World wide web requires much more Arabic

There is not enough Arabic content on the internet, which is why the UAE is stepping up to provide content in the fastest-growing online language.

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There have long been concerns in the UAE, and the rest of the Arab world, that Arabic is being pushed aside in favour of English. The finger of blame for this has been pointed at Western ­media – specifically the American television and film industry and, more recently, the internet. The lion’s share of online content is in English.

As The National reports today, surveys suggest that an overwhelming majority of the estimated 140 million Arabic speakers who use the internet would prefer to access information in their own language. The bad news is that much of the information they want simply is not freely available to them. It is estimated that only a small percentage of Arabic content is readily accessible, with much of it hidden in private forums, on social media or as low-quality translations. While this is clearly a problem, it also suggests an opportunity for those willing and able to provide both Arabic-language content and the means to access it.

Already working to fill this void is Taghreedat, an Arabic digital content community-building initiative based at Twofour54 in Abu Dhabi that is involved in converting social-media platforms into Arabic. As co-founder Sami Al Mubarak points out, this makes great sense because Arabic is the seventh most spoken language world wide. While it started from a low base, the online use of Arabic is growing faster than any other language.

Moves towards more Arabic on the internet certainly accord with the UAE’s vision. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched an Arabic digital content initiative last year, with Dh25 million allocated to improve Arabic-language content over the next five years. Similar initiatives are underway in Abu Dhabi and Doha, while international player Yahoo entered the fray in 2009 by buying Maktoob, the biggest Arab internet services company.

As with television and film, the biggest opportunity lies in the provision of original content specifically designed to engage, entertain and inform Arabs in their own language. Again, the UAE is in an excellent position to be a leading provider.

For content providers based here – be they news organisations, social networking platforms or individual commentators – quality is key. Providing excellent content will not just bolster Arabic as a language in this country, it will open the way to a vast regional audience.