Thursday, 29 March 2012

ArabNet Forum Day One: where's the Arabic content?

Ok so the ArabNet Digital Summit Forum Day One ended. Lots to talk about, great attendance and fantastic speakers.

If I were to pick one of the most predominant topics to talk about, it would have to be – yup, you guessed it – the creation of more Arabic content. This is a challenged that the industry needs to overcome, in order to grow at the rate that it should. Barry Newstead of the Wikimedia Foundation said he’s “here to urge the growth of the Arabic Wikipedia” and that this is “crucial to the growth of Arabic content on the Internet”. There are 347 million ‘Arab’ people and only 154,000 Arabic entries on Wikipedia. This gap is huge. Where’s the problem? Why aren’t more of us creating Arabic content? Arabic-language apps?

Mike Butcher, editor of TechCrunch, suggested we create our own local version rather than ask the global news site to cover more MENA news. Fair enough.

Then we came across Qordoba, one of the Start Up Demo presentations. Amazing effort to translate and also generate original Arabic copy. As the internet becomes more widely accessible, there are ‘new-comers’ to the digital space who prefer Arabic content.

Something is missing in this picture. I’m impressed, but not particularly excited. Because it seems to me that what’s holding tings back is neither lack of entrepreneurial mindset, as some VCs said, nor the lack of local talent. It’s actually the ‘back-end’ – the education, the foundation, the government initiatives that support digital transformation and further growth and development of the industry.

If you haven’t heard of the Arab Digital ExpressionFoundation, look them up. They are exactly the kind of initiative that needs to be replicated, supported and funded. It’s creating the new generation of digitally-savvy youngsters, across multiple cross-sections of society. Not only that, they are 100% focused on keeping all their content and communications in Arabic. 

Ironically, this blog isn’t in Arabic. And that’s my own shortcoming, and that of many like myself. In fact, the official language of all the ArabNet talks today has been English. Even though the majority of speakers and attendees are Arabic speakers.

Somehow – this part of the world needs to get its language back… Maybe then we’ll create more content…maybe then we’ll develop more local apps… maybe then we’ll get our creativity back and generate original ideas. Not just clones. 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

ArabNet Community set for five days geekiness

As the word of digital technology gets more complicated, and even the geekiest of geeks start to get lost in all of's at times like these that start-ups, innovators, global and regional ICT professionals need to get together as a community and share thoughts, visions, best practices and trends in the field of online business.

That's exactly what the ArabNet Digital Summit 2012 will be all about. I've got my ticket to Beirut and I can't wait. I'll be attending the two Forum Days (March 29th - 30th), but I wish I could stay the entire five days of the summit.

Over the five days, a dynamic line up of speakers will focus on fields such as commerce, that have witnessed major shifts to online and adopted new business models in order to keep up with the increasingly digital world.

Personally, I'm looking forward to learning a great deal from these speakers, to get their insight into topics such as entrepreneurship, investment, the future of media & advertising, interaction through social media platforms and more. The latter of course, is of most interest, as this is the business I'm in. How is digital technology changing marketing? A question as PR professionals have been asking for a number of years. And today we're still asking. Of course, some of us are still asking because we resisted the changed and called it a fad. Now we're trying to catch up. Another group is asking because even though we kept up with the change, it's moving a lot faster than we ever imagined. And merely keeping up is no longer good enough.

We've got be selective now. We can't just get on board every digital platform or application bandwagon that comes along the way. Marketers need to be smart about what works for them and what doesn't. And be very realistic about their resourcing. If you've not got a dedicated team, and if you're entire organisation isn't buying into the cultural change, then don't waste your time. You need to achieve that before you can even try to implement a powerful digital strategy.

Clearly, some of the top level executives speaking at ArabNet such as Hatem Dowidar, CEO of Vodafone Egypt are execs that have bought into digital and shifted their entire organisation's behaviour in that direction.

More CEOs need to be doing that  - and as Brian Solis once said - #AdaptorDie.

Trouble is, the CEOs coming to ArabNet already know that. Now the ArabNet community needs to collaborate not only to help its own members develop and grow, but also recruit new members and influence the region's adoption of digital technologies.