Review of Talfazat Box

September 3, 2009 by · 26 Comments 

By Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Farmington–September 2–I recently had the opportunity to review the Talfazat (http://www.talfazat.com) television box supplied by Neulion–one of the advertisers we are proud to have in this newspaper.

Bottom line:  For $30 per month, this is a reliable way to get 24 channels of Arabic television into your home, even if for example you live in the middle of an apartment complex and have no ability to put out a satellite dish.

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I received the Talfazat box late last week and tested it extensively, testing the bandwidth usage of the box, testing the picture quality and resolution, refresh rate, testing the robustness of the system by intentionally bringing it to the breaking point–and the short answer after this testing is that the Talfazat box will not halt or buffer, despite mistreatment–despite some rumors to the contrary about other IPTV sources.

Talfazat in Arabic means “televisions,” more and more of which are displaying signals through means unimagined twenty years ago.  The newest means is IPTV.  Just as VOIP revolutionized and is revolutionizing home telephones, so too is IPTV in the beginning stages of revolutionizing home television.  One key difference is price.  Where VOIP providers charge a flat fee that is perhaps one fifth of a standard telephone monthly bill, IPTV providers are much closer in price to their satellite and cable competitors.

When you get the box, it is about the size of a thick hardback book, but lighter—see above.  It has a power switch on the front, and another power switch on the back.  The box has an HDMI out, Component out, S-Video out, it has at least two USB ports; it also comes with all the cables you need to connect to your TV and internet (except HDMI) and a remote. It comes with a component cable, a special adapter cable to plug component cables into your box, audio right-left channel cables, and more, plus a LAN/ethernet cable.

Setup

Setup is super easy, and the directions are also simple, colorful, and easy to follow.  Without cracking the directions book I was able to install the Talfazat box and begin watching television.

Channels—Live TV

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Note—Mr. Alyas Ali of Talfazat explained to me that in Canada more channels are available than in the US—Canadians have about 10 additional channels available.

The box supplies 24 continuous live stream channels, including Al Jazeera in English.  Most of the other live channels are state broadcasts from the Arab world, except for Al Jazeera Arabic.

Here are the channels I found.

Future TV Al Rai TV
Mehwar Al Aan TV
Sama Dubai Alsumaria TV
Infinity TV Bahrain TV
Arab Woman Channel Program Baghdadia
ZMTV Hannibal TV
Sudan TV Emirates
Tele Liban Palestine TV
Abu Dhabi Bahrain
Al Jazeera (Arabic) Al Jazeera (English)
Arabic News Al Alam
MICFM Panorama
   

The channels are numbered 2 thru 74, with of course many blank channels between 2 and 74.

I can’t comment on the actual programs because I neither speak Arabic nor am familiar with Arabic television.  But AlJazeera in English is interesting, with very high quality stories and not biased as some would have you believe.

There is a program guide that shows programming data about 28 hours in advance—you push a button on the remote and can see what’s currently on (showing six channels on the screen at a time).  You can see up to 28 hours in advance what will be on.

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Channel Quality

Unfortunately I am not in a position to review the quality of the live TV streams made available by Talfazat—I might understand a few words of Arabic but if I try to force myself to watch these Arabic channels I will probably fall asleep.  I did watch Al Jazeera in English—which for some of TMO’s readers might be by itself worth the price of admission to the Talfazat world.

Video On Demand

There is also video on demand, which gives you access to back episodes of perhaps 100 total different TV shows–some individual shows have as many as perhaps 50 different episodes available.

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There are 7 categories under “Video on Demand.”  They are:  Comedy, Drama, Lifestyle, Music, Religious, Talk Show, and Ramadan 2009.  Under each category a varying number of shows are listed (under Comedy there are perhaps 30 shows, under Religion or Ramadan there are only a few).  Once you select a show, you will see the available number of episodes for that show, which again varies.  For some shows perhaps 50 episodes are available.  For other shows, only a few episodes are available.  You select the episode you want with your remote, and after a few minutes it should begin to play.

A few episodes refuse to play, but if you have your heart set on any specific serial you should easily be able to find an episode that will work from that serial (pictured below see the show “La Youmal” with 9 available episodes to watch; Also pictured is a cartoon episode playing via video on demand).

