Category Archives: Technology

DevAppLB PitchFest

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zain

There’s an increasing number of Lebanese coming up with new ideas and mobile apps but most of them lack the proper funding to execute their idea or develop and promote their app. PitchFest is an opportunity for startups to get support to develop and launch their apps using the touch Cloud. [What is Touch Cloud]

I think this is a nice idea to help developers and app startups get support to rapidly develop and have their ideas up and running, plus Touch’s 2 million customers would be a great start to promote your app. Some developers might not be comfortable using a tool set that is controlled by Touch but it could prove very helpful in my opinion.

Here’s some info on how to apply and the prizes offered:

In order to apply for the PitchFest you should already have a basic demo of your app or a solid markup/wireframe, and a basic business plan for your app. Your app should be built using some element of the touch Cloud BaaS (Backend-as-a-Service), or you must be willing to adapt your app during the acceleration period to use some element of touch Cloud, and be geared (at least partially) to serve the Lebanese mobile market. Bonus points for apps that somehow contribute to building a better Lebanon. Full details & apply [Here].

Prizes:
Top 3 Winning teams will EACH get:
- $5000 in cash to develop their app and startup business
- 3 months incubation at AltCity
- Technical support from touch Cloud and Apstrata
- 50% discounts to attend Cisco Entrepreneur Institute workshops
- Free job listings & media visibility/adverts at Bayt.com
- Free media visibility through T3 and Wamda
- Free T3 subscriptions (up to 3 per team)
In addition to all those awesome prizes, the team that ranks FIRST will win a Samsung Smartphone for each team-member! (up to 3)
First and second place winners get WamdaCards.

Deadline for applying to Pitchfest is March 29.
Key Dates:
Mar 29 (Fri): Deadline to apply to Pitchfest
Mar 30-April 5: Pitchfest selection, and light supports for Pitchfest applicants & finalists
Apr 6: Pitchfest! Pitching & Final Selection!
Mid-Apr to mid-July: Acceleration program

There will be other competitions like the DEVAPPLB Hackathon which you can also check [Here].

I honestly believe we need a lot more apps in Lebanon, specially useful ones and not just games and news/gun fires/bombings/accidents reporting apps.

First Look at the 4G Pilot

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SpeedTest performed inside the Touch building on the 4G enabled device

After my post yesterday, I got an email from one of the winners of the 4G dongles who gave me further details on the pilot phase and the testing tools that he received.

Basically you will receive a detailed email from Touch Lebanon asking you to come to Beirut Touch Service Center and receive 4G testing tools (New Sim card + 4G enabled device) along with a feedback form. Upon activation of the 4G pilot, the user will benefit from 4G coverage in limited areas in Beirut with a 3GB data limit per month for a period of 3 months. If you exceed the 3GB consumption limit in the third month, the service will be deactivated.

Pilot launch will start on March 18th 2013 and end on June 18th 2013.

photo 2

The device you get is a Huawei Ascend P1 LTE which looks like a decent Android smartphone to test on. I assume you can use your own phone if it supports 4G.

You can see below a SpeedTest screenshot back when 3G pilot phase was launched in September 2011. The 4G Download and Upload speeds are almost 3 times as better but I expected the speeds to be much higher than that to be honest. I don’t have a 4G dongle yet but I am hoping to get one next week.

Many thanks to Mark for the pictures and information.

MENA Internet Usage & Consumption Habits by Ipsos

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ipsos
Internet Population Vs. Internet Penetration [High-Res]

Ipsos MENA had a very interesting presentation yesterday at ArabNet covering statistics related to internet penetrations, internet usage and consumption habits in the region. For those of you who don’t know, Ipsos is the 3rd largest market research firm in the world with over 5000 clients worldwide and a direct presence in 85 countries. Ipsos MENA is the leading market research company in the region with over 800 clients and covering more than 20 countries.

