A Hebrew version of Microsoft’s home page is expected to be up and running in early December as a result of a joint effort by the Microsoft Corp. and Internet Gold, Israel’s leading Internet service provider.
“It will have all the richness of the American MSN,” said Tzahi Weisfeld, Microsoft Israel’s online business development manager. “It will have Hotmail and messenger and more Israeli-Jewish information. So whenever you look to get news, you won’t just get news from MSNBC but more Israeli news that would come from Israeli content providers.”
And in the future, he said, he envisions establishing a worldwide Jewish community Web site. Weisfeld said he was to meet this week with a representative of the Jewish Agency to discuss this venture.
“We want to leverage the technology we are going to give on MSN to allow Jewish families around the world to talk to one another,” he said. “This can be a great driver to build an online community for Jewish families who want to put pictures of their kids online or who want to have private chats, post Jewish holiday events or post messages. You could do a lot of interesting things; it would be a nice vehicle. It could be a gathering place for Jewish people around the world.”
Regarding the venture with Internet Gold, Weisfeld said arrangements with content providers are still being worked out but that he expected the new Web site to display the contents of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot. In addition, there are plans for it to carry live broadcasts of Israel Army Radio. And there will be a link to connect to Radio Kol Chai, a religious radio station which will also be carried live.
Microsoft officials said they chose to partner with Internet Gold because it has more than 162,000 users in Israel — the largest share of the tiny Israeli Internet user-market. It is estimated that only about 15 percent of the population uses the Internet, although 55 percent use computers. Weisfeld said Internet Gold would control 50.1 percent of the joint project and Microsoft the other 49.9 percent.
It is expected that Internet Gold will finance the activities of the enterprise, which are expected to cost $7 million in the first two years. But the company’s chief executive officer, Eli Holtzman, said that his company was prepared to “invest as much as needed.” In addition, the company will run the site, and provide business development, sales, local content and technical support.
Moshe Lichtman, president of the international group for consumers and commerce at Microsoft, said Internet Gold’s willingness to finance the project also helped convince Microsoft to join the partnership. He told Globes, Israel’s business news service, that the venture is expected to be profitable in two years.
“We are investing a lot of money in the technology,” Weisfeld said of Microsoft, “to enable the system to work in Hebrew. Working right to left on the Internet is not easy.”
In addition, Microsoft is to provide the international content and marketing for the project. He said a Microsoft vice president, Jeff Raikes, is expected in Israel in early December to officially launch the service.
Holtzman said other partners might join in the venture in the future. Weisfeld noted that since the venture was announced, “all of the local portals, content providers and Internet service providers have contacted us to see how they can work with us. We are very happy and want to gather all of the worthwhile content in the Israeli market and put it under the MSN umbrella.”
Weisfeld said that in addition to providing users with an Internet search engine, the home page will offer online discussion groups, business services and electronic shopping, as well as integrate the existing Internet Gold portals, which are accessible to about 95 percent of Israelis through a local phone call.