Arabic Digital Content

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When I wrote “The Growth of Arab Commons” last month, my primary intent was to reflect on what we have achieved over the past year and to pinpoint any challenges or obstacles that may need to be overcome for the Commons to achieve its aimed for growth in the Arab world. Nevertheless, several trends seemed to have a prominent impact. The article concluded with a call to “combine the promotion of Creative Commons in the Arab world with the larger objective of increasing the development of digital content in the Arabic language”.

Well, it does not happen much (at least for me), but it seems that someone was listening!

During The International Symposium on Computers & Arabic Language (ISCAL), held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 10 to 12 November 2007, I delivered a keynote on Creative Commons and the strong link between their philosophical foundation and the sharing culture that dominates the social fabric in the Arab world. My aim was to attract attention to the urgent need to quickly embrace Creative Commons in the region and promote the development of open content in the Arabic language by emphasising the compatibility between Creative Commons and the belief and value systems in the Arab world.

Several researchers in the symposium also acknowledged the trends we observed during our reflection on the growth of Arab Commons. Issues such as the weak representation of the Arabic language on the Internet, the shallow nature of Arabic content currently available and the consumption rather than production of knowledge clearly depicts the need for orchestrated efforts to address the challenges and reverse the trends.

Surprisingly (and fortunately) enough, the last day of the symposium witnessed the launching of what can probably termed the most ambitious initiative in the history of Arabic digital content: the King Abdullah Initiative for the Arabic Digital Content. This initiative aims to digitise a massive amount of content available in the Arabic language. This will of course raise many copyright issues that need to be addressed. Although most of the materials that will be digitised is already in the public domain, a significant portion is not, and appropriate arrangements for making this content available to the widest possible audience should be devised.

It is our hope that this initiative, along with our activities in promoting Creative Commons in the Arab world, will result in a considerable leap in the area of Arabic digital content and in contributing to an accelerated development of an inclusive knowledge society in the Arab world.