I was able to get my hands on the presentation (Thank you Dalia) and thought I share with you some interesting stats related to Lebanon:

- Lebanon ranks 5th in terms of internet penetration in the region, with 56%. UAE, Kuwait and Qatar are in the first three positions, with 75%, 64% and 61% respectively.

- Reading news online is the top consumed type of media in all countries except ksa where online TV consumption dominates.

- Penetration of social networks in Lebanon stands at 47%, compared to 88% in Jordan, 79% in Egypt, 73% in the UAE and 68% in Saudi Arabia.

- Penetration of e-commerce among Internet users is 9% in Lebanon, 35% in Kuwait and 46% in UAE.

- The top products purchased on line in Lebanon are clothes (38%), Airline tickets (11%) and Hotel bookings (11%).

- Penetration of Smartphones in Lebanon: 36% vs. 63% in KSA and 61% in UAE.

- Penetration of online streaming across Internet Users in Lebanon: 23% only (Series, Movies, Music Videos).

- 38% of Internet users download online in Lebanon. 86% download music.

- Penetration of Electronic Games among total population: 37% in Lebanon vs. 40% in Jordan which is the highest. We are obviously hooked on games here.

online [High-Res]

It’s quite sad to see horoscopes as being in the top 3 online contents of interest in Lebanon.

Update on the 4G Pilot Dongles

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3.9G – Almost there.

Even though the winners of the 200 4G Dongles were announced a month ago, the dongles were not yet distributed. I was told we might have them by the end of the month but it’s not confirmed yet. I also had a quick chat with two guys from Alfa Telecom yesterday who told me the pilot phase should kick off very soon, knowing that the date of the commercial launch set by Minister Sehnaoui is April 23rd 2013. Technically speaking, pilot phase (assuming it’s one month only) should begin tomorrow if we are hoping to have 4G by April.

Back when the 3G was launched, the pilot phase was great but the few months that followed were not so well. Having said that, I don’t mind delaying the 4G launch until the infrastructure is ready and all issues are resolved. In the mean time, it would be a good idea to double the 3G caps as promised.

I will keep you posted with any updates.

PayPal soon in Lebanon

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Update: I just noticed Mustapha already mentioned the good news.

I met two guys from PayPal at the ArabNet conference today and they informed me that Lebanon will soon be authorized on PayPal (They didn’t say how soon though). I asked them whether Lebanon is blocked due to political reasons and they said that it is not related and that there are many countries in the Middle East not yet allowed to use the service. In fact, even Russia is not yet on their authorized countries’ list but will be very soon.

ArabNet Beirut 2013 Kicks off today!

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beirut-top

ArabNet is considered the hub for Arab digital professionals and entrepreneurs to connect and learn and has been a success for the past two years.

ArabNet Beirut’s third edition is set to kick off today with a lot of exciting speakers and competitions. This year’s focus will be on the “creative digital sectors and on promoting the idea of Lebanon as a hub for creative production” as per Arabnet’s founder Omar Christidis.

I will personally take part as an official blogger for ArabNet and I am looking forward to see the new startups this year. There are 3 competitions to look for, the Startup Demo Competition, the Ideathon and the Creative Combat. You can check out the official agenda [Here] and the evening program [Here].

If you want to follow updates throughout the day, follow me on twitter [LeNajib]

How to report harassing phone calls or text messages in Lebanon?

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harassment-text630
Picture taken from Ibnlive

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about girls getting harassed “textually” by unknown men either through WhatsApp or other messaging service. Only last week, 2 friends of mine showed me messages they are getting from these random guys, sometimes accompanied with naked pictures or love songs. One of them even proposed to marry her and sent her his own picture (even though she never answered him back and always ignored his calls).

I know that the best way is to just ignore these people but sometimes it can go on for weeks and the same person could be using several numbers which is why I think there should be an easy way to report such harassment acts and catch the people doing this. It’s not funny when a married woman gets a naked picture of another man on her phone or gets offered money in return for sex from a total stranger. The annoying part is that once that person knows your number, there are many ways he can reach you.

