Yahoo! Licenses Platform To Reach Out To The Arab Web

We’re currently used to more drama-oriented stories coming out of Yahoo!, but that doesn’t mean business hasn’t entirely halted there.

Yamli is a service which offers a smart Arabic keyboard that allows users who type in Latin characters to find -in real-time – the most accurate equivalent Arabic term. It debuted in 2007 but has become an important part of a market which serves hundreds of millions of users worldwide. The platform also offers services to help navigating the ‘Arabic web’.

Today Yahoo has acquired a license to use Yamli for its Arabic service, Yahoo! Maktoob, which will see it integrate Yamli’s existing technologies into a new product, “3arrebni,” or “Arabize me” in other words. This will be featured on Maktoob’s homepage will be integrated into Yahoo! Messenger, Yahoo! Mail in Arabic, Yahoo! Search, and Yahoo! Maktoob Forums as well as in the comments section of media products such as Yahoo! Maktoob News.

The move marks a pivot for Yamli away from consumer services into B2b. It’s a nice deal for Yamli and a way to scale in the Arab world for the ailing Yahoo but a far cry form the acquisition we predicted might happen in 2010. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Since about 60% of Arabic-speaking Internet users dislike using an Arabic keyboard, many users have to use a Latin keyboard for their jobs or school, which makes the keyboards impractical. That means they have adopted a phonetic web language that spells out Arabic words with Latin letters. So Yamli lets users enter words phonetically into a special text box that displays a list of matching words that are written in Arabic. This allows them to keep using their Latin keyboard, without having the resulting text look like rubbish. And although there are around 22 dialects in the Arab world, Yamli can deal with multiple different phonetic spellings.

Yamli claims to have 5 million words pushed though its platform a day day, mostly from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Jordan.

Co-founder Habib Haddad, now CEO of Wamda, says its a nice continuation of Yahoo!’s reputation amongst startups in the region which is established when it acquired Maktoob.

The company launched an Arabic frontend to Google in November 2007, and released an API in March 2008.