x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Arab tweeters to get their own voice online

Group campaigning for Twitter to launch a full Arabic service has 91 members in 10 Arab countries and nearly 15,000 followers.

SHARJAH // The organisers and supporters of a campaign set up to urge Twitter to launch a full Arabic service are working with the social networking giant to make this aim a reality.

At present it is possible to tweet in Arabic but there is no Arabic user interface, and searching for Arab topics can be difficult. The group's aim is to use an army of translators to create an Arabic version of the Twitter website, though this must be done in line with strict rules set out by the US company. But the user-supplied content will not be translated.

One of the main objectives is to have Arabic hashtags - signs denoting keywords or topics in a tweet. And this has already been partially achieved as these are now supported by the mobile version of Twitter.

The group, #letstweetinarabic (@taghreedat), has grown fast since its launch in July from a Qatar campaigning body into an international supplier of Arabic content on Twitter. It has 91 members in 10 Arab countries - including the UAE - plus Canada, and nearly 15,000 followers.

Two of those behind the initiative, Sami Mustafa Al Mubarak and Mina Nagy Michel Takla, based in Qatar, have spoken in the UAE for the first time about their aims and the progress made so far. Their presentation at the Sharjah International Book Fair was intended to attract supporters for plans to move from being an online community into a full-scale organisation, and they are due to showcase the project soon at Abu Dhabi's twofour54 Arabic media hub.

"We are an online initiative that aims to increase Arabic content and gather an online content community," said Mr Al Mubarak. "Our members produce content on a regular basis, they are from different backgrounds and specialisations, some are doctors, some are robotics specialists, some are engineers, some are students and some are professors.

"Because Twitter gives us just 140 characters we use something called a Twitter chain. Someone will talk about a topic in a series of tweets which are ordered logically, and after that is done we take the tweets and archive them on Storify, the social media archiving site."

The use of Storify means that the content remains available permanently and is searchable. The group already has 100 chains that have been read by 15,000 viewers, with the more popular ones attracting up to 1,000.

"We have a very diverse type of content, it is topic-diverse and geographically diverse," added Mr Al Mubarak. "The subjects range from social topics all the way to world markets and engineering - a lot of things. We ask our members to give references to where they're getting the information from because we want it to be authentic."

The link-up with Twitter came after the team approached the company and offered the services of a large number of volunteers who were prepared to help translate the site into Arabic.

"We have more than 2,000 volunteers who are all translators. We are the first Arabic account to ever work with Twitter to start the actual translation of Twitter. We will have to translate all the documentation, all the terms, all the glossaries on the Twitter website. Twitter has told us Arabic is on their list, but they can't tell us exactly when it will be supported because they have a lot of technical issues."

FNC member Noura Al Kaabi, a keen user of Twitter, said: "They're empowering the Arabic language. The web doesn't have that much Arabic content compared with other languages, so I believe this is a very great move and I totally admire it."

Ms Al Kaabi is the head of human development at twofour54, and one of her colleagues is due to meet the #letstweetinarabic team soon. "They asked us to support them and we'll see how we can do that," she added. "It'll be a meeting to discuss how we can maybe have some employees who will tweet in Arabic."

Another FNC member and Twitter user, Marwan bin Ghalita, also welcomed the initiative, and said: "Technological advances are always good, and I wish them luck."

Anyone wishing to sign up as a translator can do so at www.taghreedat.com

csimpson@thenational.ae