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UPDATE: Why Middle East web projects miss their target audience

There's been plenty of discussion generated about the role of translation in social web projects since we posted on this yesterday.

GV blogger and Meedani producer Eman Abd El Rahman - @lastoadri -  is supportive:

I totally agree with this post, and actually I was thinking about the same few days ago. You know, we barely have such conferences in the Arab world. Its usually in UK, US.. etc. People in the west have more exposure than we are in here. That's why when I was in the "Blogging the future conference" was amazed by the different mentalities between the western bloggers and Arab ones.. its like, we are 2 worlds apart.. I'm serious!..

More conferences needs to be here.. Arabs has to pay more attention to their language.. and help in adding more Arabic content to the web.

It's a pity we "as arabs" prefere to use the English terminilogies instead of the Arabized words.. yes its hectic and sometimes I laugh at some of the translations.. but well.. I have to, because thats the only way I can be effective in my own part of the world.. Thats the only way we can enrich  our culture..!

It was great too to see a response from Donatella Della Ratta who was closely involved in the RFC in Jordan creativity workshop that used Meedan so well as a cross-language live blogging platform.

She argues for tailored language approaches to training programs, cautioning against the pitfalls of translation that fails to bridge understanding:

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.

The director of Beirut-based Social Media Exchange, Jessica Dheere,  has useful insight into the way in which modern standard written Arabic can itself fail to stand as a lingua franca in the Middle East, undermining translation efforts (something we've tussled with on Meedan given the highly fluid linguistic environment of the Arabic web):

In talking with the founders of DigiActive last year when proposing to translate their Introduction to Facebook Activism (pdf), which we did, he brought up the point that even in Fusha, not all terminology relating to the Internet was commonly understood. We started playing around with ideas for posting a translation and letting people from various regions comment on the terminology, and actually not just for tech terms but even for words like "activism," where there seems to be divergence.

On a point of detail, Gaurav Mishra picked me up on my suggestion that a translation deficit had hindered Vote Report India's attempts to collate a wide array of information streams about the recent Indian elections:

I have written before that language (English vs. vernacular), mode of access (Internet vs. mobile) and social dynamics (global vs. Indian) will be the three dimensions of differentiation for Indian social networking sites. However, English is still the preferred language for most of India’s 50 million internet users and almost 92% of all Indian blogs we analyzed for the recent State of the Indian Blogosphere Report were in English. Clearly, it’s still OK to launch your Indian social web project only in English.

But there's a deeper point here.  Although Mishra points out that the Indian web is way ahead of the Arabic web in terms of English language access, he reminds us that the key need is to 'build offline support for digital civil society initiatives to succeed'.

This is a crucial lesson that needs to be learned.  But it's one that only reinforces the need for digital projects in the Middle East to take  Arabic language translation seriously if they hope to engage broadly and deeply with the people of the region.

Comments on this post

2009-05-26 21:40:38 -0700
[...] Thank you, Meedan, for updating the original post and linking to this post in a follow-up. I agree that doing an Arabic translation for Sharik961 will help build offline support for [...]
2009-05-28 11:14:31 -0700
There is an interesting discussion about this on the meedan mailing list: http://groups.google.com/group/meedan/browse_thread/thread/2e611fabcb207d66 cheers c
2009-06-05 20:27:17 -0700
[...] Weyman, from the Meedan blog, continues to discuss the role of translation in social web projects. Cancel this [...]
2009-06-08 18:38:45 -0700
[...] Weyman, from the Meedan blog, continues to discuss the role of translation in social web projects. Cancel this [...]