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There are on the remote buttons for fast forward and rewind of video on demand shows, but they did not work well for me—being perhaps the only way I could (despite my tries) to make the Talfazat box seize up and start heavily buffering.  Therefore you will likely have to watch your shows start to finish unless Neulion fixes this feature—it is possible this was just my connection.

 

Settings

In addition to the live TV and video on demand features, there is also a “Settings” screen you can access from the home directory.  When you go there after a few moments you will see a readout of your network, showing ip addresses.

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Note—as far as I can see there is no benefit in tampering with the settings.

Spotlight

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Another screen at the Talfazat home page.  As yet this is unsupported by Talfazat, likely preserved for future use.

Performance Testing

Capture

Here is a screenshot of Tomato running on the wrt-54g after testing.  The test began with Youtube videos towards the left of the screen (where the three sharp peaks are at about 300 kbits per second about a quarter of the way from the left side of the screen), and ends on the right side of the screen. 

I have a DSL network connection that I tested before doing a quick bench test of the Talfazat box at an average speed of 2.22 Mbits per second downstream.  I came to this number by using Firefox’s Broadband Speed Test and Diagnostics add-on, running the download speed check five times and averaging the results.

From this starting point I then went to my Linksys wrt-54g router running Tomato and watched the bandwidth usage as I did tests of the Talfazat box and other computers on the network accessing Youtube, Boxee, and Veoh.

I turned on Youtube and began watching the District 9 original movie, and my bandwidth usage went to 322.27 kbits/sec, then up to about 410 kbits/sec, and hovered in that area.

I turned on Pandora via Boxee and listened to my music stations, where my bandwidth was again in the same region—about 327.15 kbits/sec.

Then I used Boxee to watch Youtube instead of watching Youtube directly via a browser, and my bandwidth was at about 375 kbits/sec.

Then the real testing began—I turned on CSI Miami via Boxee.  After some initial choppiness during the CBS advertisement, the CSI show began, clear as a bell but perhaps with a little bit of choppiness, bringing my bandwidth usage up to 556 kbits/sec.  It varied as high as 1054.69 kbits/sec.

Then I turned on the Talfazat box and tuned to Al Jazeera in English—bandwidth went up to 1510 kbits/sec (Boxee was still on); when I turned off Boxee my bandwidth went down to about 850 kbits/sec and stayed pretty steady at about that level.

I stress tested the Talfazat box by running online video at two other places on my network, using Boxee and Veoh to stream video from three sources at the same time–although the network traffic went up to over 2 Mbits per second, I never saw Talfazat buffer or hesitate.

Therefore Talfazat’s promises of not buffering, and of not requiring more than 1 Mbit / sec, appear completely justified.  It may be that the box needs a little bit of overhead on top of the 700 kbits/sec, so I wouldn’t recommend going below their recommended 1 Mbit / sec, yet in my test Talfazat seemed to want only 700 kbits/sec in order to work just fine, as usual.

Picture quality

Picture quality is slightly worse than a standard definition satellite signal’s image.

Things that could improve

While testing the box I disconnected it from the internet completely while watching a show—to see what would happen.  What happened was the screen went dark.  It would have been better if there had been a simple message—“are you sure you are connected to the internet?” or “lost internet connection.”

More about the box

So if you want affordable Arabic television or if you live in an  apartment and can’t access a spot from which you can put up a satellite dish, or if you just don’t want to pay the relatively exorbitant fees charged by Dish Network and DirectTV, support one of our favorite sponsors, Talfazat and try out their box.

Also consider Talfazat’s Subcontinent cousin, DesiTV—for Indian and Pakistani channels and movies.

 

I will be mailing my box back to Talfazat with heartfelt thanks for their having allowed me to review Neulion’s cutting edge product.  You should definitely consider Talfazat if you are looking for a new way to get Arabic TV.

 

Note:  Since writing the above review I was told by Alyas Ali of Talfazat that the box is also capable of replaying any show from the last 24 hours (as long as it is green in the EPG guide pictured above).  This is like an automated Tivo function, very nice.  I have not yet tested this function and intend to add to this review once I have had a chance to try it.

