Discussion: Arabic Wikipedia, What do you think we should do ?

As you know, the Arabic version of Wikipedia is struggling in terms of content. Many articles are just small stubs that are infrequently updated and maintained. I understand that most of us use the English Wikipedia because more people globally are maintaining it. However, the Arabic language remains the mother tongue of the vast majority of people living in Arab countries, and not everybody online is comfortable with the English language. Add to that the large number of small school children who can not really benefit from an English Wikipedia as much as they could from an Arabic version. The presence of an Arabic encyclopedia online is imperative, yet Arabic Wikipedia is still struggling.

What do you think should be done to remedy that ? Does the Wiki model or the single-source (Encarta/Britannica) model work best for Arab users ? What are your thoughts on this subject ?

There has been some discussion on Questler (excellent site btw) on this topic. It has been suggested that maybe university professors should encourage their students to submit information to Arabic Wikipedia as part of their “class project”. Another suggestion is to start an online campaign promoted by us Arab bloggers to encourage people to engage more in Arabic Wikipedia. We can also have a “Write to Arabic Wikipedia Day/Week” that is carried out by the community of Arab bloggers (i know that a similar event has been done in the past, but it did not engage bloggers as much and i believe bloggers are more energetic on this regards). This event could also be done in collaboration with Arabic startups like Yamli that will make it easier for people to type Arabic if that is a barrier.

I am interested in discussing this issue with you. What are your thoughts on this ? You can join the discussion either on Questler, or by leaving a comment on this blog.

Leave a comment ?


  1. At this point it is easier to teach the kids English than to translate all the Wikipedia content into Arabic.
    Plus the English language will help them in the future in many other fields.

  2. Plus if you think of it, if we just keep translating Wikipedia content into Arabic we will just end up in an endless loop, were we are always one step behind, they create content and we translate it.

    It is time sooner or later to adjust our selves to the global language and the sooner the better.

  3. The situation of Arabic Wikipedia is really sad. I think there needs to be some collaboration of a number of authorities to help bridge the gap
    Not so long ago a few UAE sites were working on digitizing Arabic books. These are the historical accounts of Arabic scholars (or basically our side of the story) The result was somewhat encouraging but seriously not enough.
    I think the lack of funding is another factor here. It’s causing a lot of pain to the people trying to make it better.
    Here’s what we need to do:
    1. Clean up the articles that we currently have.
    2. Work on digitizing more content from sources
    3. Work on translating content already available in other languages
    4. Translate articles that are only in Arabic, or show the Arabic to English.
    5. Have some active members who will help keep the content sanitized, up to date and clean
    6. Make sure special interest groups/governments ..etc don’t force their own agenda on the effort
    6.1 Keep the effort secular as many of the matters discussed might not appeal to religious bodies or might have dogmatic view instead of scientific ones. (Or perhaps, Wikipedia would be large enough to keep both sides of the story side by side)
    7. Reward people participating in this effort.
    8. Stop stupid futile efforts in creating similar but way worse products just because we’re “upset” with what’s there to begin with
    9. Encourage the vetting of subjects by scholars and PhD holders in all disciplines

    There are many other things that we need to work on (like unified localization for terms …etc) but keeping Arabic wikipedia in the bottom echelon of the languages is really unacceptable

  4. I think we can get something going to bolster the Arabic content. If a group of people spread all over the world can build an operating system from scratch, we can get people to write a couple of articles in their field.

    an idea I had for a while is to create a system where people can post a widget on their blog, facebook profile, or the signature of their email showing how they’re contributing and how many articles they have written and so on. Besides, wikipedia has a mechanism in place to allow people modify and add to the articles.

    if you get something going, I will help in any way I can.

  5. Nizar: Thank you for your input. I agree with you that always being one step behind and constantly playing catch up is not acceptable. However, the goal would be to get Arabic Wikipedia living on its own. The different language versions of the same article are not always just translations of each other. Usually they are maintained by different people and thus contain different information.

    Additionally, creating a better Arabic Wikipedia is easier and cheaper than migrating everybody to a different language. Also, it is no secret that many Arab curriculums are not always top notch in terms of contents and stimulating students. So such an effort could be a minor step in facilitating education and scientific reform in the Arab world. So it could have many advantages even though English is becoming a global language by now.

    Qwaider: I really like your suggestions. I agree that spending all this effort on creating Wikipedia alternatives is less fruitful than just fixing Arabic Wikipedia. All the suggestions you mentioned are nice and necessary. However, what do you think could be done by us on a grassroots level ?

    Garfan: That is a very nice idea to encourage participation by showing examples. So if i understand you correctly, you are proposing encouraging people to participate in Arabic Wikipedia by giving them examples of other friends of theirs that already have. That would be very cool. Maybe Wikipedia already has such mechanisms to get these stats. I will look into it. Thanks.

  6. Last thing I expected someone with an English blog to write.

    Still, I think it would be better to add more (or translate existing) Arabic content to wikipedia as opposed to creating a brand new Arabic only site.

  7. First target needs to be to start promoting the Wikipedia effort to officials and decision makers in governments, large organizations, universities, companies.

    Once the mentality is changed, many wonderful things can happen

  8. Hani: 🙂 Well i am an Arab, i read Arabic content online, and i occasionally post in Arabic so no big surprise 😛 .

    Yup i agree, adding more content seems like the better thing to do.

    Qwaider: Hmm .. i see your point. Do you think that our blogging community can do anything to promote that thinking ?

  9. A major problem I see is that people are more comfortable with English. I have been taught in an English only school all my life and, other than the Quran, I haven’t read anything Arabic and can barely comprehend written Arabic (though if you take the same paper and speak it I would understand).

    However with the advent of Arabic blogs my Arabic IQ increased substantially. You need people who are not only fluent with Arabic grammar but also have the time to translate. It would be a good idea for translation classes or for professors themselves to add/translate content.

    Otherwise we would end up with accented-Wiki, like the ma9ry thing 😀

  10. KJ: Yes, but you are still a minority. If we consider the population of the Arab world as a whole. Most people in the Arab world are comfortable with Arabic (being their mother tongue). Also, you are not bad in Arabic, your skill is good for writing Wiki entries.

    Still, the whole idea behind a Wiki is that you do not have to get it right the first time. If you input a bunch of things that are not phrased 100% correctly, or have some grammatical mistakes, somebody else can come later on and fix it up. The problem is in inputing the data in the first place. Also, other technologies, like Yamli, can make typing Arabic much easier.

    Also, i want to stress, the idea is not to make it just a translation effort. The idea is to encourage people to use and maintain Arabic Wikipedia.

  11. I think its too early, France has more Internet users than Arabs combined. Once more users join the Arabic web, it won’t be too difficult.

  12. I’m not sure if there’s much you can do about it right now. We have to wait until more people actually wanna use it.

  13. I think this is a great idea, and I think you should take it up with the people at Wikipedia. It is not hard to create a page, I have done it several times for different clients of mine. Any questions, just ask!

  14. Translate articles that are only in Arabic, or show the Arabic to English.Have some active members who will help keep the content sanitized, up to date and clean. Make sure special interest groups/governments ..etc don’t force their own agenda on the effort.Thanks for ask this question.

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