Startup of the Week: OneNation: The app that aims to break down language barriers worldwide

Updated 29 April 2019
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Startup of the Week: OneNation: The app that aims to break down language barriers worldwide

  • OneNation has 90 translators who are proficient in different languages

JEDDAH: Today, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are household names worldwide, with people of all ages using them to stay connected to friends and loved ones.

All these platforms and relevant apps were developed in the West, but in the last few years experts from the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, have come up with their own apps.

One such app is OneNation, co-founded by Saudi IT expert Dr. Mohammed Al-Zahrani and five others.

It works like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but its competitive advantage is that its instant translation engine allows a user to communicate with anyone worldwide in his or her language, without the need for a common tongue. 

The idea came four years ago when Al-Zahrani was doing his postgraduate studies in Malaysia.

He found that communication with his colleagues from other nationalities was limited, and that the language barrier was hindering their ability to get to know one another.

“I had many friends from other countries such as Korea, China, Russia, Albania and the US. We used to play football together, but we communicated with each other using very basic English. This limited use of a common language did not allow us to have deeper conversations about politics, economics, religion and other topics,” Al-Zahrani told Arab News.

OneNation users have their own profile and timeline, and can text others in private chats. Everything appears to the user in his or her account’s default language, regardless of other users’ language. 

The app was officially launched eight months ago. “Although we haven’t done any marketing yet, we have 4,000 users now,” said Al-Zahrani. 

The app supports 20 languages. “We pay Google to use their translation engine. However, we have our own algorithms that we developed to enhance the quality and accuracy of the translation between Arabic and different languages,” he said.

In addition, OneNation has 90 translators who are proficient in different languages, contribute to the translation engine and deal with users’ suggestions for better translation.

Al-Zahrani said any user proficient in two or more languages can provide suggestions that will be sent to translators to deal with.

In the future, “we could also have built our own translation engine” that can compete with Google’s, he added.

“I want to have our own successful Arab social media app, where we can also have some privacy in our data instead of having it all stored in Silicon Valley,” said Al-Zahrani, who hopes to receive government support and investment.

He has a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences from Umm Al-Qura University, a master’s in information technology management, and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Technology in Malaysia.

He is the director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Taif University, and an assistant professor of computer science at the same university. His partners who helped him develop “OneNation” include Dr. Abdullah Bagasa, Dr. Abdullah Kadasa and Dr. Saleh Al-Jamaan.


Jeddah Season displays city’s rich heritage

Updated 5 min 48 sec ago
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Jeddah Season displays city’s rich heritage

  • Al-Balad district plays host to some of the festival’s activities enchanting visitors

JEDDAH: Jeddah’s Al-Balad district has been hosting Jeddah Season since the start of June, enchanting visitors with its journey into the rich heritage, art and culture of the city. The season continues to entertain visitors with exceptional performances, exhibitions and workshops that demonstrate the evolution of the city.

In July, the season brought together a lineup of musicals, street art, athletics, comedy shows and local dance performances, all accompanied by a wide range of retail options and a remarkable choice of cuisine.

Some of the new attractions are bound to keep visitors highly entertained. A new immersive theater will lure visitors into the artistic realm of fantasy and mystery, while the recent charitable auction inspired guests to contribute to worthwhile causes.

Bait Al-Dahaleezi — immersive theater

Visitors have the chance to test their courage and wits in an immersive theater experience called Bait Al-Dahaleezi. Inspired by Al-Balad folklore, this exclusive theater is an original work being supervised by Sidra Events Management, produced by the Jeddah Season team and directed by Todd Albert Nims, a Saudi-born American director who is passionate about cinema and entertainment in the Gulf region.

Taking place in the 200-year-old five-story family home of the Al-Jamjoom family, the play transforms the very concept of theater and creates a world of wonder and mystery.

Nims said: “I’m extremely proud to be involved in this new wave of immersive theater, where there’s an opportunity to boost the creative sector in Saudi Arabia. In line with the Vision 2030 reform plan, it’s an honor to be part of a great initiative, promoting local talent to the world. The immersive theater is a great platform to showcase the history, culture and local folklore of Al-Balad.”

He added: “I believe theater is the best form of expression. When a group of creative minds come together to present the rich heritage of the Kingdom and Arab lifestyles, it creates waves across the globe.”

The theater’s storyline has been developed in conjunction with Al-Balad historian and well-known writer Dr. Lamia Baishen, accompanied by local interior designer Nawaf Al-Nassar. Bait Al-Dahaleezi is also supported by acting coach Dr. Qassim Al-Gudah and costume designs by Arwa Abdulati.

Commenting on his collaboration, Al-Nassar said: “Bait Al-Dahaleezi is a stepping stone for local artists to showcase their talent and skills to a wide audience. This is the beginning of a new era in the field of theater, arts and entertainment in Saudi Arabia. I’m honored to be a part of such a group where creative minds and people work together cohesively to produce spectacular work.”

Visitors are encouraged to play the role of guests at the abandoned house, allowing their curiosity to guide them while trying to unravel its mystery. Guests have to wear masks as part of the play. These masks are made locally by Saudi artists, and the visitors get to keep them after the performance as souvenirs.

Thrust into a world of action and drama, the audience can relive their childhood as their favorite tales from the past are brought to life. The entire atmosphere is filled with a colorful cast of characters who will frighten and delight you simultaneously.

Christie’s auction

The Kingdom hosted Christie’s, a world-renowned auction house, at the Jeddah Season for Saudi Arabia’s first international art auction. Christie’s presented the “Art for Al-Balad” auction in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and the Hafez Gallery.

Celebrated artists from across the Arab region graciously donated beautiful pieces of art to raise funds for a heritage museum to preserve the culture of Al-Balad, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Proceeds from the auction also went toward the Help Center, a Jeddah-based children’s school that assists pupils with special needs. The auction raised an impressive SR4.8 million ($1.3 million) for both causes.

The auction demonstrated the Kingdom’s artistic talents to the Arab world. These events provide artists with a platform to showcase their works to a global audience whilst supporting international exchange and cultural understanding, as well as elevating art within Saudi Arabia.

The season offers a summer experience like never before. Located in Al-Balad until July 18, event details can be found at https://www.livehjseason.com.