One of the many frustrations Arabic speaking Internet users like myself have is that when we want to write in Arabic we either don’t have access to an Arabic keyboard or we do have the keyboard but are so used typing in English that it is very cumbersome and slow to actually write in Arabic. What ends up happening when we want to communicate in Arabic is that we use English letters to spell out Arabic words phonetically. You see this all the time on Internet chats and forums. This workaround does reasonably well in those contexts, but when it comes to searching the Arabic web it’s ineffective because the same Arabic word may be spelled in several ways using English letters.
Internet startup Yamli, which was co-founded by Habib Haddad and fellow MIT grad Imad Jureidini, has come up with what I think is an excellent solution to this problem. The Arabic words are still spelled out phonetically using English letters, but Yamli uses some nifty Ajax to communicate with their servers and determine the Arabic word you are trying to spell on the fly. The suggestions appear in a little drop down below the word that you are typing similar to how Google’s suggestions appear when you are searching for something on the web. Using this technology they’ve created a front-end to Google search that makes it incredibly easy to search the web in Arabic. They’ve also built a standalone editor where you can write some text in a similar manner and then copy-paste that text into an email or a document.
I tried doing a search for “madrast ilmushaghibeen” – which is a famous Arabic comedy. Yamli immediately recognized each word as I was typing it and suggested the corresponding word spelt using Arabic letters. I hit enter and got relevant links pointing to YouTube clips of the play. I then tried out the editor and it worked with more complex words too – it even spelled out my name correctly on the first try!
All in all, it’s an easy-to-use and very effective solution to the problem of interfacing with the Arabic web, which is one of the fastest growing segments on the Internet today. Great job guys!