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Overlooked online

Overlooked online

Arabic content is making its presence felt, but more needs to be done to tap the huge potential of this latent market, says Katherine Azmeh.

June 2, 2010 6:01 by

Recently a graphic designer in our corporate offices lamented the lack of a workable online environment in Arabic. “It’s not a requirement for me, but a language so rich and expressive should have an online presence.”

The marketplace is shifting to the virtual environment, and along with it, business, culture, and media. And while this preference for English-based content has not deterred participation by most Lebanese, it does exclude participation by millions of Arabic-only speakers. Moreover, it fails to capitalize on the synergy of Arabic-informed content in the multilingual business environment. Designers and programmers are listening, seeking to capitalize on the untapped potential of Arabic language content.

Ever heard of an Arabic application for Apple products? Neither had Kipp, but twofour54 ibitkar aims to help fund the development. The company provides “funding and support to start-up and early-stage Arabic content initiatives,” Emirates Business reported Wednesday. Their AppsArabia fund will finance apps for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.
Initiatives like the appsArabia fund are buoyed by rising regional internet use, government investments in technological architecture, and a youthful Mideast population. More important, perhaps is the nascent e-economy in the region poised to explode, should Arabic language audiences be given the priority they deserve.

Regional spending on online advertising last year hovered around $90 mn, up nearly 50 percent from the year earlier, and nearly triple the $38 mn spent in 2007, ArabNews reported. Compared to Britain’s $5.3 billion worth of online advertising, it’s easy to see the vast and untapped potential here. With total ad spending for the region estimated at between $4-6 billion, there’s likely to be a significant shift in ad dollars once Arabic speakers are recruited.

Currently, less than 1 percent of online content is in Arabic. With around 320 million Arabic speakers worldwide, it’s not hard to see the potential for those entrepreneurs that effectively integrate Arabic language capabilities into the architecture of internet technology.

Egypt, for instance, represents a strong emerging market for online Arabic content, where “access is becoming cheaper and use of Internet on mobile devices is blossoming,” the ArabNews reported. With planned upgrades of $1 billion to Egyptian broadband capacity, internet penetration is poised for an explosion in a country of more than 70 million.

“The next few million Egyptian Internet users will be people who don’t really speak English,” Google’s regional marketing manager Wael Ghonim said. The challenge will be to invite these new customers into the virtual marketplace in a language they can understand.

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