x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Wikipedia may have answer for Arabic advertisers

Growth in ad spending would follow greater use of the language, MENA region executive says.

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Boosting the amount of Arabic-language content on the internet, including the number of Arabic articles on Wikipedia, would help increase advertising spending in digital media, says the chief executive of the largest online advertising network in the MENA region. Only between 1 and 2 per cent of the region's advertising outlay goes to online media, but boosting local content, along with more internet penetration and building up broadband infrastructure, could lift this, said Isam Bayazidi, the head of the Ikoo advertising network.

Online ad revenue in the pan-Arab region will rise by between 70 and 80 per cent this year to between US$100 million (Dh367.3m) and $110m, Mr Bayazidi said. "Most of the growth is outside the UAE, in [Saudi Arabia], Egypt and Morocco," he said. "But to increase the online spend [in the MENA region] from 1 per cent to 4 or 5 per cent of the total market, we need to push content." Mr Bayazidi said he was in talks with Wikipedia contributors to look at boosting Arabic articles. Despite being the fifth most-spoken language in the world, there are only 128,610 Arabic entries on Wikipedia, ranking it the 24th language by number of articles. Wikipediahas more than 3.3 million articles in English.

Norwegian is spoken by just 5 million people, but there are more than twice the number of Wikipedia articles in Norwegian as Arabic. There are more Wikipedia articles in Esperanto, an artificial language, than Arabic. "I have been in talks with the guys at the Arabic Wikipedia to see how we can help them grow," Mr Bayazidi said. "It would help us in an indirect way. One of the things holding back the growth of internet advertising is the availability of online content.

"The Arabic language is the fifth most-spoken language in the world, but the Wikipedia for it was in a sorry state. I was leading the Arabic Wikipedia for three years [starting in 2004-2005]. When I came in [I] found the Arabic Wikipedia had about 10 articles, which was pathetic." Wael Ghonim, Google's product and marketing manager for MENA, agrees that more Wikipedia content in Arabic could help boost ad revenues. He said he launched a drive to create more Arabic Wikipedia entries last year by recruiting a group of students at Cairo University.

"Last year we noticed Arabic content on Wikipedia was pretty low. The Indonesian version had 60 million words, the Portuguese version had 140 million, but the Arabic version had only 22 million. This was a joke considering that 350 million people speak Arabic." After the campaign the Arabic content on Wikipedia rose by 7 million words, Mr Ghonim said. Mr Bayazidi said he was confident online advertising spending would increase, adding his company was on a regional expansion drive. Ikoo was founded as E-Marketing in 2005 and sells ads across 120 regional websites.

This year it was acquired by Jabbar Group, which comprises most of the remaining assets of the Maktoob Group after Yahoo bought it last year. @Email:bflanagan@thenational.ae