Free online Arabic encyclopedia may see the light of day
A 75-year-old Palestinian businessman is on a $10 million mission to boost Arabic on the Internet, where it accounts for less than 1 per cent of websites despite being spoken by one in 20 people worldwide.
If Talal Abu Ghazaleh, owner of the education and professional services firm Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organisation (TAG-Org), has his way, the end of this year will see the launch of Tagipedia, a free online Arabic encyclopedia with a million entries.
"I see it as a means of building an Arab knowledge society, which is my mission in life ... to contribute to the economic and social development of the Arab world," he said. About 350 million people, or 5 per cent of the world's population, consider Arabic their first language, while hundreds of millions more are familiar with it through the Holy Quran.
Yet only 0.9 per cent of websites use Arabic, placing it 13th overall behind the likes of Polish and Dutch, according to the analysts W3techs. "For a language with a great heritage and culture, that is very modest," said the effervescent Ghazaleh, who says his company has spent more than $10 million developing Tagipedia over the past five years, and will fund its running costs, keeping it free of advertising.
TAG-Org, which has its headquarters in Jordan and 80 offices around the world, began as an accounting firm and has diversified into other sectors including education, information technology, intellectual property and legal services.
Act of philanthropy
Ghazaleh describes the website as an act of philanthropy. Unlike Wikipedia, whose content is created by users, Tagipedia will have a more traditional form, with all entries vetted for accuracy and relevance before publication.
Ghazaleh expects it to have 1 million entries by launch, compared to Wikipedia's 235,000 or so articles in Arabic: "Wikipedia is a great innovation and it helped collect, store and disseminate knowledge, but there has always been a call for enhancing the Arabic content on the Internet."
University students have been researching the entries, which are then vetted by academics and Tagipedia's in-house experts.
The United States led the Internet's growth, which remains skewed towards languages with Latin alphabets, and English in particular. Only 10 per cent of Internet users in the Arab world can interact with English websites, according to Fadi Chehade, chief executive of ICANN, a group that manages some of the Internet's key infrastructure.
"What about the other 90 per cent?" he said. "Some don't even have English keyboards."
This may have contributed to Arabic speakers' relatively small online presence; in 2011, 29.8 per cent of people in Arab states were using the Internet, according to the International Telecommunication Union.