11-37

Pakistan–Towards Theocracy?

March 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy

2009-03-15T151234Z_01_ISL35_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-PROTEST
Protester holds a party flag as he kicks a tear gas canister towards policemen in Lahore March 15, 2009. Protesters fought street battles with police Sunday that raises questions of Pakistani stability.       REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Women in burqas and children from the Bajaur and Mohmand agency areas wait to be registered at a refugee camp near Peshawar in January. Today a full-scale war is being fought in FATA, Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, with thousands dying and hundreds of thousands of displaced people streaming into cities and towns.

FOR 20 years or more, a few of us in Pakistan have been desperately sending out SOS messages, warning of terrible times to come. Nevertheless, none anticipated how quickly and accurately our dire predictions would come true. It is a small matter that the flames of terrorism set Mumbai on fire and, more recently, destroyed Pakistan’s cricketing future. A much more important and brutal fight lies ahead as Pakistan, a nation of 175 million, struggles for its very survival. The implications for the future of South Asia are enormous.

Today a full-scale war is being fought in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, with thousands dying and hundreds of thousands of IDPs (internally displaced people) streaming into cities and towns. In February 2009, with the writ of the Pakistani state in tatters, the government gave in to the demand of the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban Movement) to implement the Islamic Sharia in Malakand, a region of FATA. It also announced the suspension of a military offensive in Swat, which has been almost totally taken over by the TTP. But the respite that it brought was short-lived and started breaking down only hours later.

The fighting is now inexorably migrating towards Peshawar where, fearing the Taliban, video shop owners have shut shop, banners have been placed in bazaars declaring them closed for women, musicians are out of business, and kidnapping for ransom is the best business in town. Islamabad has already seen Lal Masjid and the Marriot bombing, and has had its police personnel repeatedly blown up by suicide bombers. Today, its barricaded streets give a picture of a city under siege. In Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), an ethnic but secular party well known for strong-arm tactics, has issued a call for arms to prevent the Taliban from making further inroads into the city. Lahore once appeared relatively safe and different but, after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, has rejoined Pakistan.

The suicide bomber and the masked abductor have crippled Pakistan’s urban life and shattered its national economy. Soldiers, policemen, factory and hospital workers, mourners at funerals, and ordinary people praying in mosques have been reduced to hideous masses of flesh and fragments of bones. The bearded ones, many operating out of madrassas, are hitting targets across the country. Although a substantial part of the Pakistani public insists upon lionising them as “standing up to the Americans”, they are neither seeking to evict a foreign occupier nor fighting for a homeland. They want nothing less than to seize power and to turn Pakistan into their version of the ideal Islamic state. In their incoherent, ill-formed vision, this would include restoring the caliphate as well as doing away with all forms of western influence and elements of modernity. The AK-47 and the Internet, of course, would stay.

But, perhaps paradoxically, in spite of the fact that the dead bodies and shattered lives are almost all Muslim ones, few Pakistanis speak out against these atrocities. Nor do they approve of military action against the cruel perpetrators, choosing to believe that they are fighting for Islam and against an imagined American occupation. Political leaders like Qazi Husain Ahmed and Imran Khan have no words of kindness for those who have suffered from Islamic extremists. Their tears are reserved for the victims of predator drones, whether innocent or otherwise. By definition, for them terrorism is an act that only Americans can commit.

Why the Denial?

To understand Pakistan’s collective masochism, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have made this country so utterly different from what it was in earlier times. For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula.

This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a rich Muslim culture in India for a thousand years.. This culture produced Mughal architecture, the Taj Mahal, the poetry of Asadullah Ghalib, and much more. Now a stern, unyielding version of Islam – Wahabism – is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the sufis and saints who had walked on this land for hundreds of years.

This change is by design. Twenty-five years ago, under the approving gaze of Ronald Reagan’s America, the Pakistani state pushed Islam on to its people. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for university academic posts required that the candidate demonstrate knowledge of Islamic teachings, and jehad was declared essential for every Muslim.

