Beirut's SMEX launches an aggregator to support Arabic content online

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You've often heard the statistic: while Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world, with 360 million Arabic speakers, only 3% of all content on the internet is in Arabic.

It's an ongoing problem. In the past few years, a few efforts have been made to boost Arabic on the web, but thus far most of them have focused on aggregating and translating it rather than creating original content.

One of the biggest aggregators in the region is Egyptian platform Akhbarak, which has been aggregating local and regional news in Arabic since 2003.

Less than a year ago, Wamda, YamliVinelabTaghreedat, and Google launched Arabic Web Days (AWD), an initiative designed to support Arabic content creation online, and yet it also has not picked up the momentum that we had hoped, while in general, Arabic digital communities struggle to feel as though demand for original Arabic content is met.

Part of these regional efforts, Social Media Exchange (SMEX), launched Tasharuk (whichs mean "collaborate") last week to also aggregate and showcase Arabic content from the web.

The content Tasharuk focuses on is varied enough to fit 24 categories, including blogging, analytics, mapping, information visualization, mobiles and tablets, privacy and security, media policy and internet governance, Facebook, Twitter, and video, among other.

While working since 2008 to create Arabic content online and deliver trainings on the above topics, the SMEX team noticed that the problem wasn't just a lack of Arabic content, but also, more importantly, its quality. “Most of the content out there is bad quality or translated, which gives the wrong image of the ecosystem,” says Mohamed Najem, cofounder at SMEX.

Therefore the goal of SMEX's new portal is to showcase reliable resources. “We want to pick up good Arabic content online, re-post it, to become a go to platform for rich Arabic content,” says Najem.

Nevertheless, Tahsaruk will not be limited to aggregation. The team is planning to organize two or three seminars on how to produce original Arabic content. “We want to train interested participants to develop the needed skills to create good Arabic content, and make them familiar with the challenges they might face while producing it,” Najem explains.

In addition to offering trainings on how to produce Arabic digital content, Tasharuk’s workshops will focus on training users to organize their content and cover a diverse range of topics. 

Having worked with grants and funds over most of the past six years, the SMEX team also noticed that Arabic content was one avenue where most of the money invested in digital initiatives was not being deployed. “Through building partnerships with Tasharuk, we want to cooperate with funds to create Arabic content,” says Najem.

The goal is to generally contribute to education and build an ecosystem that empowers entrepreneurs and startups to learn. “The region has been very active when it comes to entrepreneurship, and Arabic Entrepreneurs need a strong ecosystem; they need good arabic content to learn and educate themselves,” says Najem.

When we asked Najem why he chose to invest time and effort in creating an aggregator instead of also focusing on creating original Arabic content, he replied that “we are empowering individuals to create content, instead of creating it ourselves, and this is something we find to be very valuable for our societies.” In that sense, yes, SMEX is boosting original content, by reposting it.

In general, aggregators undeniably play an important role in boosting Arabic content online, as they help readers explore new blogs and platforms. But hopefully, having a viable venue for promotoin will also inspire writers to write original pieces instead of only re-sharing, re-posting, or copying the existing Arabic web.

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