Inspiring or far from it? Google’s Ramadan aide gets mixed reviews

The web portal offering customized information about Ramadan started with high hopes but had since provoked some negative reviews.

Nabila Pathan

Published: Updated:

Described as a “personal assistant” for Ramadan, Google’s web app “My Ramadan Companion” launched with widespread media buzz at the start of Ramadan. The web portal offering customized and locally relevant information about Ramadan related content started with high hopes but had since provoked some negative reviews.

Intending to help Muslims keep track of their time during the 30 days of fasting, it offers information on sunrise and sunset times, traffic data, and information about local businesses as well as incorporating YouTube videos that offer health and cooking tips.

With the strapline on the website stating: “We’re here to help you take care of the little things, so you can focus on the big things” Google have packaged a sort of go to place for Ramadan-observing Muslims to help them plan their 30 days of fasting.

Before the site launched, associate product marketing manager Zain Kamal Masri wrote in a blog post about Google’s motivation for starting up the Ramadan Companion app:

“Technology helps more than 200 million Muslims living away from their families connect and share moments with loved ones,” said Zain Kamal Masri, Google’s associate product marketing manager for the Middle East and North Africa.

“People look to Maps to navigate traffic and make it home from work for Iftar, download Google Play apps to plan their day around the sunset and sunrise, and look up Ramadan opening hours of their favorite local shops and restaurants.”

The My Ramadan Companion app is part of the Google Now service, the search giant’s intelligent assistant. The website pushes its Ramadan related information to Google Now so that information is accessible on android devices. According to Quartz: “The Mountain View, California company’s been working to improve Google Now so it better understands context and ultimately becomes more actionable...Depending on users’ location, Google Now will surface relevant information, such as Ramadan news, nearby Halal restaurants, popular YouTube videos, and app recommendations on their smartphones.”

When the App launched at the start of Ramadan, it received positive reaction online. Several community posts praised Google’s ability to embrace diverse communities as well as facetiously commenting about Google “Embracing Islam” and getting into the “Ramadan spirit.”

However, since the launch, Oz Sultan who is a contributor for Techonomy has written a critique describing the eupohoria generated online as “short-lived.”

“It’s merely a thrown together version of a feed aggregator with very limited content and no useful Google or social integration.

“At launch it had very little content, and as of today, the bulk of the content is difficult to find useful or engaging.

“I logged in here in New York, and had a buddy take a look in Dubai... Though it has categories for “planning” and “food,” it didn’t allow me to find when I could eat and when I couldn’t, prayer places, or even relevant local places to eat. Mostly it seems to be a useless directory of content, pulled from YouTube.

“To myself and a number of Muslim peers I’ve spoken with, this is not just useless, it’s insulting. It feels like Google hired a cultural anthropologist to build an app that is an academic exercise in patting themselves on the back.”
Rahma Khan, a mother of three from London has used Google Companion in the first week and also shares her disappointment:

“When I heard about the Google Ramadan Companion launch, I was excited about how it will aggregate YouTube Videos so that it can be a go to place for my children who are excited about immersing themselves in learning about Ramadan. Instead, the content has been far from inspiring and often in Arabic which we don’t speak. There was a lot of potential for this, instead, I find my Facebook and Twitter home feeds to have more scope.”

The site will be live until the evening of July 17, when the holy month of Ramadan is expected to end.

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