Take Emirates' pulse, with a click

Google's newest release, Insights, has thrown open a window onto the shifting culture of the UAE.

Undated handout still from the hit Turkish soap opera Noor.
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // Internet users will literally be able to "view" trends in the UAE thanks to new technology launched by Google yesterday. Google Insights, a query-tracking application, shows that the word "forbidden", toys and a popular Turkish soap opera are among the most popular searches by UAE computer users over the last four years. In addition to providing unprecedented insights into internet culture in the country, the technology gives a clear view for the first time of how trends are developing in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Husni al Khuffash, the UAE manager for Google, said: "It is done on a global scale, so it is very interesting to be able to follow trends and see what is popular. "It is like the zeitgeist, showing both trends and the thinking of people. It is very, very informative to people in one particular country to be able to show what is interesting and important to them." Mr Khuffash said the application could help businesses follow what people are thinking at any given time, for example, helping them analyse how their products are being received in the marketplace.

Insights could also provide detailed statistics to the motor trade on what car buyers on the internet were placing greatest emphasis on: car safety, performance or fuel efficiency. The system also allows advertisers to track the proliferation of key words, for example a new product, across the world to see where it is becoming popular. The most popular search term in the UAE in the last four years is, perhaps unsurprisingly, "Dubai", although that word would more often than not be used alongside others. "Abu Dhabi" is not even in the top 10. Other search words that feature in the top 10 include" "Yahoo", "Emirates", and "games", all in English. Popular searches in Arabic include "chatrooms", "pictures", "music" and "toys".

But it's Insight's list of "rising searches" that may offer the best picture of internet culture in the UAE. Google reports an explosion of interest in searching for the Arabic word "mahroom", or forbidden, in the past four years. To the untrained eye, this may suggest an alarming attraction to information about illegal activities. In reality, however, Mahroom is the name of an Emirati youth website that allows people to meet on chatrooms and share music.

Further glimpses into the thriving web lives of Emirati youth are given in the fastest rising searches of 2008. There has been an increase of more than 320 per cent in the number of searches so far this year, compared to the corresponding period in 2007, for Jumeirahmoon, a youth file-sharing and social site run from the UAE featuring chatrooms, music videos and advertisements. A similar site, Dubaimoon, also features among the front runners.

By far the biggest rising search in the UAE this year, however, is for Noor, the Turkish soap opera that has boomed in popularity over the last two months. Searches for the title in the UAE increased by more than 5,000 per cent this year compared to last. A global "heat map" showing the source of the most searches for Noor indicates that Pakistani web users are the biggest fans of the soap, closely followed by Tunisians, Lebanese and Moroccans, with Emiratis eighth. Sweden, bizarrely, is more interested in Noor than Turkey.

Mr Khuffash said: "It is an easy way for people to see what others are looking at, what they are thinking about, what they are interested in. "It opens up their eyes to other things that are happening around them. And it is uniting the whole country, and showing what the country is interested in as a whole. "For me personally, I am interested to know what people in Saudi Arabia or the UK, for example, are looking at at this moment. And when a big event happens like, for example, Fly Dubai starting, you will be able to track its popularity, and where it is most popular."

While Noor is also one of the biggest rising searches in the last 30 days in the UAE, the biggest breaking news story in the country has claimed considerably more interest. Before the end of last month, there was relatively little online interest in the UAE in Suzan Tamim, the Lebanese singer. Following her slaying in her Dubai apartment on July 28, searches for her name on Google in the UAE increased by several thousand per cent. Interest in articles about her death has been limited to Lebanon, the UAE, Turkey and Germany.

Insights also lets users follow trends over a period of time in individual cities, with searches for "A380" increasing almost 10-fold in the UAE in the week Emirates Airline received the jumbo plane. Almost all the hits, however, were from Dubai and not Abu Dhabi. In the week of the launch of The National in April, searches for the title increased by more than 10 times across the UAE, and slightly more so in Abu Dhabi than Dubai.

Over the last year, there have been many more searches for "picasso +emirates +palace" in Dubai than in Abu Dhabi. In the last month, there have been only marginally more searches for "Dubai" in Abu Dhabi than there have been searches for "Abu Dhabi" in Dubai. Perhaps the strangest fact revealed by the new program is that, outside of the UAE, central London, Singapore and Doha, the place conducting the most searches for "Abu Dhabi" is Brentford, a suburb of west London.

The website can be found at www.google.com/insights/search @Email:rhughes@thenational.ae