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Religious Search Engines Yield Tailored Results
by Habiba Nosheen (NPR)
September 13, 2010
In a world where Google has put every bit of information at our fingertips, some people are now demanding less information when they surf the Internet.
Some Jews, Muslims and Christians are abandoning Yahoo and Google and turning to search engines with results that meet their religious standards.
Shea Houdmann runs SeekFind, a Colorado Springs-based Christian search engine that only returns results from websites that are consistent with the Bible. He says SeekFind is designed “to promote what we believe to be biblical truth” and excludes sites that don’t meet that standard.
Houdmann says a search on his site would not turn up pornography. If you search “gay marriage,” you would get results that argue against gay marriage. And if you type in “Democratic Party,” your first search result is a site on Marxism.
But SeekFind isn’t the only search engine carving a niche market among religious Internet users. There is also Jewogle for Jews and I’mHalal, a Muslim search engine that started in the Netherlands.
Husain Benyounis, a 44-year-old Muslim man from New Zealand, starting using I’mHalal about eight months ago, and now he says he’s a fan.
“I do use it at home, at work and everywhere,” Benyounis says.
He says the search engine offered him content that he can trust would be appropriate for him as a practicing Muslim. And he is much more comfortable allowing his teenage son to surf the Web using I’mHalal. For example, a search for “sex” would return results giving the Islamic view on sexuality.
But there are glitches. Sometimes the search engine’s filters are too restrictive. A search for “sexuality” returned no results on I’mHalal.
I’mHalal creator Reza Sardeha, 21, says the search engine is still a work in progress. Sardeha got the idea for I’mHalal about a year ago after finding that for some in the Muslim community, the Internet was effectively off-limits.
“People were avoiding the Internet because they were afraid they or their children would bump into explicit content. It’s a shame,” Sardeha says.
Currently, Sardeha says, most I’mHalal users come from Pakistan, and the second biggest group comes from the United States.
Inclusive and Exclusive
According to Michael Gartenberg, a partner at technology research firm Altimeter Group, these religiously centered search engines are bringing new users to the Web.
“You have an emerging generation and emerging culture that wants to take advantage of technology … search engines and the things that they provide but at the same point, be true to their heritage … and not stray from their belief system,” he says.
But not everyone has been supportive of the idea. Some people call it censorship. SeekFind’s Houdmann disagrees.
“In a sense, I guess kind of what SeekFind does is a form of censorship, but I would more describe it as selective inclusion,” he says.
Some who oppose such search engines argue that allowing people to only access material that they already agree with will lead to an intolerant society. But Gartenberg says he does not see it that way.
“It’s no more censorship than if I find something on television that I find offensive to me and I could change the channel,” he says.
I’mHalal says that within the first year since its launch, it is already getting 10 million users a month. With that kind of traffic, these search engines are likely here to stay.