is something that firms can not afford to ignore if they want to stay ahead of their competition," said Bhavishya Kanjhan, Intelligence Officer for Socialize. "You may choose to ignore it, but your competition will not. Sooner or later you would have to look into creating an active online entity."

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10 Essential Follows and Website

Feeds which will be essential to someone learning about this market.


@TheUAETRA The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of United Arab Emirates (UAE)

@TheNationalUAE A daily newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

@ArabianBusiness Middle East Business, Financial and Industry News, Events and Information.

@AMEInfonews The leading Middle East business resource in Dubai

Arabnet.me The hub for Arab digital professionals and entrepreneurs to connect and learn

MattJDuffy Matt J. Duffy teaches journalism courses at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

@AdNationMe News and community website for Middle East marketing and advertising industry

@YouSeftuqan CEO of FlipMedia

@Dxbluey Grant Bishop, Lived in Dubai for 5 years, works in Media marketing and distribution

Interactive Middle East Everything about Interactive Media, Social Media, Startups, Mobile Web, Technology in the Middle East.

References

  1. CIA World Factbook,[1], March 2012.
  2. Carrington Malin, "Middle East & North Africa Facebook Demographics", Spot On Public Relations, May 24, 2010.
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  4. by M2 Communications, "MasterCard says online shopping has increased in UAE",Report Linker, Mar 18, 2011
  5. A1 Saudi Arabia.com, UAE Online Shopping Climbs Surveys, Mar 19, 2009
  6. MediaME.com, "UAE Internet users concerned about internet privacy", June 16, 2010
  7. Dr. Illhem Allagui, Dr. Harris BRESLOW, "Cyberculture, Politics and the Public Sphere Amongst Diasporic Groups in the UAE".
  8. AMEinfo.com, "80% of UAE consumers use social media to make purchase decisions, reveals YouGovSiraj poll", Feb 23, 2010
  9. Wild Peeta,[2]
  10. Said Hamideh,[3], MENA Entrepreneur Profiles: The Al Awadhi brothers of Wild Peeta
  11. The National,[4] Wild Peeta shawarma restaurants look to expand with Twitter
  12. Dubai FAQs, "Internet Censorhip in Dubai and UAE", May 23, 2011
  13. Dubai FAQs, "Dubai Media City",May 23, 2011
  14. Dubai FAQs, "Dubai World", May 23, 2011
  15. Ibrahim Elbadawi, "Guidelines for Social Media Usage in UAE Government Entities", Mar 2, 2011
  16. Dubai School of Government, "Arab Social Media Report"
  17. Fadi Salem, Yadi Jaffar, "Government 2.0? Technology, Trust and Collaboration in the UAE Public Sector", The Berkeley Electronic Press, 2010
  18. Ben Flanagan "Analysts predict parity between du and Etisalat, study by The National shows",The National, May 22, 2011
  19. Emirates 24/7 Business,"UAE to have all online by 2012", May 17, 2011
  20. Derek Baldwin Sr, Case study on new developments in Internet filtering: Internet penetration policy and its implications 14th April, 2008