CUNY Research: The Revolution’s Agenda

Posted: March 21, 2012 in Biz, CUNY Research, Tech
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Name of Project: Agenda25

Country: Egypt

Key Players: Hesham el-Gamal (Founder), Karim Said (Co-Founder)

Type: Mobile Application (Personalized News Aggregator)

Founding date: December 2011

Website: http://www.agenda25.com/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/agenda25

Twitter Handle: @agenda25

Revenue model: Licensing personalized aggregation technology

Next Steps: Live news ticker, advanced features, specialized news aggregation and creating knowledge based interaction 

The rapidly evolving scene in Egypt with major developments happening every day left the deeply-engaged Egyptians, mostly from the youth, tired of following the news of their revolution. They just can’t keep up with all the overflow of information from media sources whether from digital media and social networks, print media or TV.

Hesham el-Gamal found an opportunity in this hunger for news. Hesham who teaches in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Ohio State University, co-invented an artificial technology through which content will be aggregated by author or newspaper to be more of a digest with news stories and opinion pieces. This digest will then be personalized and customized according to each user’s preferences of each medium and will be available to easily navigate on mobile phones.

The mobile application was developed in December 2011 by Hesham and Karim Said, a PhD student in Nile University in Egypt. Hesham left Ohio for his sabbatical year in 2007 which he spent at the Center for Wireless Communication at Nile University. There, he met Karim and now he’s supervising Karim’s PhD.

The current features of the free mobile application allow users to choose which platforms or mediums to follow (blogs, videos, Facebook Feeds, Tweets). Users also can determine the amount of news and videos cached choosing from three different following levels of high, moderate and low. If a user finds a particular news story important, he may select the “Will get more” button for more related stories to the topic. Users can also clip preferred stories and add them to the customized “Your Agenda” to read later.

Advanced features will be added soon to increase interactivity as Hesham says. Among the new features is a like and dislike button, possibility of blocking content from certain sources or preferring some sources to follow. There will also be a live news ticker.

“Arabic content on the web is very fragmented and disorganized. We aim to organize it through our technology”, Hesham says.

It took Hesham a year to develop the platform at his company Inmobly. Working between Egypt and the United States, Hesham developed two business models for his company in each. The first would target the Middle East and depends on the personalization packages which he could supply clients with. One possible client is DarenDeal, the leading daily deal website on the best things to do, see, eat, and buy in a variety of cities across Egypt. They can then customize their deals when targeting customers. Same thing can happen with Al-Jazeera news disseminated via mobile subscriptions.

For North America, Hesham has an effective technology for content delivery to save bandwidth. The idea is to get the content delivered through the Wi-Fi to save money. This is already applied in Agenda25 which automatically pre-fetches content over Wi-Fi and/or 3G networks.

Agenda25 has Arabic support for non-Arabic enabled devices and the content is pre-fetched on mobiles to be always available, even when users are offline. It will also automatically learn the user’s preferences and interests through the articles read.

Regionally speaking, There is no competitor to Agenda25 when it comes to the personalized aggregator. There is, however, another news aggregator website that also developed a mobile application called Akhbarak (Your News). But internationally, there is the News Republic, Zeit and Flipboard who do personalized aggregation, yet, they don’t have bandwidth efficiency, Hesham explains.

Aside from the news, Agenda25 also spreads political awareness introducing users to political definitions and information related to Egyptian articles and news.

The application was downloaded on nearly 20,000 mobile phones since last December on BlackBerry, iphone, ipad and Android. Hesham was smart enough with choosing the name (Agenda25) which young Egyptians could relate to easily since the ousted regime used to claim the revolutionaries were only conspiring against the country accusing them of having a ‘hidden agenda’. People would later make fun of the ‘hidden agenda and conspiracy claims saying “We are the ones with the agenda” like one banner of Agenda25 says. 25 refers to the day of the Egyptian uprising in January 2011.

So far, the costs were covered by a grant from the Egyptian Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) and a partnership with Qatar University’s Wireless Innovations Center (QUWIC).

“We are in the phase to generate revenue funds from venture capitals”, Hesham notes. Immobly has attracted Silicon Valley as well as an angel investor from Qatar to get in the business.

In a smart move, Hesham plans to expand in the specialized content packages going beyond news and politics to sports, religion and finance. Such a step will, no doubt, attract more specialized audience who do not have many alternatives to follow their desired content.

But good ideas do not stop here; Hesham is talking to some public figures trying to convince them to share their readings with the public creating a social layer around the news. Young Egyptians already share and comment on readings on social networks but through this platform Hesham wants to launch, ordinary people will be socially connected to public figures based on knowledge interaction.

“Middle Easterners do not have the same privacy concern as Americans. On the opposite, they find it flattering to share what they’re doing”, Agenda25 Founder says.

Initial talks were successful with people like the famous Writer Alaa al-Aswany, MP and Founder of Sawy Cultural Wheel Mohamed al-Sawy and Politician Ayman Nour.

This knowledge interaction is expected to generate high traffic once launched and will be by far one of the most successful online networks that are native-born.

This research was done based on Skype calls with founders of and co-founders of booming digital media start-ups in the Arab world. Interviews were conducted in February and March 2012 originally for Tow Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York (CUNY).

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Comments
  1. Agenda25 sounds like a fascinating project, Hanan. Thanks for sharing this. I like his idea of creating a “social layer” around news. Have any more details emerged on that element of the project?

  2. hanansolayman says:

    Not yet. I talked to the Founder couple of weeks ago for this post.

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