Coming to the web: Twitter in Arabic

The team, which includes 400 UAE volunteers, are working on translating the microblogging site.

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DUBAI // Hundreds of volunteer translators from the UAE have been working on an international project to create an Arabic interface for Twitter.

They are part of an army of more than 2,500 translators from 28 countries involved in the #Taghreedat (or, #LetsTweetInArabic) initiative, and organisers say close to 400 of the volunteer force live in the UAE.

Support for the project has snowballed, with the number of followers of the Taghreedat Twitter account doubling from 15,000 to more than 30,000 since November. And 10 per cent of these followers are from the Emirates.

The Arabic Twitter initiative was launched by Qatar-based Sami Mustafa Al Mubarak and Mina Nagy Michel Takla, who outlined the idea in November at the Sharjah International Book Fair.

They are so impressed with the UAE's commitment to producing Arabic web content that they have chosen Dubai as the location for an event highlighting the subject.

One of the translators, Rana Mansoor, who lives in Abu Dhabi, said: "I wanted to get involved in this because Twitter has a lot of languages, but not Arabic.

"I work as a group administrator at twofour54 and one of our aims is to be able to send the Arabic message to the whole region, so the Twitter project is related to this mission."

"It's not just translating from English to Arabic, you have to understand the content to be able to understand the message in the correct way," added Ms Mansoor, a 27-year-old Palestinian from Lebanon.

The volunteers worked online and were each sent links enabling them to access the list of words and terms they had to translate. They had to submit their work by Monday.

It is possible to tweet in Arabic, but there is no Arabic user interface, and searching for Arab topics is difficult.

The aim is not to translate tweets, but to use the translators to create an Arabic version of the entire website, including documentation, terms, glossaries and other elements. The material will eventually be sent to Twitter.

"The project has been going very well," Mr Al Mubarak said. "We have translators from 20 out of the 22 Arab countries in the project, which is something we're very proud of.

"It's the first online project in the Arab world that uses the community for a purpose and the first online volunteer Arabic translation project. It turns people from being just consumers of content to producers.

"At the end of it, we'll submit the content to Twitter and they will use it to take the project forward and support the language."

Mr Takla said: "The UAE is one of the top three participants in terms of the volunteer figure. The volunteers are required to translate each and every term that is available on the Twitter English interface, starting with 'email' and 'tweet'."

The group is planning to take on further website translations and other projects.

Mr Al Mubarak said: "We're looking into building a bigger community; we're going to grow into more of an online Arabic e-content community."

The group believes there is a lack of social media and Arabic e-content events in the region, and is in talks about holding such a conference in Dubai in the next few months.

"We want to do something that's never been done in the region," added Mr Al Mubarak.

"There's a lot of acceptance and great support from organisations in the UAE because they know there is a need for Arabic e-content."

A report released at the end of last year revealed that the number of messages tweeted in Arabic grew by an amazing 2,146 per cent over the past 12 months, making it the fastest-growing language on the website.

Arabic is now the eighth most used language on Twitter, according to the research by French company Semiocast.

In October last year more than two million public messages were posted on Twitter in Arabic every day, and the study says: "Twitter has grown exceptionally fast in the Middle East."

Last month, the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal invested US$300 million (Dh1.1bn) in Twitter.