Dubbed the “Islamic Facebook”, the much anticipated social network Salamworld aims to become a platform for Muslim youth to maximise their potential while breaking the conservative Muslim stereotype.
With over 1.6 billion Muslims across the world, one in five people on earth, Salamworld has been founded upon the idea of providing Muslims their own space on social networks, bringing them in from the peripheries of the Internet. The network offers an online socialising environment where users can interact with content that is more in line with the Muslim lifestyle.
Speaking with Your Middle East, Salamworld’s Deputy CEO, Ahmed Azimov, discussed the mission of the network to break conservative stereotypes and create a global and innovative Muslim brand, but more importantly create an arena for Muslim youth to interact and explore.
“We are providing an ‘umbrella’ platform for Muslims to implement best initiatives, innovations, projects, applications and products. Youth is our target audience, and Salamworld will serve as a window of opportunities for them. We are boosting Muslim youth for self-identification and self-realization within the frames of Islamic values and principles,” explains Azimov.
According to Azimov, 54% of the Muslim population is younger than 25 and approximately 250-300 million Muslims are on the Internet, inclusive of social media. Salamworld strives to create a safe but trendy online environment for the Muslim youth in particular where users engage in a social networking experience without the threat of harmful content.
“Muslims, especially youth, are in need for the platform promoting content to unite different cultures and nations, leaving no space for provocative or violence-raising content, which is obvious today on other existing social networks.”
The gap in the Middle Eastern Internet market has been observed by several other Internet players. Nevzat Aydın, the CEO of Turkey’s leading online take-away website Yemeksepeti.com has commented that six percent of the world’s total population speaks Arabic, compared to only one percent of the Internet population. There is a serious lack of Arabic language content.
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Despite this gap, drawing in younger users also means creating a lasting youth appeal. Entering a Western dominated market, Salamworld has faced rumours, sarcasm and even claims about its sustainability. The social network has publically announced its self-proclaimed ambitious 2015 target of 150 million users, but against a backdrop of failed Islamic ventures in the internet arena and an incredibly strong field of competition led by Facebook, which announced its 1 billion user mark this week, the challenges seem daunting.
When asked about Salamworld’s distinctive features in comparison to its predecessors, Azimov emphasizes that they are not asking users to leave existing social networks but for them to take on the social responsibility for the content they post and contribute.
“We’re positioning ourselves as a social platforms based on Islamic values, the values of respect, humanity and social responsibility. Unfortunately we still don’t have any successful social networks for those who share Islamic values. The reason for failure usually hides in insufficient resources, both financial and human. At the same time it is obviously not enough to choose the Islamic niche and focus on it to be successful. We also need innovation and original ideas that will make the network interesting for any user.”
Salamworld is relying on an approach that not only focuses on the user experience via an application centric framework, but also that will build a wide community to leverage the network in the long term. A concept based on connecting people to organise data according to interests aims to create a user appeal while integration with advertising, applications and services, with a particular focus on the Halal industry, will form the foundation of the network’s business model. Long term targets such as satellite business projects and an online-market are in the pipeline according to Azimov.
But success is based on research and knowledge of the market and market players. WAMDA’s CEO, Habib Hadad, has stated that anything that relies on online advertising in the Middle East doesn’t work. According to Hadad, despite the advertising market experiencing a little bit of growth each year, this is only in the pockets of the likes of Google and Facebook.
Salamworld’s success will depend on its ability to know its market and utilize current trends to create opportunities for success. Perhaps its biggest playing card is having a strong business backing and being a business project focused on a religious demographic but not being religiously led.
“We are proud that our project is not being managed by any country or political, religious or financial organization,” says Azimov.
Looking at the timing of the project, the Arab Spring has sparked an interest in social media throughout the entire region. Throws of Muslim public figures are utilizing social media to reach their publics and spread their messages. Salamworld is taking this window of opportunity to give the Muslim youth a continued voice and a place to maximise their potential. Time will tell whether the new social network is successful in achieving this.