My friend Kevin Donovan has an interesting post today, wondering about the size of the Arabic-language wikipedia. As he observes, it’s smaller than the Esperanto wikipedia despite the fact that it’s likely the fifth most spoken language in the world, at least in terms of native speakers. (Esperanto, for the curious, is not the fourth most spoken language in the world.) Kevin is suspicious of attempts to pay people to contribute to small wikipedias, and wonders what sort of incentives in a gift economy might encourage people to author content for small Wikipedias.
Kevin references an old post of mine, where I tried to figure out the ratio of native speakers of a language to the number of wikipedia entries, and offer some speculation about the motivations of people who contribute to wikipedia in their mother tongues versus contributing in English. I suggested that some wikipedians might be contributing to the English-language wikipedia rather than their native wikipedias because they’ll have a much broader reach and influence, as the English-language wikipedia is one of the world’s most popular sites, while smaller wikipedias often have small audiences.
The question is a timely one, as the Wikimania conference just took place in Alexandria and may serve as a major impetus to encourage contributions to the Arabic Wikipedia. Kevin’s post speculates that there may be a form of “social permission” that lets people know that it’s okay to contribute to a project like wikipedia, even in absence of formal reward mechanisms. As I was reading this post (serendipity!), I got an email summarizing the results of an Egyptian government study on blogs from a friend who works with Jeeran.com. My friend was pleased by results that suggested that more than 70% of Egyptian bloggers were using Jeeran. I was staggered by the size of the Egyptian blogosphere:
– The total number of Arabic blogs is 450.000 blogs with a percentage of 0.7 % of the total number of blogs in the world. And the Egyptian blogs form 30.7 % of the Arabic blogs.
– 76.8 % of the Egyptian blogs use the Arabic language, 9.6 % are written in English, and 20.8 % are mixed.
– 73 % of the Egyptian bloggers are males, and 27 % are females.
– 53.1 % of the Egyptian bloggers are between 20 – 30 years old.
(I’m quoting my friend’s translation – the original report is in Arabic, and is available here as a pdf.)
Egypt is a big place, with over 80 million people. But net penetration is around 10%, and broadband penetration is much lower, with ITU estimates of only about 430,000 subscribers. In other words, there are roughly as many Egyptian bloggers as broadband subscribers, and roughly one of twenty Egyptian net users is a blogger, which isn’t a bad participation rate.
The mixed language nature of Egyptian blogs is particularly interesting – since the vast majority of Egyptians speak Arabic, this suggests roughly 30% of Egyptian bloggers – more than 100,000 people – have the linguistic skills neccesary to translate content from the English wikipedia into Arabic. And the whole mass of bloggers have the technical means to contribute to the Arabic wikiedia, should they be interested in doing so.
Which brings me to Kevin’s question about cultural “permission” to participate in a project. Blogging has gotten a lot of press in Egypt, much of it characterizing blogging as a highly political activity. A number of Egyptian bloggers have been imprisoned, either for their online writing or their offline activism, and it’s likely that some Egyptians think of blogging as a dangerous activity. That hasn’t stopped hundreds of thousands of young Egyptians from getting online. Here’s hoping that Wikimania and the press attention surrounding it helps recruit thousands of new authors to the Arabic wikipedia in the near future.
Noam Cohen in the New York Times Bits blog talks in detail about the conversation about low participation in the Arabic Wikipedia at Wikimania.