Web Development

Can the 'Wikipedia for Arabic' spread the language online?

A group of entrepreneurs from Jordan, unhappy with the accessibility to Arabic-language sites online, are behind Mawdoo3, a new web portal for Arabic content that serves as a type of Wikipedia for Arabic speakers.

The team at Mawdoo3 want the site to be the most comprehensive repository of Arabic content online. According to the site’s About Us page, they feel that the Arabic language is underrepresented on the internet.

“We at pursue a social mission, to be the first Arabic comprehensive encyclopaedia,” they say. The representation of the Arabic language online is weak compared with the actual number of Arabic speakers in the world they added.

“[Recent] studies show a gap between the number of Arabic internet users and the availability of Arabic content online which does not commensurate with knowledge, history, and status of the Arab culture,” say the founders, who hope to encourage more users to create networks for the Arabic language and its speakers online.

Mawdoo3 didn’t respond to our requests for an interview about their site.

More than 50% of the web’s content is in English, at least according to statistics from Web Technology Services, and Arabic features far down the list at 14th. The figures aren’t absolute as some sites may use multiple languages and the survey was likely to miss many sites in the process too, but it does provide a snapshot of languages used on the internet, and the results aren’t all that surprising.

Facebook is available in Arabic while major sites like BBC News offer an Arabic version and of course Al Jazeera is one of the biggest news outlets available in Arabic. But Arabic-speaking web users may feel jilted by the lack of content in their native tongue. A platform like Mawdoo3, says its founders, is necessary for the growth of Arabic content online.

“The main reason for the lack of Arabic-language resources online [is] that there is not any serious or organised  effort from any Arabic government to spread the language,” says Amera Eid, an Arabic teacher on the online education platform Italki, “that’s why many resources come only from the individual efforts which never ensures any continuance [in] resources.”

Furthermore there are several different dialects of Arabic in various regions. This makes it difficult to spread awareness of online content in the language, explains Eid, who lives in Egypt.

“Many Arab countries now are trying to rectify the situation by having conferences, publishing books and websites for Arabic language and Arabic learners, such as Oman, UAE and Qatar,” she says.

Secondly, traversing across language barriers online can be a hassle for regular users as well as businesses. Google Translate will only take you so far and details can get lost in the mix. “I’m certain the linguistic barrier is even greater when you translate to Arabic, where even the letters used for their alphabet are different than the Romanic ones,” explains Chelly Wood, an author and designer who has tried marketing and selling her products to different language speakers including Arabic.

Mawdoo3 though is essentially a Wikipedia for Arab speakers. Users can edit articles to create a crowdsourced hub of information. Examples of articles on Mawdoo3 include guides and explanations on the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad or questions around fasting.

Of course, like the original Wikipedia, this presents its own challenges for the veracity of the content. These stretch from people editing pages to present a particular bias to online vandals interfering with the content.

“About, I think any effort will be done in writing in MSA [modern standard Arabic] will be great and beneficial, but it needs to be more organised,” adds Eid.

The website still feels very much in its infancy at this point. It was even among a couple of sites last year that was found to be allegedly serving up Cryptowall malware, a form of ransomware, to vulnerable users. Security concerns aside, Mawdoo3 is a site built with the best intentions and will likely grow in content as it adds more users.

However, as Eid explains, it will need to be structured and organised in order to be sustainable and helpful in the long run.


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Jonathan Keane

Jonathan Keane is a freelance journalist, living in Ireland, covering business and technology

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