Having said that, and based on what I’ve been told, the legal way to approach a harassment is by either going to the nearest Office of Public Prosecutions and filing a complaint or talking to a lawyer. Another “illegal” way is to have someone call the guy and pretend they are from the ISF Information Branch or Army intelligence Officers but I wouldn’t recommend it. In fact, the reason I know about this illegal method is because someone tried to do that with a well-connected relative of mine and ended up getting caught along with the guy he hired. Of course the girl can always call the guy or have her brother or boyfriend or father call him and warn him but that’s not the proper way to deal with it.

Back to the main topic, I think there should be a hotline or website shared by the police and Telecom ministry dedicated to reporting harassing phone calls and texts. That way, people who are getting harassed will avoid the hassle to hire a lawyer or going to the Office of Public Prosecutions for a small yet serious matter.

All they would have to do on the website for example is to submit a form accompanied with screenshots and the people in charge of this website or hotline would double check the information and then block the line or trace it to its owner and arrest him. If they report it via the hotline, the number would get a warning call.

I will submit this request to Minister Sehnaoui since he’s the current Telecom Minister and other concerned parties to see if there’s anything they can do about it.

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Here’s a screenshot I got from a friend who got this message from some unknown number. The conversation dragged a bit before she blocked him.

My Nominations for The Social Media Awards

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The Social Media Awards are happening for the first time in Lebanon and I thought it would be fun to share my nominations for the various categories listed. Before that, here’s how the selection process will occur:

Stage 1: Online Nominations
Members of the online community nominate candidates for different categories via our website www.SMABeirut.com. Users can nominate themselves, friends or an organization on business based on the criteria of each category. Their submission is accompanied by relevant material such as Facebook links, Twitter accounts, blogs and other platforms to support their candidates.

Stage 2: Judges Selection
Based on the nominations received, our team of experienced and celebrity judges from different backgrounds will be narrowing down the nominations in each category to seven (7) nominees within two weeks of closure of nominations. The whole process will be carried out in pure transparency and an announcement event will be held for the press and online community.

Stage 3: Final Vote
Members of the online community are asked to vote for their preference in each category over a period of one month. During this period, nominees will be able to campaign for obtaining votes.

Stage 4: Awards Ceremony
An awards ceremony will be held for over 750 invitees from digital agencies, VIPs and online influencers with entertainment, key guest appearances, and VIP guests bringing Oscar-like award glamour to social media. [SMABeirut]

I took a look at the judges’ list and the ones they chose are more than qualified for this job, with 1 or 2 exceptions which I will not name. One thing that I would have done differently is narrow down the nominations to 4, as I think 7 is too much.

Anyway back to the nominations, here it goes:

Best Blog of the Year
Beirut Spring: I’ve always been astounded by the insights Mustapha provides on the Lebanese society and Lebanon in general despite being abroad. He is concise, convincing, methodical and is among the very few bloggers that I agree with almost always. Oh and he never misses a chance to throw in a new term in every post and make me look for it online.

Best News Blog
Hummus Nation – The good thing about Hummus Nation is that his news are always reliable because he makes them up.

Best Lifestyle Blog
L’armoire De Lana – Lana has been pulling an impressive job ever since she launched her fashion blog. She’s posting daily, tweeting all day long, uploading pictures all the time. She’s doing it right and she totally deserves it.

Best Technology Blog
Tech-Ticker – A website founded by a group of Lebanese Technology enthusiasts covering the latest tech news and reviewing the most recent tech products.

Best Personal Blog
Gino’s Blog – Gino is truly commited to his blog and it shows through his posts. His views on certain topics are as far as they come from the conservative “Lebanese” thinking yet he manages to convince his readers most of the time. Neuromarketing at its best.

Most Engaging Media Personality
Magazine: RagMag’s Editor in Chief Fida Chaaban.
She devotes a lot of times to social media and interacting with readers and that’s not something easy to pull. In fact I don’t think I know any other media personality as devoted as her.

