Islamic Facebook Salamworld prepares to launch
By Tousif Khan - Sun Jul 29, 6:06 pm
In the world of social media, Facebook has long been king, but one company says that the market is ripe for a coup from an unprecedented contender: a social media platform for Muslims, by Muslims. Indeed, Facebook’s user numbers have slumped of late. The website has been dropped by roughly 400,000 users in Turkey alone since March.
Yavuz Kurt is the PR director of Salamworld, a new social networking website founded on core Muslim values. Settling into a sofa in one of the company’s elegant reception rooms in Salamworld’s compound high above the Bosporus, he begins his pitch: “There are 250 million Muslim Facebook users who use that site because there is no halal alternative. We will provide this alternative.”
Salamworld’s creators believe that Facebook’s individual-centric system, promoting uninhibited sharing of pictures and personal information, is unappealing to Muslims. On Salamworld the emphasis will be not on the individual but on the “communities” that they join. A user’s profile will contain “badges” — links — connecting to the communities that they sign up to. The communities will be user-created and moderated. These communities will allow users to share what they feel is appropriate content with different groups — posting vacation pictures in a “Travel” community, for example. In this way, users will only share information relevant to the forums of the communities they join, eliminating the user-centric aspect of social networking. A five-tier filtration process will screen users from the “harmful content” of other leading social networking sites — content including everything from photos of girls in bikinis to provocative jokes about religious leaders.
Salamworld began widespread testing a few days ago, with plans to roll out in 17 countries by October. But is it really possible to construct commercially successful social media on the foundation of religious moral values? Projects based around similar premises have consistently flopped in the past. Godtube, a video-sharing website focused on promoting Christian content, was founded in Texas in 2007. Between 2007 and 2008 it was the fastest-growing website of its kind. However, in 2009 its popularity stagnated, and it lost 75 percent of its users. These days, Godtube still runs, but it’s far from being a dominant video-sharing site on the worldwide web.
Salamworld’s creators have heavyweight financial backing, with investment funding already secured for the first three years after the launch, but if they are to hit their ambitious target of 50 million users within the first five years, they will have to find a way of maintaining interest in the site after the initial waves of user curiosity have subsided. Although Rotolo is skeptical of the site’s prospects of “becoming the dominant or preferred social network for Muslims,” he does believe that “Salamworld can succeed in attracting a large number of visitors.”
Salamworld circumvents the potential problem of deciding how much personal information is too much by encouraging users to only share information with specific groups as opposed to creating personal profiles. Kurt feels that this emphasis on community rather than on the individual “will boost Salamworld and will make it successful.” In fact, “community”-based social networking will also appeal to businesses: By joining a community, a business will be able to easily access the niches of a Muslim market growing at a staggering rate.
Salamworld’s eventual success or failure will help to reveal what current social media options like Facebook mean to the Muslim world, particularly to young people. As Gere says, “What’s interesting about Salamworld is that it is predicated on the idea of [religious] identity — I am on Salamworld as a Muslim.” Whether Muslims will want to join small Islam-based communities, or if they see a benefit in a system like Facebook’s that encourages profile identity building through sharing information, remains to be seen.