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Web users shunning Arabic Wikipedia

Arab wiki supporters contributing to English and French versions rather than Arabic Wikipedia

Arabic Internet users are shunning the Arabic-language version of online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, according to speakers at the Wikipedia conference.

The annual Wikipedia conference, Wikimania, was held at the Bibliotheca Alexandria, in Egypt last week. While hosting the conference was seen as a big boost to Arabic and African Wikimedia, one of the hot topics of discussion was the low uptake of Wikipedia in Arabic.

The English version of Wikipedia now boasts over two and a half million articles, compared to just over 65,000 in Arabic. Among all the different language Wikipedias, Arabic has a rank of 29, just above Serbian and Slovenian.

The lack of Arabic contributions was attributed to a number of reasons, including greater familiarity with English as an online language for Internet users in the Arab world, a lack of familiarity with Wikipedia as a platform for contribution, and even a lack of Arabic-enabled keyboards.

Wikipedia supporters also felt that there was no point in contributing articles in Arabic when the English language version is so much bigger. The French version of Wikipedia also drew a lot of contributions from Arab countries with historic ties to France.

Speakers at the conference were hopeful that the event would help to kickstart a greater contribution to Arabic wikis.

“The Arabic Wikipedia is getting a lot of attention, Wikimania is an ideal opportunity for all attendees to start thinking about how to improve both quality and quantity of our projects," said Mohamed Ibrahim, Alexandria volunteer organizing committee head.

Dr Ismail Serageldin, director of Bibliotheca Alexandrina commented: "Free-content projects such as Wikipedia are an essential tool for the collection and dissemination of knowledge, especially in the developing world."

The three-day conference also addressed topics related to public collaboration, open source initiatives, free knowledge, wiki technology and open education. Founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, Yahoo!'s executive vice president of Research and Strategic Data Solutions, Usama Fayyad, and LibraryThing's creator Tim Spalding were among the speakers at Wikimania 2008.

Wales gave a speech on freedom of speech, human rights, and free culture, highlighting a correlation between positive rating of countries on the Freedom House scale of democracy and cultural freedom, with the size of the Wikipedia in that language.

The decision to hold Wikimania in Egypt had been criticized, because of Egyptian authorities censoring of the Internet and jailing of bloggers.

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