Best Performer
Nemr Abou Nassar: He was funnier when he started and I didn’t like his latest shows but he’s doing a great job online and deserves that award. The problem is here very few performers in Lebanon are active online to begin with.

Best Vocal Artist (Non-Arabic)
Tania Kassis

Most Creative Instagram Account
Mark

Most Viral YouTube Video
I would have loved to say Buzz but it turned out to be a copycat from an old US commercial. I’ll go with LebaneseBrew’s Try Something Brave.

Most Engaging Tweep
TrellaLB

Most Engaging Celebrity on Twitter
Celebrities in Lebanon have no idea how to use Twitter.

Most Engaging Media Personality on Twitter
TV/Journalist: Shada Omar.
Despite having almost 100,000 followers on Twitter, Shada dedicates time to almost everyone that interacts with her and is always interesting to talk to.

Most Engaging Diplomat on Twitter
HMA Tom Fletcher – If you wanna know why, read [this].

Best Business on Twitter
RagMag

Best Organization/NGO on Twitter
Donne Sang Compter

Best Pub/Bar
February30 and The Angry Monkey. The Angry Monkey’s last tweetup was the best I’ve been to in months and the place was packed. Bravo Jessy!

Best Restaurant, Café or Bakery
Roadster Diner and Zaatar W Zeit.

Best Hotel
Phoenicia Beirut.

Best Commercial District Account
LeMall

Best NGO/Community
Donner Sang Compter

Best Startup
Dermandar.

Lebanese Bloggers Reinvent the World: Catalyzing the Digital Spring in Lebanon

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world

I was reluctant to participate in this competition at first as I knew how far we are from realizing inventions such as Nano-Robots or flying cars, not because we lack the intellect or the brains, but because we lack the infrastructure and technical resources to do so. Nevertheless, optimism, transparency and perseverance are in my opinion good enough resources to drive any change or reform in Lebanon or in any country, provided that you have a pragmatic approach and a feasible plan.

Among the many challenges that Lebanon is faced with today, I believe the biggest and most important is the internet as we are missing out on a major digital revolution and have a lot to lose here. Added to that, and as so eloquently put by my friend Mustapha, skipping a technology generation might have “potentially disastrous consequences to the competitiveness of our workforce, a problem that not only is not being acknowledged but that we have absolutely no plans to address”.

My Idea
Having said that, what I want to propose is a 3-steps plan that will hopefully bring the internet revolution to the Lebanese community, more specifically to its young and promising generations, and at the same time speed the process of reform and increased transparency in the country. I am personally not a fan of big ideas, and I wouldn’t have proposed this if I didn’t think it was feasible on the short run and more importantly sustainable, knowing how complicated and corrupt things are in Lebanon. Added to that and this is quite sad, a good project initiated by one minister or government in Lebanon may be discontinued by the next one for pure political reasons, which is why I tried to involve the private sector as much as possible into my idea.

Step1: Come up with New ISP
Lebanon’s population is a young one just like most countries in the Middle East and those who are most affected by this technological gap nowadays are students in schools and universities as they are the ones who will be shaping the future of Lebanon and forming its new workforce. Having said that, the time required to upgrade all of Lebanon’s network and provide unlimited, abundant and cheap internet to all the Lebanese seems a bit far-fetched at the moment. At the same time, coming up with digital districts in Beirut strictly (to be followed by other districts in keys cities) will create a gap between the Lebanese themselves, in addition to the technological gap we are all living, which is unfair and unacceptable. For that purpose, I recommend creating a new ISP by the Telecom Ministry linked to a non-profit organization or entity. This ISP will be solely dedicated to serving educational settings at a first stage which I will discuss in Step2.

