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.