Villages have changed drastically, driven in part by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers. They are bitterly opposed to Barelvis, Shias and other Muslims, who they do not consider to be proper Muslims. Punjabis, who were far more liberal towards women than Pashtuns, are now also beginning to take a line resembling the Taliban. Hanafi law has begun to prevail over tradition and civil law, as is evident from recent decisions in the Lahore High Court.

K.M. Chaudhry/AP

Pakistan’s Ministry of Education estimates that 1.5 million students are getting religious education in 13,000 madrassas. These figures could be quite off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between 18,000 and 22,000 such schools. Here, students at the Jamia Manzoorul Islam, a madrassa in Lahore.

In the Pakistani lower-middle and middle-middle classes lurks a grim and humourless Saudi-inspired revivalist movement which frowns on every expression of joy and pleasurable pastime. Lacking any positive connection to history, culture and knowledge, it seeks to eliminate “corruption” by regulating cultural life and seizing control of the education system.

“Classical music is on its last legs in Pakistan; the sarangi and vichtarveena are completely dead,” laments Mohammad Shehzad, a music aficionado. Indeed, teaching music in public universities is violently opposed by students of the Islami Jamaat-e-Talaba at Punjab University. Religious fundamentalists consider music haram. Kathak dancing, once popular with the Muslim elite of India, has no teachers left. Pakistan produces no feature films of any consequence.

As a part of General Zia-ul-Haq’s cultural offensive, Hindi words were expunged from daily use and replaced with heavy-sounding Arabic ones. Persian, the language of Mughal India, had once been taught as a second or third language in many Pakistani schools. But, because of its association with Shiite Iran, it too was dropped and replaced with Arabic. The morphing of the traditional “khuda hafiz” (Persian for “God be with you”) into “allah hafiz” (Arabic for “God be with you”) took two decades to complete. The Arab import sounded odd and contrived, but ultimately the Arabic God won and the Persian God lost.

Genesis of Jehad

One can squarely place the genesis of religious militancy in Pakistan to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the subsequent efforts of the U.S.-Pakistan-Saudi grand alliance to create and support the Great Global Jehad of the 20th century. A toxic mix of imperial might, religious fundamentalism, and local interests ultimately defeated the Soviets. But the network of Islamic militant organisations did not disappear after it achieved success. By now the Pakistani Army establishment had realised the power of jehad as an instrument of foreign policy, and so the network grew from strength to strength.

The amazing success of the state is now turning out to be its own undoing. Today the Pakistan Army and establishment are under attack from religious militants, and rival Islamic groups battle each other with heavy weapons. Ironically, the same Army – whose men were recruited under the banner of jehad, and which saw itself as the fighting arm of Islam – today stands accused of betrayal and is almost daily targeted by Islamist suicide bombers. Over 1,800 soldiers have died as of February 2009 in encounters with religious militants, and many have been tortured before decapitation. Nevertheless, the Army is still ambivalent in its relationship with the jehadists and largely focusses upon India.

Education or Indoctrination?

Similar sentiments exist in a large part of the Pakistani public media.. The commonly expressed view is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA and that madrassas are the only jehad factories around. This could not be more wrong. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this kind of education will produce a generation incapable of living together with any except strictly their own kind. Pakistan’s education system demands that Islam be understood as a complete code of life, and creates in the mind of the schoolchild a sense of siege and constant embattlement by stressing that Islam is under threat everywhere.

The government-approved curriculum, prepared by the Curriculum Wing of the Federal Ministry of Education, is the basic road map for transmitting values and knowledge to the young. By an Act of Parliament, passed in 1976, all government and private schools (except for O-level schools) are required to follow this curriculum. It is a blueprint for a religious fascist state.

The masthead of an illustrated primer for the Urdu alphabet states that it has been prepared by Iqra Publishers, Rawalpindi, along “Islamic lines”. Although not an officially approved textbook, it has been used for many years by some regular schools, as well as madrassas, associated with the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamic political party that had allied itself with General Pervez Musharraf.

The world of the Pakistani schoolchild was largely unchanged even after September 11, 2001, which led to Pakistan’s timely desertion of the Taliban and the slackening of the Kashmir jehad. Indeed, for all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation”, Musharraf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned-down copy of that under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto, who inherited it from Zia-ul-Haq.

