Facebook rival MillatFacebook launched in Pakistan

Six young IT experts in the city of Lahore have set up MillatFacebook – using the Urdu word for nation – which they hope will become a hub for Muslims around the world.

Omar Zaheer Meer, one of the founders, said the site was launched on Wednesday and had already attracted 8,000 users.

The aim, he said, was to register their disapproval of the images of the Muslim prophet and to offer an alternative to a site that has also been criticized for its lax and confusing privacy controls.

"We are saying that we are technologically independent and that you can't make money from us and then not respect our views," he said.

Thousands of people in Pakistan have demonstrated against the US-based social networking site for hosting a contest calling for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The country's courts ordered internet service providers to block the social networking site last week, along with others that featured sacrilegious content. YouTube, Wikipedia and hundreds of other pages have all been subject to temporary bans.

Muslims argue that any representation of the Prophet Mohammed is blasphemous.

The Facebook ban has led Pakistanis to find alternative ways of keeping in touch with friends.

Many have joined other social networking sites - Rehman Malik, the country's interior minister, has even signed up to twitter. Others have found proxy servers that get around censors and allow access to Facebook

MillatFacebook's designers hope the site will attract people of all faith, and admit it shares some of the same features as its better-known template. In fact, from the blue navigation panel to the map of the world, the login page bears a remarkable similarity to Facebook.

"Millatfacebook is Pakistan's very own, first social networking site. A site for Muslims by Muslims where sweet people of other religions are also welcome," the website tells people interested in signing up.

However, tech reviews in the local media have criticized its homemade feel.

The Express Tribune said: "The quality of user experience is so abysmal that it does not merit the humble title, 'Facebook clone.'"

But its technological shortcomings do not seem to have deterred web-literate young Pakistanis.

Rana Adeel, a 21-year-old law student in Lahore, signed up after receiving invitations via SMS and email from friends.

"In two days, I got more than seven friends. If the Facebook ban is lifted, I'll keep networking on both," she said.

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