The use of Arabic on the web has made major gains in recent years, growing by 2500% between 2000 and 2011, according to a study by New York-based app translation firm Smartling. Arabic was the fastest-growing language on the micro-blogging site Twitter between 2010 and 2011, when the volume of Arabic posts grew more than 20 times, according to Paris-based web research firm Semiocast. However, Arabic still makes up just 3% of the web’s content, according to Smartling.
In Qatar, the government is encouraging both internet usage and content creation. In early 2011 the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQATAR) announced a national fibre-optic network called the Qatar National Broadband Network (Q.NBN), the fixed-line infrastructure set to deliver high-speed connections to at least 95% of Qatar by 2015. “People are going to start using the internet even more, which hopefully means they are going to start creating their own pages on the internet,” Khalifa Haroon, founder of the popular website IL oveQatar.net, told the BBC in the months following the unveiling of Q.NBN. With high-speed connections available to the majority of the population, the potential audience for Arabic language content is set to grow.
SUPPORTING DEVELOPMENT: ictQATAR is also partnering with web majors to spur Arabic content creation. In February 2012 it announced a strategic partnership with US-based web firm Yahoo! “With 70m people online today in MENA and 50m more expected to come in the next two to three years, [this is] one of the fastest growing markets in the world,” Ahmed Nassef, the vice-president and managing director of Yahoo! Maktoob Middle East, said following the announcement. ictQATAR has also launched an incubation centre for new ICT companies that are focused on creating Arabic digital content. Established in 2011, the centre is currently working with seven start-ups, all of which are in the advanced stages of business planning. Partnering with local and international organisations such as US-based textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the centre guides fledgling companies through the incubation process, from commercial registration to market research to launch, providing office space, telecoms services, business support, legal advice, employee recruitment assistance and web hosting. ictQATAR also provides support to Creative Commons Qatar, the local affiliate of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organisation that aims to maximise the creative benefits of the internet. By promoting innovation and digital openness, Creative Commons Qatar aims to spur the development of Arab-originated content.
Qatar Foundation (QF) is another organisation that has taken steps to contribute to local content creation.
In 2010, QF created the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) a private, non-profit organisation that researches Arabic-language technology, social computing, scientific computing, cloud computing and data analytics. The organisation recruits researchers both from Qatar and around the world to study technology.
In April 2012 Qatar Science and Technology Park, a member of QF, introduced a platform called Loghati (“my language” in Arabic). The platform is set to act as a digital repository of Arabic language materials with translation functions to allow non-Arabic speakers to access the documents. “Making Arabic a first-class citizen on the internet: this is one of our central goals,” QCRI’s executive director, Ahmed Elmagarmid, told OBG.
BETTER ACCESS FOR ALL: Qatar Assistive Technology Centre (Mada), a non-profit organisation operating with the vision of “ICT for all”, partners with public and private entities to make more content accessible to those with disabilities. In March 2012 the organisation announced the creation of a web accreditation programme to rate sites on their e-accessibility.
Increasing Arabic content creation could have a wide economic impact. As the government carries out its plans to build more knowledge-based industries, a connected, informed and web-savvy population could do much to promote creativity, entrepreneurship and awareness of international trends in the country.
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