You often hear complaints about the lack of Arabic Content, but Meedan, a San Francisco based start-up, is a rare site that has taken steps to address this.
In the past month, the voices of discontent over the lack of Arabic content rose. While Google has always been quite critical, it was recently joined by the Chief Strategist of Etisalat, the telecom provider in the UAE that has a choke like hold over what comes in and what goes out, infamous for blocking the most seemingly innocent of websites.
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Still, the truth cannot be denied. According to Google, less than 1% of the total content online is in Arabic, while there are 56 Million Arab speakers online. In a recent panel discussion, even the usual suspects, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, voiced their concern over the lack of local content!
So, this is where Meedan (meaning “town square” in Arabic) comes in. A non-profit service that hopes to foster greater understanding and tolerance, translates content from the Arabic media to English and vice versa. It’s a clean website with interesting content, and it’s due to come out of beta today!
Its mission, as posted on the website, is:
Meedan’s mission is to further global understanding and tolerance through technology. At Meedan, we think the web can play a big part in bringing people together to help heal mutual enmity and distrust. So we aim to increase the number of cross-language interactions on the web between Arabic and English speakers. … We are multi-cultural, non-partisan, non-ideological, and supportive of diverse viewpoints.
The site takes a relatively novel approach to translating the content, leveraging technology that was originally developed by IBM, and using human translators to improve the translation. As George Weyman, the site’s community manager, explained to The Guardian:
“Everything posted on Meedan is translated first and foremost by machines, and then humans supply improvements to that. We show the translation history, much like Wikipedia, so you can see how it’s evolved,” he said.
“We’re improving the quality of machine translation into Arabic. Over time, we should be able to translate more things, better. It’s very exciting to see that happen – we’re ploughing a furrow that we hope will benefit many other cross-language projects on the web.”
What’s more, the website will also translate comments, allowing users to gain a deeper understanding of how
The site is also trying to avoid controversy in the region by respecting cultural and political boundaries, as Ed Bice, the site’s co-founder and Chief Executive, explains to The Guardian:
“We are trying to respect the boundaries of speech and not agitate against them,” he said. “We are respectful of the many and changing boundaries that define what can be spoken about when and where in the region.”
So, head on over to the Meedan and let us know what you think!