The Meedan Blog Archive

Our First Translations from Saudi Arabia's Twittersphere

 A screenshot of MapD, the software used to generate the first selection of tweets for our project. Each dot represents tweet, and each color represents a different individual.

This month marks the beginning of our long collaboration with Paul Salopek's Out of Eden Walk, a seven-year journey in slow journalism, as Salopek literally walks around the world, tracing the history of human migration. We wrote about this walk previously when the project began, and we're excited to announce that our first batch of translations is now live.  They come from the immediate vicinity of Paul's 15th Milestone (each milestone occurs roughly every 100 miles), which he describes as "On the pilgrim trail from Cairo to Mecca", and within a few days before and after his arrival.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia makes an ideal location for beginning this project, as the country has seen 3000% growth in Twitter usage in the past year.  Translating and setting the context behind 34 tweets, which we selected as a tiny slice into the tens of thousands being sent each day from the region, was a multi-step process:

  1. Paul's team informs us of the next approximate milestone location and his estimated arrival time.

  2. Todd Mostak at MapD, a mapping and curation platform for social media, pulls the data for tweets geotagged in the vicinity of the region. Because Paul is walking largely through the desert right now, we cast a wider net than we might if he were in an urban area.

  3. We receive the tweets and sort them by vicinity to Paul's milestone, and then we send it our translators: the multi-talented Anas Qtiesh here at Meedan, and Samy and Mina at Taghreedat, the largest Arabic language crowd-sourcing initiative in the MENA region.

  4. Anas and the Taghreedat team look through the tweets, selecting ones that can tell a story about the region, comment on current events, have rich or interesting imagery, or simply surprise and delight. They've provided an amazing selection this round.

  5. They then translate the messages, adding additional context and notes for English-speaking readers who might not be familiar with what is being discussed in the tweet.

  6. We then review, edit and refine the content, and these translations and notes are placed into Translatedesk.

  7. An embed code is generated, and we send that over to the Out of Eden Walk team, along with a brief summary of what we saw. We try to provide an overview similar to Paul's descriptions, not trying to say everything, but give a general impression.

We'll have more posts coming soon about the process, from curation to translation to annotation. In the mean time, we hope these translations will shed light on the conversations on social media that are being held around the region, from current events to prayers to chatting about sports.

We owe a huge note of thanks to Translatedesk advisor Ethan Zuckerman for making the introduction to Out of Eden Walk; be sure to read his terrific reflections as the center he directs, MIT's Center for Civic Media, serves as the "pit crew" for Paul's journey. To the Out of Eden Walk team, including Patrick Wellever, Julia Payne and Don Belt. And, of course, to Paul Salopek, for inspiring this project.  To a borrow a phrase from Paul, "Onward!"

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2014-03-04 22:09:36 -0800
[…] time we wrote about Translatedesk and the Out of Eden Walk project, our journey with Paul had just begun, as he walked camelside through Saudi Arabia, hugging the coast of the Red Sea. Four milestones in, […]