Wikipedia welcomes its 100,000th article in Arabic

Wikipedia has reached a total amount of 100,000 articles written in Arabic. It’s a good news, cause it means content in Arabic is growing over the web, but still lot of things can be done in the Region, if we think that there are 22 countries officially speaking Arabic. Hope this is just the first step of a fast growing process.

Thanks to Michelle for pointing out this news!

Why the Arabs are lost in translation..

I would like to spend a few words in response to the blog post written by my friends at MeedanWhy Middle East social-web projects miss their target audience“.  You’ve touched one very weak point -maybe the weakest- concerning the state of the Arabic web: the language issue. The gap Arabic/English is there, and you’re right when you say that basically “when in Rome, do what the Romans do”. Anyway, the point is exactly here: what are the Romans (the Arabs) doing right now?

All the qualified training programmes -particularly in media field, but also in science, engineer, etc- all across the Arab world are.. in English! Go visit all the most important universities in the Arab world and you will see that the majority is offering courses and training in English. It’s not by chance that many foreigners that want to learn the Arabic language go to Syria. I had myself the privilege to experience both Syrian public university in Damascus -Faculty of Journalism- and the very qualified Syrian International Academy which gives the best and professional training in public relations and media Arabic (btw, thanks for the compliments about my Syrian Arabic, but it’s exactly for those reasons here above that I can speak, having learned it in a place where media training in Arabic is still strong).

It’s true,  social-web trainings such as the one we did with Royal Film Commission in Jordan would deserve to be done in Arabic, in order to include people from countries -like Iraq-where students are not so comfortable in English as they are in other countries like Lebanon or Jordan.  But I don’t think we missed our target audience. Joi Ito, the trainer and Creative Commons’ Ceo, speaks English and I don’t think a live translation would have been so effective as his words were, directly, to the students. There are “places” sometimes in human interaction where translation can’t go too much further, in order not to start to be literally “lost” in that translation.

We are thinking, next time, to offer a training in Arabic for Arabic speakers only, but it would be a different one. Arab trainers -or foreigners who speak enough good Arabic- should train the students, I personally don’t think translation can be effective in all the human interaction situations, and having even a live translation of such a workshop done by an English speaker would never be the same, cause something will be irreparably lost in translation.  Instead, we should maybe encourage Arabs and Arabic speakers to train in Arabic -despite of the difficulties of translating the web 2.0 into this beautiful language-  by tailoring the contents of the training itself directly for an Arabic-only speaking audience. Language has got a culture inside itself and, again, having followed journalism training in Arabic I think I can guess some of the nuances that will always be lost in translation.

Speaking about that, it’s very important to remind the work of organisations such as Social Media Exchange in Beirut and the Arab Digital Expression Foundation in Cairo that are putting lots of efforts in doing web 2.0 training directly in Arabic, with a different methodology and not only a different terminology due to the translation.

But, again, I guess the problem is bigger than it seems: how we can have more Arabs speaking Arabic and producing content in Arabic? How we can encourage this process? Is this only a matter of translation -or is it rather a matter of establishing the culture itself of training in Arabic, a culture that most of the Arab world itself lacks?

Jordan Media Institute, the soon-to-be-open media training school in Jordan, is putting together one of the few available journalism curricula in Arabic. Syrian International Academy has been doing this for many years now. Al Jazeera does have a very high level training in the media field and in Arabic, of course. But what about all the other existing universities all across the Arab world?

If the Arabs themselves consider Arabic to be the proper language only for literature and poetry, while media and journalism should be left to English, no translation in the world would ever been able to fill any gap.

Because, as I’ve heard in a theatre play while in Damascus:  “Without Al Jazeera and  the foreigners  desperately trying to learn the language, nobody would ever speak Arabic in the Arab world“.

Sadly, it was supposed to be a comedy.

Arabic comics (under CC) that rock!

While off in Beirut, I had the great chance on saturday to take part to the live 24/24 hours comics marathon Grand Papier.  I was in Hatem’s cosy flat in Hamra, West Beirut. Hatem is one of the artists who have founded Samandal, the Lebanese comics magazine (online and hardcopy) that is released under Creative Commons license.

This was the great atmosphere I’ve found over there:


samandal3 samandal6

The marathon featured online contributions from different cities in the world, like Beirut, Brussels, Paris, Montreal, even Papetee. Everybody was connected thru a webcam


Everybody was invited to write his/her own story starting from a common picture posted online, and everybody worked out something according to his/her style and fantasy.

samandal samandal11

Samandal‘s folks are not new to these extravangances. They are the first ones who organised a remix party, encouraging the invited artists to play with their works released under Creative Commons, doing cut up and re-publishing the stuff.

The comics feature different Arab artists, who write stories both in Arabic and French or English. Great strips can be found from countries that you would never have imagined, like the Dubai hyppie series, coming from UAE and describing in an hilarious way the daily life of a young Emirati; or like the manga strips, Japanese way, perfectly re-designed by young veiled ladies living in Lebanese refugee camps.

