Marketing material for Iraq's own version of Facebook.
Sajad Saadi has dreams of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg, the now-seriously wealthy American who helped found Facebook while he was at university. And to get that particular party started, the 19-year-old from Diwaniyah, has launched his own social media and networking website. It’s called Neproo and, if you look closely, it seems that Saadi’s dream is not as much of a fantasy as one might initially think.
“I planned it very carefully so we would attract the maximum number of users,” says the young man, who has worked on many different digital projects in Iraq. And, he boasts, he looked carefully at Facebook’s business model so he could avoid any of the pitfalls the now-giant social media site encountered when it first launched.
Neproo, which already has around 100,000 users, also boasts features that Facebook doesn’t have. “For example, on Facebook you cannot tell how many people have visited your page,” Saadi says. “There is also a counter on each person’s page that gives the most active users added benefits. They can get free gifts from Neproo, things like advertising and logos for their pages. It strengthens their personal brand,” Saadi explains.
The website allows users to post pictures, videos, music and it has a video chat feature, another thing that Facebook doesn’t offer. Perhaps reflecting the fact that Iraqis use Facebook like a giant emporium to buy and sell all manner of goods and services, Neproo also has a feature called “My Shop” where subscribers can trade or promote their goods.
Young entrepreneur Sajad Saadi planning his future.
Saadi, who works with programmers and engineers in Kut, Basra and Samawa to keep the site running, is also taking his social responsibility seriously. Neproo effectively censors any sectarian related debate, replacing sensitive words with a star symbol, and the software designer is also working on a plug-in that will censor violent photographs.
Neproo is a website especially made for Iraqi social media fans that doesn’t spy on users’ personal data the way Facebook does, Saadi insists. His aim is to create a site that individuals of all kinds can use safely, no matter what their ethnicity, religion or nationality.
Saadi has only had one minor hiccup so far and that was an attempted hacking by three other young Iraqis.
“I think of this as my future,” Saadi says. “I want it to be seen as distinctively Iraqi too and I hope I can stay here in this country to make it happen.”
Saadi believes that talented young Iraqis should try and stay in the country and not surrender to the nation’s current difficulties by leaving. But maybe that is also part of his next business plan. “Currently I am working on a website funded by an international backer which supports young software developers with new ideas,” he says.