The Arab Thought Foundation, a non-profit institute that supports research, translation, and learning, announced last week the beginning of a new project that is intended to help scholars analyse information in Arabic on the Internet.
The new website, based in Beirut and called “the Arabic Content on the Internet and the Statistical Observatory” seeks to make it possible to find everything written in Arabic and published on the Internet, along with audio and video recordings that are in Arabic, and present all the content with statistical and analytical information about it.
“It’s the first Arab comprehensive cognitive project,” Dr. Soliman Abdel Moneim, the secretary general of the Arab Thought Foundation, said at the opening ceremony.
This project is the result of two years of work. It separates online texts, audio and video into “informatics units.” So far the project has analysed 20,451,084 Arabic informatics units that were produced between 1990 and 2011. The content is taken from the 22 Arab countries and 66 non-Arab countries and will be be updated every six months, the foundation says. The content covers eight different areas including: social and humanitarian texts, media and communication, culture and thought, political and legal, economic and services, education and science, security and military research. The digital-collection technique excludes Persian content, which has similar characters. In addition to websites, the project also gets data from social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, Flickr, forums and mailing lists.
Dr. Imad Bashir, one of the supervisors on the project, said that the project is a semantic digital study that depends on an unusual electronic methodology with some light human intervention: “You just need to determine the scope of the search clearly to get a result in the form of a graphic.” Dr. Bashir added that the project will enhance the Arabic digital presence on the Internet, as it will help develop the available Arabic search engines.
“It’s really a huge database; it’s an important rich resource,” said Dr. Zahida Darwish, Secretary General of the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO said.
She pointed out the need to promote the Arabic digital content, which is less than 3 percent of the content on the Internet, while 14.2 percent of Internet users are Arabic speakers. “It’s a small percentage when compared with the digital content of other languages,” she said.
Arab projects to develop digital content are growing. One of the earliest, the Centre for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage, started in Egypt in 2000. Affiliated with Bibliotheca Alexandrina and supported by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, this centre seeks to document and spread awareness of Egypt’s cultural and natural heritage. Qatar has established a Digital Content Incubation Centre to support digital entrepreneurs, expand the Arabic vocabulary of technological terms, and promote the production of Arabic content. Also, Saudi Arabia has more than sixty projects that focus mainly on developing digital content.
An estimated 90 percent of the population of the Arab region is fluent only in Arabic, and 60 percent of Internet users in the region prefer Arabic as the language of Internet sites, according to “Measuring the WSIS Targets: A Statistical Framework,” published by the International Telecommunication Union in 2011. However, only 18.8 percent of Arabic speakers worldwide use the Internet.
The problem of the Arabic content on the Internet is not a matter of quantity only; it is quality also, scholars say. “The problem of the Arabic content is not a size problem only, but in content that does not answer the researchers’ questions,” Dr. Khaled Elghamry, senior lecturer in computational linguistics at Ain Shams University, in Cairo, said. He stressed that the real challenge is to improve the Arabic content to meet the demand for information, so Arabic readers would not have a need to search for information in other languages.
Go here for more information about the project.
About The Arab Thought Foundation:
The Arab Thought Foundation is a non-governmental independent foundation established in June 2001. It was started and founded by Prince Khalid Al Faisal, from Saudi Arabia. ATF’s headquarters are located in Beirut. It is a joint effort between businessmen and intellectuals to promote Arab core principles, values and morals within the confines of responsible freedom. It is concerned with all fields of knowledge, covering sciences, culture and the arts.