At the ArabNet conference currently taking place in Beirut, Wikimedia Foundation’s Chief Global Development Officer, Barry Newstead spoke about the state of Arabic content on Wikipedia, and on the Internet in general.

With 280 languages available on Wikipedia, Arabic is ranked at number 27 in terms of volume [Arabic]. It sounds like an impressive number, until you put in context.

While Norwegian is spoken by 4.6 million people, there are 300,000 articles on Wikipedia in the language. Finnish is spoken by 5 million people, and there are 273,000 articles on Wikipedia in the language.

In comparison, there are only 154,000 articles in Arabic, despite the fact that there are roughly 374 million Arabic speakers, making it the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world. Wikipedia’s Arabic articles account for a measly 0.007% of its overall content.

An obvious issue that the Arabic Internet faces is lower penetration rates in comparison to other languages. While Arabic is spoken by over 300 million people, there are only about 86 million of them online, with a penetration rate of 23.9%.

Despite the lower content and penetration numbers, Arabic content is growing at a faster rate than both English and German on Wikipedia. Arabic’s growth rate is 3% compared with 1% in both English and German. The figure is, of course, not surprising considering the fact that the Arabic language is simply catching up.

Wikipedia is not the only site that is seeing a boost in Arabic content. Arabic is the fastest growing language on Twitter, as more speakers are coming online. The rate of growth will no doubt be boosted by Twitter rolling out support of the Arabic language.

Newstead emphasized that there is a strong Arabic Wikipedia community, with over 600 active editors, adding however that half of the site’s Arabic content comes from only 2 countries – divided equally between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. There other half comes from the rest of the world.

While Wikipedia’s Arabic communities is one of the fastest growing in the world, there is still room from growth. Newstead said, “We are excited about the potential for growth here, as more people come on to the Internet, to build an Arabic Wikipedia.”

Newstead revealed that there are institutions in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, including the Qatar Foundation, who are contributing to improving Wikipedia’s Arabic content, but also spoke to a need for local entrepreneurs, businesses and Internet users to become actively involved in contributing to the state of Arabic content on the Web.

He also revealed on Twitter that Wikipedia is “looking for passionate people to join the Wikipedia in Arabic team.”

Some of Wikipedia’s overall statistics were shared. The site is ranked fifth in the world, with 480 million visitors per month, over 21 million articles, and almost 1.5 million contributors since its inception. Wikipedia has 88,500 active contributors per month.

If you want more interesting Wikipedia stats, be sure to check out this post, as well as The Next Web’s interview with Jimmy Wales.