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. 

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