Orientation is dedicated to developing and connecting Internet communities in the cyberworld beyond North America and Western Europe, its aim is to help people explore this world thoroughly and easily.
As we move into the 21st century, the Internet is going to change. What was once a very American phenomenon is finally living up to its name, The World Wide Web. In Asia, South America, Eastern Europe, The Middle East, The South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, the Internet is gaining tremendous momentum, and very soon the US market, though large and always of significance, will be eclipsed by the rest of the world, both in size, and rate of growth.
However, the portal services that have been available to Internet users in these regions have been heavily US-centric. Many of the larger names have installed mirror sites, most commonly in Europe and Asia, but these have often been just that, mirror sites, repainted on the outside but the same old product on the inside. Poorer countries have been discriminated against as big name portals go only for the more advanced markets.
Orientation believes that the big search engines have underestimated how important it is to have regional portal services in these emerging Internet markets as accurate and as developed as their American counterparts. Orientation is developing a series of regional and country Internet portals, which share common technology, design and navigation, but with content that is uniquely individual to the region or country it serves.
Currently Orientation offers regional services for Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Central & Eastern Europe, Oceania, and Latin America & the Caribbean. It is also working with local country partners across five continents to develop country and metro Orientation gateways, operating as separate entities but encompassed within the global view of Orientation.
It is developing a worldwide network of country gateways in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America & the Caribbean, Oceania, and Central and Eastern Europe. By combining our advanced product design and technical experience with our partner’s local market knowledge we can produce the best localised Internet portal services. Many such country versions are underway and there are many more opportunities for partners to join us in this exciting venture.
As everyone knows, the Internet has no shortage of search engines, databases and directories. Yet, in spite of this wealth of resources, context is hard to come by. Most offer a generalized archive that tries to index the Internet but lack an obvious focus. Searching is easy, finding less so.
Located at http://www.orientation.com, Orientation is no mere search engine, database or directory. It is an Internet gateway, whereby one can discover anything and everything about the developing Internet nations outside North America and Western Europe. Orientation currently features information on 133 countries, all those regions where the Internet is swiftly emerging, spread out over four main areas – Asia, Africa, Eastern and Central Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. (Asia will later expand to include Australia and New Zealand, and the Middle East will also be added.)
Orientation is created, developed, designed and hosted by The Black Box. In fact, this later was founded in Hong Kong in 1995 to offer an Internet service and regional portal to the Chinese population in its native language. The Black Box is an Asian leading Web publishing company. Beginning in early 1996 as a pan-Asian search directory, the site had undergone several refinements within the past two years. The official launch of the new Orientation, on July 1, 1998, marked the unveiling of a product rare and unique to Internet culture.
In 1999, Orientation decided to open its portal in Morocco in partnership with Morocco Trade and Development Services (MTDS).
I have been brought to actively contribute to the production, the research, the creation, and the launch of the Moroccan Orientation portal beginning from October 1999 to January 2000. In the following report, you will be able to learn more about the partnership, the product, the managerial strategies, and my recommendations deducted from my work experience in the field.
I- Presentation : Companies and Partnership
Morocco Trade and Development Services S.A. is a telecommunications consulting firm located in Rabat, Morocco. It is the premier Internet Services Provider in Morocco currently providing dial-up and leased line services in Rabat, Casablanca, Kenitra, and Tangiers.
MTDS is American owned and managed and was founded in October 1993 by Jim Lowenthal (31 January 1946 – 25 July 1998), a fifteen year Senior Foreign Service Officer (USAID). The company has become known for its quality of service in the Internet sector in Morocco since it installed the first Internet node in November 1995 at the Al Akhawayne University of Ifrane, followed in January 1996 by the first public access dial-up service in Morocco.
As well as being an Internet Services Provider, MTDS offers a wide range of computer solutions. These include hardware and software sales, the planning and implementation of anything from small shared modem Internet access to large corporate Intranet solutions and the design and publishing of anything from personal to large-scale complex dynamic web sites.
MTDS also acts as consultant to African telecom companies. As a result of its success in the field of connectivity, the US Government selected the company to serve as senior consultants in the implementation of the Leland Initiative, an ambitious project to assist 22 African countries in establishing Internet infrastructure and access. To date, the company has installed Internet nodes in Mali, Madagascar, Mozambique, Guinea-Conakry, Benin, and the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire).
Headquarters in New York City, Orientation.com (http ://www.orientation.com) is the world’s first global network of licensed local and regional multi-lingual Internet portal sites, offering the most relevant country and region-specific information available on he World Wide Web. The Orientation.com network provides globally focused business people, tourists, expatriates, students, and technology-savvy individuals with up-to-the minute, local and global news and entertainment information.