Fearful of taking on powerful religious forces, every incumbent government refused to take a position on the curriculum and thus quietly allowed young minds to be molded by fanatics. What might happen a generation later has always been a secondary matter for a government challenged on so many sides.

The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s so-called “secular” public schools, colleges and universities had a profound effect upon young minds. Militant jehad became part of the culture on college and university campuses. Armed groups flourished, invited students for jehad=2 0in Kashmir and Afghanistan, set up offices throughout the country, collected funds at Friday prayers, and declared a war without borders. Pre-9/11, my university was ablaze with posters inviting students to participate in the Kashmir jehad. After 2001, this slipped below the surface.

For all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation”, General Pervez Musharraf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned-down copy of that under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto, who inherited it from Zia-ul-Haq. (From left) Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf.

The madrassas

The primary vehicle for Saudi-ising Pakistan’s education has been the madrassa. In earlier times, these had turned out the occasional Islamic scholar, using a curriculum that essentially dates from the 11th century with only minor subsequent revisions. But their principal function had been to produce imams and muezzins for mosques, and those who eked out an existence as “moulvi sahibs” teaching children to read the Quran.

The Afghan jehad changed everything. During the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, madrassas provided the U.S.-Saudi-Pakistani alliance the cannon fodder needed for fighting a holy war. The Americans and the Saudis, helped by a more-than-willing General Zia, funded new madrassas across the length and breadth of Pakistan.

A detailed picture of the current s ituation is not available. But, according to the national education census, which the Ministry of Education released in 2006, Punjab has 5,459 madrassas followed by the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) with 2,843; Sindh 1,935; Federally Administrated Northern Areas (FANA) 1,193; Balochistan 769; Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) 586; FATA 135; and Islamabad capital territory 77. The Ministry estimates that 1.5 million students are getting religious education in the 13,000 madrassas.

These figures could be quite off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between 18,000 and 22,000 madrassas. The number of students could be correspondingly larger. The free room, board and supplies to students, form a key part of their appeal.

But the desire of parents across the country is for children to be “disciplined” and to be given a thorough Islamic education. This is also a major contributing factor.

For the rest of this article, please visit our website:  www.muslimobserver.com.

Madrassas have deeply impacted upon the urban environment. For example, until a few years ago, Islamabad was a quiet, orderly, modern city different from all others in Pakistan. Still earlier, it had been largely the abode of Pakistan’s hyper-elite and foreign diplomats. But the rapid transformation of its demography brought with it hundreds of mosques with multi-barrelled audio-cannons mounted on minarets, as well as scores of madrassas illegally constructed in what used to be public parks and green areas. Now, tens of thousands of their students with little prayer caps dutifully chant the Quran all day. In the evenings they swarm around the city, making bare-faced women increasingly nervous.

Women – the Lesser Species

Total separation of the sexes is a central goal of the Islamists. Two decades ago the fully veiled student was a rarity on Pakistani university and college campuses. The abaya was an unknown word in Urdu; it is a foreign import. But today, some shops in Islamabad specialise in abaya. At colleges and universities across Pakistan, female students are seeking the anonymity of the burqa. Such students outnumber their sisters who still dare show their faces.

While social conservatism does not necessarily lead to violent extremism, it does shorten the path. Those with beards and burqas are more easily convinced that Muslims are being demonised by the rest of the world. The real problem, they say, is the plight of the Palestinians, the decadent and discriminatory West, the Jews, the Christians, the Hindus, the Kashmir issue, the Bush doctrine, and so on. They vehemently deny that those committing terrorist acts are Muslims or, if faced by incontrovertible evidence, say it is a mere reaction to oppression. Faced with the embarrassment that 200 schools for girls were blown up in Swat by Fazlullah’s militants, they wriggle out by saying that some schools were housing the Pakistan Army, who should be targeted anyway.

Abdul Rehman/Reuters

This high school at Qambar in the Swat valley was among the 200 schools for girls destroyed by the S wat Taliban led by Mullah Fazlullah.

