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March 5, 2013

Major Efforts in Qatar to Boost Arabic Online Content

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According to experts at Google, Arabic is one of the fastest growing languages on the worldwide web. Over the past two years, social networking sites including Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have experienced a massive increase in Arabic language usage. Yet, although there are close to 350 million Arabic language speakers in the Arab world alone, the amount of online content in Arabic hovers at only three percent of the total.

Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), a member of Qatar Foundation, and Taghreedat, a regional Arabic e- content community building initiative based in Qatar, organised an Arabic YouTube Tweetup in mid-December 2012 to introduce new programs and tools that will help to close this gap in content. The event featured social networking and digital content giants YouTube, Google and Twitter, who talked about their initiatives in promoting and supporting Arabic language online.

The tweetup gathered over 400 content creators from around the region looking to contribute to the acceleration of digital content in Arabic, with a focus on developing video content for YouTube. Representatives from YouTube and video content entrepreneurs from across the region shared their insight and experiences of how to create viral Arabic videos on the YouTube platform.

Dr Ahmed Elmagarmid, Executive Director of QCRI, outlined the Arabic language initiatives underway at the Institute. “At QCRI we have a large team dedicated to promoting the Arabic language by conducting world-class research in Arabic language technologies – including content creation, machine translation and search optimization,” he said. “This is our culture, our language. As a community, we are in the best position to create and make significant contributions to enrich the content and to drive the renaissance of the Arabic language.”

With 17 million tweets in Arabic every day, Kaveh Gharib, Localization Project Manager at Twitter, said, “In the Middle East, we need to tap into our creativity and take control of our own content, not let others tell it for us,” he said. “We each have the power to create stories. This should be done by developing high quality, localized content.”

Dr Fayeq Oweis, Arabic Localization Manager at Google, talked about numerous initiatives underway at Google in support of creating Arabic digital content, including local Arabic dialect voice recognition on Android phones, and tools that are available to write in Arabic without falling back on Arabizi.(Arabizi is an alphabet based on Latin script commonly used to communicate short digital messages in Arabic when the Arabic alphabet is not available due to technical reasons). The YouTube platform is also fully Arabicised.

There are eight localized YouTube domains in the Middle East, with more than 260 million videos viewed per day in the MENA region. Maha Abouelenein, Head of Communications for Google MENA, talked about YouTube’s regional initiatives, including workshops that teach amateur video creators how to tag, embed and share videos.