Anyone can blog?
That was definitely the message Mudawanat kept communicating throughout the event on December 12th, 2009. I was amongst 250 attendants and 60 online viewers, and I am 100% sure we all came away with the same impression: What should I blog about?
After all, if 120,000 new blogs are launched every day, surely there is something I can write about too?
Right now, the main challenge facing the web in the Middle East and the Gulf is the immense lack of e-Arabic content. Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world and the eighth online, making up less than three per cent of all web users, according to Internet World Stats.
Another challenge is that the region does not have effective bloggers just yet. Sure it is starting to – there are blogs coming from the ground in Gaza and Iraq for example, but the numbers are very low, relatively speaking. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s blogs are written from Europe and the United States. A June study by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society found there are an estimated 35,000 active blogs in the Arabic language. But there are 70,000 blogs in Farsi – twice as many.
Mudawanat, a full day event that took place at Sharq Village in Doha was an initiative by ictQatar to share and explore reasons for effective blogging as a way to communicate – for individuals, businesses, governments and not-for-profit organizations alike. Check the Mudawanat live stream if you have time to spare. Young and expert bloggers from around the world were there to inspire and shed light on this new world called the blogosphere.
If we want to see more Arabic content online, and if we want to see more representation of the region, we can make it happen – we are in the driver’s seat.
One of the panelists, Raouf Shabayek, made blogging sound easy. He told me personally that as humans need to eat and sleep, they also need to write. Writing is part of our being. In his presentation, he dismissed the argument that some people may not be good writers. “Everyone can blog,” he said, “It doesn’t have to be 1,000 or 2,000 words, it can be one sentence, one picture – we can all add something to the conversation.”
Interesting! I can do that!
People’s ears perked up just knowing that anyone could do it. Shabayek broke down stereotypes or misconceptions on who can blog.
One conference guest, Raana Smith, shared with me how she just started her own Islamic Stationary Company and wants to create a blog for her site. Furrowing her brow, she said, “I don’t want to make it on the daily business operations, but then what I should talk about? What will people want to read about?”
The conference’s keynote speaker, Jeremiah Owyang, a partner at Altimeter Group, a social media research and advisory firm in California, called for clarity among those interested in starting a blog in his presentation. “What is your topic, and who is your audience?” Owyang asked. “Find your area of interest and focus on it.”
In one of the workshops at the conference, co-sponsor Forum One Communications helped attendees focus their thoughts by starting with looking at objectives and goals for what the blog is supposed to accomplish. From there, they looked at audience and topics. By the end of the exercise, Smith came away smiling with some fresh ideas on what she could potentially blog about throughout the year.
Smith was amongst many in the room whose wheels were turning. Conversations on blogs on women’s right, international trade and Qatar’s primary education filled the room. People were fully engaged and trying to flush out their ideas in order to have a narrower and appropriate focus.
While we may not be able to follow all of Owyang’s advice up front – such as, treating your blog like a brand; making an editorial calendar; hiring a designer to improve the site; and incorporating social networking tools from Facebook and Twitter to better respond to your readers – we can start slow and take on each new recommendation with time.
Then, I suggest we need to take some of Ahmad Hamzawi’s advice, the head of engineering for the Middle East and North Africa at Google. Hamzawi’s presentation was most captivating as he showed us how to use Google’s keyword tools to find frequently used search terms, and how to increase our blog’s search rank. He showed demos of Google Translate, an add-on that offers immediate translations of blog posts in up to 50 languages and introduced Ta3reeb, a transliteration tool from Google.
Owyang and Hamzawi indicated that people can make money off their blog. While I personally won’t be making money anytime soon as well, we should all consider Google’s AdSense and FeedBurner applications for advertisements in the future. Thank you Ahmad and Jeremiah!
The one thing I did love about Mudawanat were the inspirational panelists. In addition to Owyang, Hamzawi and Shabayek, were Mohammed Badwi, Ammar Mohammed Khaled, and Shabina Khatri, who each gave us a unique takeaway.
Khaled, who blogs at ammar- talk.com and founded Al Jazeera Talk, where Arab youth discuss a wide range of issues online, said that there are about 1,100 blogs in Qatar. He urged more Qataris to blog, pointing out that blogs can incorporate words, images and video and blogs offer freedom when so much news is controlled. This is indeed the greatest thing about blogging – the freedom to say what you want to say.
However, just as importantly, is acknowledging the fine line between personal and professional ambitions. Panelist Shabina Khatri said that she has two separate blogs, one personal for family and friends, and one that is professional on news and developments in Doha. This is instrumental because no matter how “free” you are online, one must always consider their family, friends, place of work, and make sure that they blog appropriately.
Blogging is one tool that allows the individual an outlet and space to write, to be heard, and to be seen. Before Mudawanat, I would not have given blogging a second thought, casting it as something I could possibly do occasionally for work. But I realize now the impact I can have on others personally, how I can educate and be educated; how I can connect with people online; and moreover, how I can be effective at delivering what I want to relay to the world.
Thank you ictQatar for surfacing this issue and inspiring us to blog. Together, we can increase Arabic content and presence online. See you in the blogosphere!