x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Arabic poetry tradition gets digital platform

One of the Middle East's most popular websites hopes to reinvent the great Arab tradition of impromptu poetry.

One of the most popular websites in the Middle East hopes to reinvent the great Arab tradition of impromptu poetry, bringing it to a new audience over a digital platform. Seejal, an Arabic word describing improvised verbal duels between poets, was recently launched by Jeeran.com, a website that lets users create and share their content online. "Poetry is an amazingly big thing in this region, and we decided to take a tradition that goes back 3,000 years and give it a web 2.0 spin," said Omar Koudsi, the co-founder of Jeeran. "Because what is impromptu poetry? It's user-generated content! It's tweets! It's people tweeting at each other." The move comes as the team behind Jeeran seek to expand the volume of Arabic content available online, and with it the volume of online advertising dollars targeting Arab internet users. A professional poet has been hired as a full-time leader of the Seejal website, joining 43 other staff at the company, which is based in Amman, Jordan. He will oversee the creative side of Seejal, which allows users to challenge others to poetry competitions and vote on their favourite entries. "He's an in-house poet," Mr Koudsi said. "Saying that never gets old. His role is to bring poets together, and to add a judgemental element, helping decide who wins the contests." The Arabic poetry tradition has re-entered popular culture through productions such as the Abu Dhabi TV reality show Millions Poet, which was the highest-rating Arabic television programme in the region in recent years. In March, the final episode of its most recent season drew an audience of more than 50 million. Jeeran, which was founded by Mr Koudsi and his business partner, Laith Zraikat, while studying together at university, now attracts more than 7 million unique users each month. They plan to double that number this year, and expect to draw in more than US$1 million (Dh3.67m) in advertising revenues. Last month, the company received investment from Intel Capital, one of the world's largest technology venture funds. In 2007, the company received its first major investment, from the Amman-based IV Holdings, the Arab world's largest investor in internet start-ups. tgara@thenational.ae