The Research Project

This research project began when an alumna of this class, working at The Wikimedia Foundation, reached out to the current students. Sara Yap was working with Wikimedia's Global Development Team, looking into ways to expand Wikipedia across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. She was hoping a team of students in this year's class could help answer this question, namely: What are Wikipedia's options to increase participation in content creation and editing in Arabic across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region?

The process began with our Wikimedia mentor asking four questions. First, how can universities be leveraged? Second, what is the culture of volunteering in the region? Third, what networks (for example, artist, writers and musicians groups, etc.) could be leveraged? Fourth, what type of outreach, such as tutorial and marketing videos or in-person events like content creation marathons, could be used to draw in more Wikipedia Arabic volunteers?

These questions then opened a world of possibilities. We found dozens of new issues that needed addressing. Each topic, it seemed to us, needed its own research project. Therefore, the six students who comprise this team focused on one sub-topic that analyzed in depth the research avenues above. One primary concern for us was the viability of using universities. Was that the most strategic avenue? Were there not better suited networks to tap into? Another subject we wanted to address was that Wikimedia is not working in a void. Twitter, Facebook and other large technology and social networking sites already have Arabic sites or are in the process of setting them up. What lessons can be drawn from them? In addition, the events earlier in the year known as the Arab Spring, that are still unfolding in some countries, drew attention to a large community of bloggers. What is their culture and capabilities? How can they be drawn into?

Finally, our team felt that two ares were not being properly addressed at all. First, in general not just in the Arabic language site, Wikipedia has a gender bias whereby the majority of users are male. Why? And how can females be brought into the process in the MENA region? Second, what is the role of video? In the initial questions from our contact at Wikimedia, video was seen as an outreach tool. Does it have other purposes and uses that are currently not being pursued? Where does video fit into Wikipedia in general, and Wikipedia Arabic in specific, in the multimedia digital environment we live in today?

These 6 topics were investigated individually by one student, with the common goal of answering the main question above. Click on these links to read the students' research pages and learn more about each sub-topic:

Tapping into Existing Volunteer Networks

Incorporating Wikipedia Editing Into University Curricula

Blogging Culture in the Region and Engaging Bloggers

Women and Wikipedia

The Use of Video

Lessons Learned from Facebook Arabic

Background Information

Before we begin investigating Wikipedia Arabic's outreach options and mechanisms, however, we need to address a basic factor: Internet penetration in the MENA region. This is one primary barrier to entry for the online encyclopedia. While there is more information on online culture and Internet penetration on the "Blogging Culture in the Region and Engaging Bloggers" page, below are some basic, important statistics to keep in mind before delving into this research project (from

There are 72,497,466 Internet users as of June 30 2011, which is 33.5% of the population, according to the website Internet World Stats. (Please note that these statistics and the graphs and maps below include Iran, which is not relevant to the Wikipedia Arabic study. However, it remains indicative of the level of Internet penetration in the region). Therefore, of the total number of residents in MENA, estimated at 216,258,843 in 2011, only 33.5% are online.


As you can see in the graph above and the map below, the Internet penetration in the MENA region (in green) remains much lower than in the United States, Europe and East Asia.


The map below shows the Internet usages per 100 people worldwide. The MENA region is in green.


In addition, it is important to note that while Internet usage may be at 33.5%, that is not indicative of access in the home. Below is a chart of the total ownership of personal computers in the world, again from The MENA region is in green.


The map below shows personal computers per 100 people in the world. The MENA region is in green. This is indicative of the dependence on Internet cafes, universities and other public venues for Internet access, which must be taken into account for a research project such as ours.


Below is a graph of the languages used on Twitter. Even with the Arab Spring, the so-called "Twitter Revolutions" (for more on this, see our classmates' research: ), and the movements described in this project to translate twitter, the share of Arabic on the social media site is still only at 1%.

These maps and graphs show that while initiatives such as the Wikimedia Foundation's outreach to MENA countries and the drive for content creation in Arabic are important and necessary, there are still basic barriers to entry and low Internet access that must be taken into consideration.

The Research Team


Sara Yap,
Catalyst Project Associate
Global Development
Wikimedia Foundation

This is the research project's main page.

(This introduction page and the organization of our wiki was done by Michelle Chahine. The graphics heading this and each of our sub-topic research pages were designed by Corey Boling. Clicking on each of these graphics on the top of our pages will lead to the in-class presentation about this project, also designed by Boling. Proofreading was done by Fritz Herrick).