The Prognosis

The immediate future is not hopeful: increasing numbers of mullahs are creating cults around themselves and seizing control over the minds of worshippers. In the tribal areas, a string of new Islamist leaders have suddenly emerged: Sufi Mohammad, Baitullah Mehsud, Fazlullah, Mangal Bagh…. The enabling environment of poverty, deprivation, lack of justice, and extreme differences of wealth is perfect for these demagogues. Their gruesome acts of terror and public beheadings are still being perceived by large numbers of Pakistanis as part of the fight against imperialist America and, sometimes, India as well. This could not be more wrong.

The jehadists have longer-range goals. A couple of years ago, a Karachi-based monthly magazine ran a cover story on the terrorism in Kashmir. One fighter was asked what he would do if a political resolution were found for the disputed valley. Revealingly, he replied that he would not lay down his gun but turn it on the Pakistani leadership, with the aim of installing an Islamic government there.

Over the next year or two, we are likely to see more short-lived “peace accords”, as in Malakand, Swat and, earlier on, in Shakai. In my opinion, these are exercises in futility. Until the Pakistan Army finally realises that Mr. Frankenstein needs to be eliminated rather than be engaged in negotiations, it will continue to soft-pedal on counter-insurgency. It will also continue to develop and demand from the U.S. high-tech weapons that are not the slightest use against insurgents. There are some indications that some realisation of the internal threat is dawning, but the speed is as yet glacial.

Even if Mumbai-II occurs, India’s options in dealing with nuclear Pakistan are severely limited. Cross-border strikes should be dismissed from the realm of possibilities. They could lead to escalations that neither government would have control over. I am convinced that India’s prosperity – and perhaps its physical survival – demands that Pakistan stays together. Pakistan could disintegrate into a hell, where different parts are run by different warlords. Paradoxically perhaps, India’s most effective defence could be the Pakistan Army, torn and fractured though it may be. To convert a former enemy army into a possible ally will require that India change tack.

To create a future working alliance with the struggling Pakistani state, and in deference to basic democratic principles, India must be seen as genuinely working towards some kind of resolution of the Kashmir issue. It must not deny that the majority of Kashmiri Muslims are deeply alienated from the Indian state and that they desperately seek balm for their wounds. Else the forces of cross-border jehad, and its hate-filled holy warriors, will continue to receive unnecessary succour.
I shall end this rather grim essay on an optimistic note: the forces of irrationality will surely ca ncel themselves out because they act in random directions, whereas reason pulls in only one. History leads us to believe that reason will triumph over unreason, and humans will continue their evolution towards a higher and better species. Ultimately, it will not matter whether we are Pakistanis, Indians, Kashmiris, or whatever. Using ways that we cannot currently anticipate, people will somehow overcome their primal impulses of territoriality, tribalism, religion and nationalism. But for now this must be just a hypothesis.

Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy is Professor and Chairman of the Physics Department, Qaid-e Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.

11-13

Yamli’s Powerful Arabic Search Engine Continues To Innovate

December 16, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Jason Kincaid, TechCrunch on December 15, 2008

Yamli, the Arabic transliteration search engine that allows users to easily search for Arabic phrases using their Latin keyboards, has launched a revamped version of its site that introduces a number of enhancements, including a way to automatically search for phonetically similar words that are spelled differently – a significant feature that could further bolster Yamli’s position in this still-fledgling space.

Because there is no ‘correct’ way to convert Arabic to Latin text, most words have multiple possible spellings (a fact readily visible on most major news networks). In the past Yamli has tried to automatically pick the best possible spelling, but these searches often missed out on possible relevant matches that used alternate spellings.

Yamli co-founder Habib Haddad says that search engines like Google can already correct for this for popular queries (especially names) using databases of alternative spellings, but that these are generally determined by human linguists and don’t work on less common or more generic words. Haddad says that using the millions of search queries that have been conducted on Yamli since its launch, the site can automatically determine synonymous words without any human intervention.

The new version of Yamli also introduces image search powered through Microsoft’s Live Search API, video search from YouTube, and Wikipedia search (the main text search is still powered by Google). Yamli has also added a two-column view that presents English and Arabic matches simultaneously (the two languages are separated because they are read in opposite directions).

There are a few other players in this space, including Onkosh and Google’s own competing service.