Orientation.com has been able to deliver on this global promise with its unique, proprietarity software that supports both single and double-byte fonts – a technology that allows users to easily chat, email ,or lead a discussion group in their local language or in English without downloading separate programs or fonts. The technology also enables users to brows for information across the Orientation.com network of sites, and search the World Wide Web in their local language and in English. Orientation.com also offers free multi-lingual email, breaking local and regional news, reviews of local content by local readers, travel information, weather, discussion and chat.
Through its partnerships with the United Nations and other organizations focusing on sustainable economic development, Orientation.com has been instrumental in developing Internet communities in countries outside of Western Europe and the United States. Orientation.com has also expanded its reach through its licensing system, using Internet Service Providers in each country to provide locally produced, locally relevant content, while offering them access to a global network, the newest technology, and a worldwide audience. Orientation.com uses its innovative portal franchise to keep informed about what matters most to people from each region while running a lean, cost-effective operation.
Since its inception in 1998, Orientation has launched regional portals in Africa, Asia, Central/Eastern Europe, Latin America/Caribbean (in English, Spanish, and Creole), the Middle East, and Oceania. Additionally, the Orientation multilingual network is made up of over 20 country portal sites : Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Hungary, India, Kenya, Morocco, the Philippines, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, and the United Arab Emirates. In the first quarter of 2000, Orientation.com is planning to launch multilingual portals in more than 15 additional countries.
The Moroccan portal ma.orientation.com was launched on the 28th of January 2000. The new site’s ambition is to propose day-to-day and authentic information to the two million of people that visit Morocco each year, either for business or touristic purposes. This number is expected to double in 2005. The site is also targeting the Moroccan cyber community which is getting larger each year at a rate of 26%. At the present time, the site is available in French and English. It will be very soon provided in Arabic as well.
3- The Partnership
Since Orientation.com is a global network of licensed local and regional multi-lingual Internet portal sites, that specifically cater to emerging Internet markets around the world, Orientation’s portals are developed and maintained in conjunction with local Internet Services Providers, content companies, and web developers in regions and countries outside of North America and Western Europe. Thereby, a partnership between Orientation.com and MTDS was initiated in 1998 with the goal of giving Moroccans a superior Internet portal product. MTDS is a key partner that gives Orientation the ability to expend throughout French-speaking Africa with the goal of Orientation and MTDS plan to leave a lasting impact on Internet users who desire information that is pertinent to how they live and communicate.
II- THE PRODUCT
Content areas on Orientation Morocco include the following:
· Breaking News and Weather Updates : culled from leading news sources and regional media.
· Money : timely financial information on emerging markets around the world.
· Editor’s Choice : Web site reviews by local writers.
· Free Email : email accounts are offered to users in all languages.
· Classifieds : online marketplace that allows users to search and sell as well as browse and buy items.
· Topics : include Art & Litterature, Business & Trade, Culture & Society, Education & Politics, Health & Science, Internet & Computers, Music & Entertainment, Sports & Recreation, and Travel & Exploration.
· Sights & Sounds : features local programming including audio clips, movies and music as well as an extensive photo gallery from the local country.
· Search-and-browse : advanced mechanism enabling user to find information on any issue within the local country.
· Country focus : features include information about language, religion, social issues as well as background and demographic information.
1- Hot Sites :
Orientation has chosen to make a selection of hot sites that represent quality sites that are recommended in each of the ten topics categories (see Topics). What exactly makes a hot site a hot site is a purely subjective matter. We usually look for sites that have done a good job in terms of both content and design.
My responsibility for this section of the work concerned the selection of what we call hot sites under the following criteria :
· Reliability of the content of the site by taking the source into consideration.
· The design can also be a selection criterion.
· Make sure all the links contained on the hot site are working.
· Make sure all the audio and visual content is available.
My work consisted in :
· Selecting 15 to 20 hot sites for each of the ten top level categories (see Topics).
· Organize the hot sites into relevant sub categories (architecture, departments & ministries, photography, hobbies, NGO’s..)
· Try to have a balanced number of hot sites for each topic in both English and French.
· Put hot sites in the appropriate *.src.html file.
· After inputting hot sites in html , upload *.src.html files to topics/directory run cgi.
· Check topics directory online to make sure changes appear.
2- Sights & Sounds :
This section takes Orientation users on a virtual tour of our country from a multimedia perspective. Visitors can search or browse an exclusive library of hundreds of photographs available nowhere else on the Web. And by following our links, the visitors can enjoy music, slides shows, movie clips, and live radio or even video broadcasts. This section , therefore, generates additional traffic for our Orientation portal.
