Wikipedia to open Arab office
Wikipedia is planning to open an office in the Mena region to try to boost the number of Arabic-language contributions to the online encyclopedia.
Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, says Egypt and Jordan are the most likely places in which it may form a presence. Wikipedia will this year open an office in India, its first outside the US.
Mr Wales says it is "very likely" Wikipedia will launch a presence in the Arab world, with a "50-50 chance" the Arab region will be home to its second international office. "We very likely would be opening an office somewhere in the Arab world," he says. "The goal is to really increase the total content in Arabic and the participation of people in the region."
Many commentators have pointed out the Arabic language is under-represented on Wikipedia.
The Arabic version is just 25th in the list of Wikipedias by language. There are only 143,422 Arabic-language articles on Wikipedia, compared with 3.6 million in English. That is despite Arabic being the world's fifth most-spoken language, with more than 200 million native speakers globally.
And the Arabic-language version of Wikipedia has only just overtaken Esperanto in terms of size. As of July last year, there were just 128,610 Arabic entries on Wikipedia, behind that of Esperanto, a constructed language with fewer than 1,000 native speakers, according to some estimates.
But there are now 143,422 articles in Arabic on Wikipedia, ranking it just ahead of Esperanto at 142,077, Wikipedia statistics show.
Reasons for the imbalance include the level of broadband penetration, says Mr Wales. But a more mundane technical problem, now solved, was also part of the problem.
"One of the reasons is not cultural at all - it's really a software issue," he says.
"One of the problems we had was left-to-right [text display] rather than right-to-left. So Arabic got quite a late start, as opposed to Esperanto, which is written left to right." Wikipedia's regional office would be small and focus on aspects such as technical support, public relations, partnerships and outreach. Wikipedia is funded by donations but Mr Wales saysfund-raising will not be a focus of the office in the Arab region.
Any launch of an office here is "still a good year away", he adds. "We've not really entered into the beginning of a process of identifying the best location." But Mr Wales rules out Saudi Arabia as a destination for the office.
He claims to have been misquoted in an article in the Saudi Gazette newspaper, which reported him as saying Wikipedia is "exploring possibilities of opening an office in Saudi Arabia".
He added that social conventions in Saudi Arabia would not make it a strong choice for Wikipedia. "In my speech in Saudi Arabia I described the terrible [status] of women in Saudi Arabia, and how I think that should change," Mr Wales says.
"And so I wouldn't have said we were opening an office there. Saudi would be pretty much the bottom of the list. We'd be more interested in Egypt or Jordan."
Updated: February 28, 2011 04:00 AM