No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

By Seymour, Richard | The Middle East, January 2014 | Go to article overview

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch


Seymour, Richard, The Middle East


THERE ARE BILLIONS OF WEBPAGES populating the World Wide Web, a figure that grows rapidly, offering us ever more information by the day. The downside of this is that when we want to find something, no matter how obscure, we are presented with thousands of possibilities, in a fraction of a second, all conveniently arranged in the order an algorithm thinks is most relevant to us.

So quick and easy is finding what we want on the Web however, few of us ever consider the technology behind the process or the power of the search engines we use over so many aspects of our lives that pervades so much of what we do and how we think.

What search engines do is seek to understand you better than you understand yourself. To understand and to anticipate your needs before you realise you have them. A company like Google can and does use data acquired from your web history garnered from a host of services they provide from email to buying music and, arguably, doing this better than any other company.

Google has come to dominate the search engine market. The primary reason for this is that they are very good at what they promise to do. Their search algorithm is widely regarded as being the most sophisticated of any of their competitors, and they have been better than anyone else at monetising their product. Attracting hundreds of millions of people to a webpage is one thing, but as many failed dotcom enterprises have found, making money from them is quite another.

Nothing is free of charge on the Web, despite how it may appear. If you are not parting with money you are handing over information, which is then turned into money. This is done most commonly through advertising that is targeted at you based on your search history, keywords in the emails you write and so on.

Web advertising is a growing market all over the world and the situation is no different in the Middle East. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau search ads generated $16.9bn globally in 2012. This figure does not include mobile search ads which themselves accounted for $8.9bn over the same period. Mobile search revenues are expected to be the main area of growth over the coming years, which is expected by IT research company Gartner to reach 24.5bn in 2016.

Google is the search engine of choice in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia is has a 95% market share according to data collected by Clicky Web Analytics and in Egypt as much as 97%.

The number of web users in the region however, is still low compared to elsewhere. So Google's share is of a relatively small number. The potential for growth gives hope to its competitors who are moving into the region to attract new users as the sector expands, which it is predicted to do.

Yahoo! bought Maktoob.com in 2009 and through this acquisition is seeking to succeed in areas that in north America and Europe it has essentially given up on. Maktoob is already a very successful news site but plans are for it to develop as a dedicated Arabic media hub, which will provide access to Arabic-language films, TV shows and music videos. …

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No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
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