It all began in the early 1990’s with Internet search engine startups like Excite, Galaxy, Lycos and Webcrawler.
By ROB PEGORARO
It all began in the early 1990’s with Internet search engine startups like Excite, Galaxy, Lycos and Webcrawler.Then Yahoo and Alta Vista moved in, followed only a few years later by what would become the neighborhood bully: Google.Now Iran would like to introduce the new kid on the block...Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome ‘Oh Lord,’ a homegrown Iranian search engine sure to highlight veryhigh- resolution photos of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the regretful testimony of green movement opposition activists.Hadi Malek-Parast, Director General for Research and Development at the Iranian Information Technology Company, told the Iranian Mehr News Agency on Sunday that Iran has started developing a national search engine dubbed ‘Ya Haq’, a Persian expression meaning “Oh Lord.”Speaking of the need for faster search capacity and higher security for the country’s online communications, Malek-Parast said Ya Haq would be ready to launch in 2012 and referred to the project as a domestic Intranet, as opposed to an international Internet.“They are not just developing a search engine, they want to develop an Intranet, instead of an Internet, which would be some kind of local Internet and only give access to state institutions and internally approved sites,” Pujan Ziaie, a senior IT strategist in Iran’s ‘green’ opposition movement told The Media Line. “The discussion began a few years ago and is based on a feeling that the Internet is a Western weapon. They are threatened by it but they cannot ignore it so they are trying to imitate what China has done.”Advertisement“The problem,” Ziaie said, “is that the infrastructure, knowledge and technicians are all not there to do this properly, at least not for the next few years.”Niusha Boghrati, an Iranian online journalist, argued that despite the official reasoning, the Iranian Intranet would boost the government’s surveillance capacities.“The official reasons they give for such a project is it’s cheap, faster and more secure in terms of data,” he told The Media Line. “But they are trying to replace Google and Yahoo and create a parallel Internet in order to have more surveillance on the Internet users of Iran. They are certain to follow this with a launch of a national e-mail service.”Boghrati said the announcement was a direct response to last year’s unrest following the disputed reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.“After the protests, the government tried very hard to curb online communications,” he said. “But with these new secure formats that Google and Yahoo have launched, it has become much more difficult for Iranian intelligence to monitor civil society.”Dr. Mehrdad Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat, now senior research consultant at the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, argued that the announcement should be seen in light of a larger Iranian attempt to prove the country’s independence.“There are two things going on,” he told The Media Line. “One is the fact that they are anxious to be able to filter any electronic communications in any conceivable way that they can, or at least to scare people into believing they are capable of doing this, so that they enter the process of self censorship.Another is to portray this image that they are punching above their weight in trying to convince people that they are able to do things that they are not.”But a source close to the government, who asked not to be identified, said the initiative was simply a matter of providing more locally relevant content to Internet users.“In different search engines, different things come up first,” he told The Media Line. “There’s a certain formula that makes certain things come up first when you use Google whereas when you use Yahoo other things come up first. In Iran, local Web sites do not appear first in the results, meaning the suggested Web sites are not necessarily the most valuable sources of information.”“So I don’t see this as replacing the Internet or current search engines,” he said. “In general the government is just trying to become less and less reliant on Western sources for everything.”
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