Step2: Turning Universities and Schools into Internet Villages
Schools and universities are the places where companies go to recruit young and promising talents and this is where we should have ASAP Innovation centers or internet villages equipped with the best material and the best internet out there. I am talking fiber optics, 4G connectivity, rooms for e-lectures and the latest laptops/servers/tablets. The role of the ISP created above will be to provide quick and unlimited internet on campuses and have them always up to date and coping with the digital revolution. The infrastructural requirements will be minimal at this point as the ministry will be catering to a relatively small crowd and the hardware and software equipments will be provided and sponsored (up to a certain percentage) by top-notch US companies. I believe we have enough contacts to get large corporations to provide us with their latest products for a competitive price, if not for free. It is very important here to have proper maintenance contracts with these companies in order not to end up with outdated pcs.

My idea will apply to both public and private establishments. These tech hubs will serve as a space for students to express their creativity, be innovative and follow up on what’s happening in the world.

Step3: Expand to Towns and Cities
I remember almost 10 years ago when internet was still very expensive, internet cafes started popping everywhere in Lebanon offering cheap prices. When internet prices were cut down, cafes started disappearing slowly. Similarly, people want high-speed connections these days and after providing them for free in universities and schools, municipalities should initiate such projects and have one tech center or more in their towns. There are tons of partnerships that can be done here to provide the equipment and e-learning courses could be provided as well to those interested.

To be honest, I am hoping by the time we reach this stage that our infrastructure will be ready to serve all the Lebanese fast, consistent and unlimited internet but if it is not the case, these centers will help speed this process up even further..

Conclusion: Technology is turbocharging transparency to fight corruption – Bono –
I posted few days ago about UK Ambassador in Lebanon Tom Fletcher’s views on the many challenges that await Lebanon and I was captivated by one of his quotes that went as follows:

How do you skip a technology generation? Traffic lights, the internet and electricity are great British inventions. Put them in, and the rest will follow – HA Tom Fletcher

The digital era is revolutionizing our societies and the rise of social media and its influence are turning countries upside down. The more internet is easily accessible and widespread in Lebanon, the more influential the online society is becoming and the bigger impact it is having on the decision-makers and people in power. Given that we are a young country and that the aspiring generations are the ones mostly hooked on social media tools and the internet, empowering them the soonest is a must in order to avoid irrevocable consequences and pave the way for ambitious and competitive innovations such as the proposed flying cars or robotized policemen. Trust me I would be the happiest person in the world if I could fly over traffic on my way to work everyday.

I’d like to hear your feedback on the above idea even if I am submitting this as is. I barely had a day to prepare this in order to meet the deadline, so I am sure there’s some room for improvement.

PS: This is my entry for the competition run by the Lebanese Telecom Ministry: “Lebanese Bloggers Reinvent The World”.

Dermandar Panorama voted World’s Best App at the World Summit Award for mobile content

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cedars [Cedars Panorama]

I’ve been using this app ever since it was launched and it’s very easy-to-use and cool. I even had the chance to meet one of its founders at a friend’s wedding. I have tons of panoramas to share which I will do sometime next week.

Dermandar, one of the hottest startups to come out of the Arab world this year, has just won the “World’s Best App” award in the Lifestyle and Entertainment category at the World Summit Award for mobile content. Dermandar Panorama was considered the “easiest-to-use panoramic picture app” by The Wall Street Journal. It has over 6 million downloads since its launch in 2011. [Wamda]

Who is behind Dermandar?
Dermandar is a Lebanese software company specialized in image processing. Founded by Elie-Gregoire Khoury and Elias Fadel Khoury, its main shareholders are Berytech Fund and George Harik, distinguished Engineer at Google.

About WSA-mobile
WSA mobile is a global initiative that awards local apps with global relevance. It selects outstanding mobile content and promotes it on a global congress in Abu Dhabi. All activities of the World Summit Award are conducted within the framework of the United Nations’ World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), mandated by the WSIS Plan of Action and executed in collaboration with UNESCO, UNIDO and UN DESA GAID. [Source]

Thumbs up on a job well done!

Dermandar is available on both iOS and Android. [Website]