The first Arab Bloggers Meeting last year in Beirut was really good, and the second one which is taking place this week has been going great. Last year’s event, held in Zico House, was small and cozy, and I was afraid that since there will be much more people this time around that we would lose that coziness. Luckily, this is not the case. The atmosphere is pretty informal, and the good thing in this year’s meeting is the large number of practical workshops aiming to teach bloggers some practical skills that they can use to improve their blogging experience.
More than 75 participants from 18 countries kicked off the meeting on Tuesday. The first day included two main presentations: online campaigning on Arab blogs; and a critical look at the “Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere” report.
The online campaigning presentation was given by Egyptian bloggers Noha Atef and Eman Abdul-Rahman. The latter is the leader of We’re All Laila campaign. It was interesting to learn how the idea of this campaign developed from a chat filled with frustration between Eman and a friend. “Then I thought: what if all women spoke out about their issues at the same time?” Some of you probably remember that my blog featured a contribution at the campaign in 2008 written by a friend of mine. Noha, on the other hand, talked about the basics of online campaigning, best practices and do’s and don’ts.
Razan Ghazzawi gave a critical look at the report issued by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Razan had some problems with the language and context of the report, which she found unfairly biased. Although I think Razan has made some good points, I believe that most of her critique seemed to focus on minutiae that seemed irrelevant in the larger context of the report, which is based on data mining and aims to draw a map from that data without attempting much to draw any radical conclusions. The report was about trends and links, not political analysis.
On the second day, Manal Hasan of manalaa.net fame spoke about Arab Techies: how the idea came about, what they are doing in the present, and what they plan for the future. The project that interested me the most in their work was an initiative to develop open source Arabic fonts. One of my biggest annoyances with the Arabic content on the web is the limited number of fonts available for use which results eventually in badly designed websites.
Later on, Anas Tawileh of Meedan.net spoke about their experience so far in building a platform for translating web content to Arabic. The approach of Meedan, which uses IBM technologies, employs a machine translation aided by human translation provided by a network of volunteers. I have used their service here on Saudi Jeans a couple of times over the past few weeks and they do a very good job.
We are in the middle of the third day and everybody is enjoying it. More from here later…