According to Wikipedia, Portuguese is spoken by about 193 million people, while Arabic is spoken by 452 million people, yet there are around 700,000 articles in Wikipedia in Portuguese and only 150,000 articles in Arabic. What?! A lot of people complain about the shortage of quality Arabic content online, but few stats illustrated that fact as clearly for me. Think about most of the searches you do on a topic. Typically within the first couple of results is a Wikipedia page. Apparently not so when you are searching in Arabic.
To address this major gap, my friends at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) established a partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation with an ambitious first year goal of adding 50,000 new articles in Arabic to Wikipedia. QCRI held a forum with the Wikipedia Foundation this past weekend (which sadly I missed) that brought together a smart mix including a number of students, educators, computing experts and business leaders, all with the shared goal of growing the amount of Arabic content in Wikipedia.
In an article in the Gulf Times, QCRI Executive Director Dr. Ahmed Elmagaramid said “We need to make it easier for Arab contributors to contribute to Arabic Wikipedia and improve the experience for users of the content. We see an opportunity to be a leader in Arabic language technologies, but not just in researching technologies and developing computing solutions, but making what we do relevant to the average person.” The article also states that a number of initiatives are being developed to grow the Arabic content in Wikipedia, including the development of incentives and authoring tools, incorporating Wikipedia into curriculum and the creation of new Arabic translation tools.
All this sounds great and I’m excited to see how the QCRI and Wikimedia Foundation partnership works, and will certainly be in touch to see if there is anyway ictQATAR or Creative Commons Qatar could be involved. Still, in my opinion, I believe the most important part of this partnership should be in grooming true Arab Wikipedians – people that are passionate about sharing and contributing their insight to the broader community. Wikipedia is amazing because of the diversity of people around the world that passionately edit, revise and manage it each day. The quality is phenomenal because people care and want to share the knowledge. The majority of these people are simply volunteers and often contribute to Wikipedia in their spare time – it’s not a paid job and they don’t generally have any extrinsic benefits. For some reason, the Arabic speaking world has clearly not embraced the intrinsic value of contributing to the world’s encyclopedia.
The initiative to incorporate Wikipedia into classrooms in Qatar and around the Arab world hold the most promise. Having classes learn how to contribute and seeing their work published can go a long way to building that passion for sharing. Hopefully the program plans to work with students in both primary and secondary schools, as well as the many excellent universities here. It will be important to teach the culture of sharing and collaboration, not just forcing contribution in classes. I am hopeful QCRI and Wikimedia will work to tap into existing communities that are passionate about Arabic content and the Arabic language, such as the team that developed the successful “Lets tweet in Arabic” Twitter campaign, which has now grown into a partnership with Twitter.
Language is such a valuable part of one’s identity, and the Internet is increasingly the place where the world connects with other cultures. There is no doubt Wikipedia is one of the most important resources on the Internet today, so the Arab world should do everything it can to make sure it is represented more completely on this platform or it risks having its voice not fully heard. Bravo to QCRI for this partnership and I hope it is a resounding success!