Samandal can be found on the Internet and it is also distributed in a very cool hardcopy edition available all over the places in Beirut (including the airport) and some other Arab countries. The team is very open to submissions coming from all across the Arab world. Next deadline is on 31st may.

Thanks to the Samandal‘s folks for having invited me to the marathon and for doing such a cool thing under CC.


Wikipedia goes Creative Commons BY-SA!

After a consultation vote held in the past few weeks within its worlwide community, Wikipedia has finally voted in favour of publishing its content under the Creative Commons BY-SA license.

This is a great news that contributes even further to foster the cooperation among organisations as Free Software Foundation, Wikimedia Foundation and Creative Commons and to create a larger worldwide community who cares about knowledge sharing and culture. Mabrouk to everybody!

This is the press release coming from the Wikimedia Foundation:

May 21, 2009

San Francisco, California — Earlier today the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees passed a resolution that will bring about significant changes to the way the content of the Wikimedia Foundation projects, including Wikipedia, will be licensed. This resolution follows a vote among the international Wikimedia community. More than 17,000 votes were cast, with strongest participation in English, German, French, Russian, Spanish, Polish, Italian, and Chinese. 88% of all voters who expressed an opinion supported the change.

All Wikimedia content can be used for any purpose, as long as proper credit is given and modifications are made available under the same terms. This open access approach to copyright is supported using a license which explicitly grants everyone those freedoms. The decision will result in all of the Wikimedia Foundation’s projects moving from the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) to the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License (CC-BY-SA) as their primary content license. The GFDL, which has served Wikipedia since its inception, will continue to be supported where possible, but not to the detriment of interoperability.

The licensing change means that all Wikimedia project content will be more interoperable with existing CC-BY-SA content and easier to re-use. “The volunteers who work on Wikimedia projects have very strongly supported making their contributions available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License (CC-BY-SA) in addition to the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL),” said Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees Chair, Michael Snow. “Updating our license terms will support Wikimedia’s charitable mission, by making our projects legally compatible with others that have chosen the CC-BY-SA license. Our free information and educational content can be shared more readily and will be easier for everyone to use.”

Wikipedia has historically been licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, which was developed for software documentation by the Free Software Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Richard Stallman, with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom and to defend the rights of all free software users. At the time of Wikipedia’s inception in 2001, it was one of the few licenses available for works other than software which focused on granting freedoms to re-use and re-distribute information.

Since their creation in 2002, the Creative Commons licenses have provided a practical and simple means for authors to choose licenses that grant broader freedoms than publication under normal copyright. They have since seen strong adoption in science, education, photography, music, and many other areas. Major search engines, photo sharing sites like Flickr, universities, archives and libraries have all begun supporting the Creative Commons licensing model, and the idea of a culture which grants broad freedoms to remix and re-use information has become mainstream.

Lawrence Lessig, the founder of Creative Commons, offered the following comment on the announcement of the licensing decision: “Richard Stallman’s commitment to the cause of free culture has been an inspiration to us all. Assuring the interoperability of free culture is a critical step towards making this freedom work. The Wikipedia community is to be congratulated for its decision, and the Free Software Foundation thanked for its help. I am enormously happy about this decision.”

Because Wikipedia’s license was chosen by project founder Jimmy Wales when Creative Commons hadn’t yet been created, Wikipedia’s early commitment to free sharing and free re-use has actually worked against legal interoperability. Moreover, because the GNU FDL was designed for software documentation, some of its requirements (such as the requirement to include a copy of the license text with each copy) have encumbered re-use of Wikipedia content. The licensing update was possible because the Free Software Foundation agreed to modify the GNU Free Documentation License in November last year.

As the decision to re-license was approved by both the Wikimedia volunteer community and the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, the organization is now taking steps to update all its licensing terms through June. With the dual-license system in place, content can be be further re-used under either the GFDL or the CC-BY-SA license, but the GFDL will be dropped from content objects where this is necessary to support remixing it with existing CC-BY-SA content.

Royal Film Commission/Creative Commons workshop in Amman going great

I am currently out in Amman, fourth day of the online media creativity workshop, the join effort between Royal Film Commission of Jordan and Creative Commons.

The students are great, very active and creative and I think everybody is enjoying the training. Joi (Ito), CEO of Creative Commons, is teaching the students how to use online tools to create stuff and promote it. He has been a great teacher, full of passion and energy -as usual!-. Since he is also a great photographer, he has put a lot of nice pics on his Flickr photostream. He also wrote a very nice post on his blog and I’d love to thank him too, for all the energy he put in this and also for the fun we all had in the past days. Thanks also to the students, the SAE people and the great staff of Royal Film Commission, Mohannad and Nada that made this possible and Mais who is our angel..

For who’s interested to follow live we set up a blog and Twitter tagged with#rfconlinemedia.