Q&A with Waleed Saad, creator of EgyptFacebook

An interview with Waleed Saad, an Egyptian communications engineer who has created an Egyptian social networking website similar to Facebook.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: How did you get started on the project?

Waleed Saad: It all started in 2008. At that time I had an account on Facebook and I had lots of friends and did a lot of activities on the application. Then Facebook all of a sudden decided to close my account because I wanted to add a lot of friends in a short time. Perhaps Facebook considered me too meddlesome.

I then communicated with the Facebook administration and asked them to restore my account, but I just kept receiving an automated response saying that my account would not be reactivated.

Facebook does not erase deactivated accounts from its database, yet I had to accept the idea of losing all my data and contacts, knowing that their administration still had that information. As a result of this, I decided to create another social networking website better suited to the customs and traditions of Egypt and the Arab world.

Al-Masry: Did you anticipate the current volume of traffic to Egypt Facebook

Saad: Of course I never imagined it would gain acceptance so quickly. In fact, I was unwell at the time it was created and could not keep up with how things were progressing. But I was surprised by the traffic and did not know how all those people knew about my website, especially since I haven’t even advertised anywhere over the past two years.

Al-Masry: How did you think of the name?

Saad: I came up with the domain name in 2006, but I only thought about registering it in 2008 and was surprised to find out that the domain name was available. I expected that Facebook would bring legal action against me, especially after I knew that Facebook was prosecuting websites the names of which carried the words “Face” or “Book”.

Al-Masry: How are you going to react if you face trouble due to the resemblance in names?

Saad: I’m expecting a message from Facebook threatening legal action anytime.

Al-Masry: So is legal action by Facebook the only obstacle you expect to face?

Saad: Legal action by Facebook will be the major challenge. But the other obstacle is funding. Creating this website has already cost me US$5000.

Al-Masry: How do you see the response to your website in light of threats to block Facebook?

Saad: The website has been in existence for two years, over which time it gained 1000 members. In mid October however, the average number of new members reached 1000 per month. When I asked why this surge took place, I was told that a program on TV called Masr Enaharda (Egypt Today) prompted an avalanche of sarcastic comments on Twitter as people started to predict that the new alternative Facebook would be called EgyptFacebook. But then people were surprised to find that the website did in fact exist. This is when the traffic increased considerably.

Al-Masry: What do you say to those who claim the website is run by the state?

Saad: The server hosting my website is in the US, not in Egypt. Besides, I have no involvement in political activities nor am I a member of any political party. I have not contacted security services to approve the website, either.

Al-Masry: What do you think of the criticism of the website’s design?

Saad: This website represents an individual effort and is not another version of Facebook. I have not imitated Facebook, but rather attempted to avoid its defects and depended on freeware.

The website has its advantages too. A user can delete his or her own account, and in addition it allows the user to automatically create a watermark on his or her pictures to prevent their misuse.

Al-Masry: So do you believe you can compete with Facebook?

Saad: Not until my website becomes fully functional with its own administrative team that can deal with such a large number of users.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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