What the headquarters do :
· produce the templates
· supply photographs (JPEG format) from Orientation’s library of more than a half million images
· secure other appropriate content through licensing, co-branding, or purchase
· assist through support and training
· provide a budget to acquire further content
What we do :
· create a list of 20-30 media links
· identify sources of additional content (especially photographs, and other images, audio, or video) and arrange for its use on Orientation, working within our budget
· scan and process images (or manage vendors who supply this service)
· search the Web for other media links and update the site regularly
As far as my responsibility is concerned, I was also assigned to format the photos (provided by a French communications’ firm ‘Imago’, in Casablanca) that I had to process and comment. On the other hand, I had to maintain a database containing all the vital information about each photo, including the filename, caption, source of the photo, copyright holder etc. As I was building the photo library, I created a file that contains this information in the proper format.
3- Editor’s Choice :
Editor’s Choice guides readers to cool and informative Web sites on a given topic. Usually the sites are among the best available in Morocco. Sometimes, though, a site can be included because it is one of a kind, funny – even just plain bad.
Each month, the Orientation portal presents a review of 10 Web sites on a given theme. Editor’s Choice introduces visitors to sites they may not otherwise find and provides a local spin on a topic of general interest.
What is done in New York offices:
· produce the templates
· advise on selecting topics
· offer training and support
· work with you to produce graphics and screen shots
· edit English text
What we do :
· select a topic of interest to the Moroccan market
· browse the Web to select 10 appropriate sites
· write reviews and an introduction (about 1000 words total)
· translate text into English
· create screen shots for each site
· create a graphic to illustrate the topic (or use one of ours)
· submit English text to our editor for review
· paste text into HTML
4- Breaking News :
Each day, more and more people turn to the Internet as their main source of news. Orientation.com’s network of local portals offers unsurpassed news content targeted to Morocco and updated around the clock. Visitors to the site will have access to the latest headlines, quick news summaries, full texts, and links to a wealth of other news resources. Orientation New York’s commitment to providing rich news content, and our participation in the news gathering process, will satisfy visitors’ craving to keep pace with the fast-changing global scene.
What New York offices do :
· provide breaking news content from major global and regional sources, including BBC News, l’Economiste, la Vie Economique, Maghreb Arabe Presse(MAP), and more.
· offer multilingual audio feeds from Medi1, Radio Casablanca, and others.
· license content from other information providers, including business, sports, and entertainment.
· display news headlines and present summaries or full texts of top stories, refreshed frequently and archived in a searchable database.
What we do :
· identify up to 5 online news sources in each language, for use in the headline display on the portal home page.
· partner with one or more online news sources in Morocco to provide daily news feeds (in both English and French, when possible)
· form content alliances with news sources, through co-branding, licensing, or other arrangements.
· consult with the headquarter (NY) about ways to enhance the value of our Orientation portal as a reliable source of up-to-the-minute information.
5- News & Views and Poll :
The News & Views section, appearing on the Orientation Morocco portal home page, is a short digest of 3 or 4 stories relevant to the Moroccan market, written by our team and updated three times a week. Within the text are hyperlinks that take readers to the full story. This feature is also used to promote new Orientation features and encourage readers to explore the site in greater depth.
The Poll Question is a survey of popular opinion, usually directly related to a current story appearing in News & Views. Results of the Poll are tabulated (collating results from both the English and the French languages ) and displayed in graphic form.
What New York offices do :
· set up cgi scripts for Poll Question
· edit English text
· produce the English version
What we do :
· write summaries of 3-4 news stories (in both English and French)
· write the Poll Question and answers
· submit English version for editing and production
· produce News & Views
· produce the Poll Question in HTML and cgi
· update the News & Views text several times during the week
6- Social Issues
As part of its commitment to building communities, Orientation portals include a section devoted to information about international relief and development. Here visitors can find a database of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) organized by topic. They can also find job listings and news updates in such vital areas as poverty eradication, women’s issues, child labor, and environment.
The headquarters is also forming partnerships with major organizations including the SDNP (part of the UN’s Development Program, or UNDP), Oxfam, and others to provide expanded databases, resource lists, and content about programs and activities that are improving the lives of people in regions around the world.
7- Topics of database
Orientation’s topics section offers a browseable database of Web sites organized by category. Each site is reviewed and categorized to provide users with accurate, relevant search results in hundreds of topic areas. Note: This part of your Orientation portal will probably be the most labor-intensive to produce and maintain.
