Anti-western anger may bring out street power, but, at least in Pakistan, does not appear to be commercially viable. MillatFacebook, meant to be a religio-nationalistic alternative to the global social network Facebook, is in dire financial straits and is seeking donations to pay its server hosting bills.
In an e-mail sent out to its users on December 10, MillatFacebook appealed for donations to pay its servers, which it says are based in the United States. Yet the e-mail was riddled with factual errors and highly suspect claims, casting doubts on the integrity and intellectual capacity of its owners.
The website, for instance, insists on calling itself “the only Facebook rival”, ignoring the existence of a wide range of social networks such as Google Plus, LinkedIn, and others. The e-mail starts off with a person introducing themselves only as “S.O.A.” and then launching into a poorly worded e-mail appealing for funds. In the e-mail, the company claims to be spending thousands of dollars on its web hosting, and then says that it is looking to raise $581 from its users in order to defray those costs.
“As you can imagine, cost of running a social network is never easy and very costly. Current month we are facing a shortfall of 581USD (sic) in server payments. (We are paying 1000s of USD in server payments ourselves and now need your helping hand to meet this shortfall). We are asking for a contribution from you that will help us towards our goal of keeping this Peaceful Social Network run forever and defeat blasphemer facebook. inshaALLAH, Aameen. Any amount that you can contribute would be greatly appreciated,” said the e-mail.
The claim that the website requires thousands of dollars in web-hosting costs seems dubious. According to websitetrafficspy.com, a leading source of internet traffic information, millatfacebook.com attracts an average of two users a day. With traffic that low, it seems unlikely that MillatFacebook would need to buy expensive web hosting facilities.
The website is asking its donors to give money through credit card payments on its homepage, but Chief Operating Officer Umar Zaheer Meer admitted to The Express Tribune that the fundraising drive was not going well. He claimed that donors were reluctant to give money via credit cards owing to “cyber laws” which he did not specify.
According to Meer, MillatFacebook has over 476,000 members, though he did not specify how many were active. When it was launched, MillatFacebook claimed that it would not have any paid advertising, though it now has ads and still seems to be struggling to pay its bills. By contrast, the Silicon Valley-based Facebook has over one billion active users as of October 2012 and had annual revenues exceeding $3.7 billion in 2011. According to a recent report, more than eight million Pakistanis use Facebook.
The website was launched in May 25, 2011, six days after the Lahore High Court issued an order banning Facebook, after one of the website’s users created a competition called “Everyone Drawn Muhammad [PBUH] Day”. Muhammad Azhar Siddique, the man who filed the petition that resulted in that temporary ban, convinced Omer Zaheer Meer, now CEO of MillatFacebook, to start the website. The hope was that the ban on Facebook would be permanent, forcing many Pakistanis to look for an alternative.
The website was launched at a ceremony at the Lahore High Court Bar Association and was billed as the alternative to Facebook. Yet, unluckily for the founders, access to Facebook was restored on May 30, 2010, snuffing out any chance the website may have had to catch on amongst Pakistani internet users.
The Meers appear to despise Facebook, yet have designed MillatFacebook to look almost exactly like their supposed rival. Users of both websites, however, say that MillatFacebook is a far less functional website, with one user going so far as to say that “the quality of user experience is so abysmal that it does not merit the humble title, ‘Facebook clone’.”
MillatFacebook is not even the first social network targeting Muslims. Naseeb.com, also based in Lahore, was launched in 2003 and precedes even Facebook.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2013.