By Sidra Tariq
Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa region are quite well connected through Internet, especially in the oil-rich countries, however one of the issues is the lack of digital content in Arabic.
Although lack of Arabic content poses a huge challenge, it also provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Online Arabic content production can be an avenue start-ups can explore, as recent research of 3,000 Internet users across the Arab region highlights ‘lack of content in my language’ as one of the main challenges facing respondents.
The white paper, entitled: The Arab World Online 2014: Digital Trends in the Smart Government Era, was released earlier this week by the governance and innovation programme at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government (MBRSG), in co-operation with job website Bayt.com. Conducted among respondents from 22 countries in the region between February and March, the survey focuses on online behaviour, e-government attitudes, online news and service consumption, e-learning, as well as the use of mobile and social media.
“One of the key findings of the research is that ‘accessibility and connectivity’, ‘cost’ and ‘lack of content in my language’ were the top three challenges facing internet users in the Arab region. Governments and business leaders need to adapt their policies to harness this potential, in view of the ever-changing digital trends, especially among Arab youth,” says Fadi Salem, director of the governance and innovation programme at MBRSG and co-author of the report.
He adds: “With 135 million internet users in the Arab region today – of which 71 million actively use social media platforms – we are witnessing continued economic and social transformations. While the Arab World is finally matching the global internet penetration average in 2014, the digital divide is now taking new forms, namely the low broadband penetration, limited data availability and scarce online Arabic knowledge and content. Increased availability of public data and online Arabic content, coupled with better broadband connectivity, promise to drive economic growth, enhance job opportunities, increase educational prospects, increase regional trade integrations and enable better ‘smart’ cities infrastructure.”
In an interview with our sister publication, SMEinfo.me, earlier this month, Ammar Malik, director of business development for Dubai Internet City (DIC) and Dubai Outsource Zone, also said that the Middle East region can expect to see more small- to medium-sized enterprises emerge in the Arabic and localised content space.
Speaking about the results of the research, Bayt.com’s CEO Rabea Ataya stresses on the importance for companies to have an online presence: “The findings of the survey reiterate the internet’s role as an indispensable part of our lives, with 53 per cent spending between three and seven hours daily online, and 25 per cent spending over eight hours online a day. This should serve as a clue for entities across the region, from governments to businesses, to adopt an online presence as an essential part of their development strategies.”
The research also reveals that 42 per cent accesses the internet using their smart phones, of which 73 per cent regularly uses ten apps or more.