What New York offices do :
· provide an initial database of sites (from 500 to 20,000 records, depending on your country’s Web presence) for you to review
· supply a Windows-based offline editing system that lets you edit records efficiently in multiple languages without having to be connected to the Internet
· assist you through support and training
What we do :
· supply a reference list of other databases and portals in Morocco
· edit records
· enter the site title in both English and French
· write a simple description of the site (10-30 words)
· indicate languages and countries covered in the site
· assign a topic category to the record
· update the site regularly by adding new records from such sources as:
~ submissions by visitors to Orientation (using the online form)
~ our own searches of Web databases
~ input from vendors, advertisers, and content providers
III- Managerial Strategies
The managerial side of the project is held by the general manager of MTDS. He is the one who negotiates the management, marketing and financial strategies. Though, the budget is entirely provided by Orientation New York including the expenses generated from the launching ceremony. MTDS accountant is responsible of the follow up : invoices, salaries and all the accounting transactions. The Orientation Morocco team is still too small, therefore, the personnel management is quite limited. However, the marketing and communication aspects are given a bigger importance because MTDS’s strategy is to create a great impact on the Moroccan market for the Web, thereby taking advantage from being the pioneer of a French speaking portal in Africa.
1- Marketing Support :
Our goal is to make Orientation.com a globally recognized consumer brand. Throughout all phases of development, before and after launch, our team of international and local marketing experts work to develop high-visibility marketing campaigns that will position the Moroccan Orientation portal as the leading information Internet site in the country.
The procedure from the headquarters consist in :
assigning a marketing team (account manager, marketing associate, marketing assistant) dedicated to the Moroccan portal
determining appropriate budget based on population, expected Internet growth, local economy, cost of media, etc.
developing an integrated marketing communication program
pre-launch phase :
· consult with MTDS
· conduct detailed market analysis
· generate word of mouth through local media and industry influencers
launch phase :
blitz promotions announcing Orientation Morocco ‘s portal launch
ongoing marketing support
· Support from Orientation.com’s North America/Western Europe marketing team to promote the Moroccan portal to ethnic and expatriate communities
· Promotional efforts, nationally and internationally, through global media channels: offline ads in radio, print, TV; online ads on the Web
The marketing team of MTDS contributed to the expertise about media in the local market, advised about selecting a public relations agency, identified our preferred vendors to help implement promotions, and will enjoy the prestige and financial rewards as Orientation.com’s marketing drives traffic to our site.
Partnering with Orientation.com empowers MTDS/Orientation Morocco to become, not just a participant, but a leader in the transition to the global digital economy. Dedicated sales team from the headquarters generates and manages a solid stream of revenue through tested methods and innovative strategies. In addition, the revenue sharing arrangements allows MTDS to benefit, not just from local sales efforts, but from the overall success of the global network.
It is now too soon to talk about the sales realizations, but our initiative for the future will require the following : provide insight into our local market, identify potential advertisers
sales, and work with the Orientation.com team to develop sales and sponsorship deals
share revenue according to terms of the partnership agreement.
3- Problems and Recommendations
Through this experience, I observed some difficulties at different levels.
Flow of information : constant contact had to be held between Orientation Morocco and the headquarters. In fact, no coordination was planned at the beginning. As both Orientation Morocco and the headquarters were involved in the building up of the site, any change was to be communicated ; this was not the case, which led to double work, irrelevant results at higher costs (time, money, and energy).
I recommend that coordination be planned with deadlines and continuous follow up. The communication should not have been a problem since Internet is the most efficient means of communication of this era.
On the other hand, it was difficult for our American partners to understand some cultural aspects related to the comments of photos in the Sights & Sounds section. It is therefore more adequate to assign the work to a Moroccan person that better understands the culture, and is more involved in the day-to-day Moroccan life.
The jet lag was another problem that lowered the information flow efficiency between both the USA and Morocco.
I find it astonishing how quickly the Web has spread into countries that used to be isolated from the rest of the world. It should be no surprise that Africa has the fewest Web sites of any habited continent. Nonetheless, there are still search resources available to help find the sites that are locally based. A key factor for developing countries and Morocco in Particular, is the extend to which foreign investors will be able and successful in accessing, analyzing, and acting on information. More focus and importance should be given to the world as it has phenomenal resources to help investors with the fine art of investing. Orientation’s philosophy is to think globally and search locally. Orientation’s stated goal is to develop truly localized gateways to the Internet thereby building online communities. By combining their technical capabilities with the knowledge of local companies with contacts, content, infrastructure or resources, Orientation can best meet the needs of those developing Internet communities within the framework of their global presence, fulfilling the ideal of the World Wide Web.
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