In the Western world, the English language Wikipedia is sort of the bastion for everything we know about anything. The English version of the encyclopedia is the de facto original version as its creators were largely based in America or other English-speaking countries, and the non-profit organization itself was established in San Francisco. As it stands, Wikipedia supports versions in around 287 languages, but some of those versions aren’t as expansive as the English version. Others, like the Arabic language version, are starting to find a foothold in the Wikipedia world.
Humble Arabic Beginnings on Wikipedia
When the founder of the Arabic Wikipedia, Rami Tarawneh (Arabic: رامي عوض الطراون) discovered Wikipedia, he was both impressed and appalled. The articles on the English language version of the site were great, but when it came to Arabic issues, it seemed like the encyclopedia was sparse. When he complained to the Wikimedia Foundation about the lack of representation, they essentially told him that, if something wasn’t up to your standards, then you could fix it. Of course, that is the real ethos of Wikipedia—a website that prides itself on being edited by anyone and everyone who wants to. The foundation gave Tarawneh the idea to start an Arabic language Wikipedia that provided information more closely (and accurately) related to his homeland.
When he started the Arabic language Wikipedia, Tarawneh was presented with a website that had the bare bones of information. It was nowhere near the complexity of the English language Wikipedia, and the genesis of the Arabic Wikipedia started with just five editors. When they encountered the encyclopedia, the entry for “Water” literally just said “H2O.” Obviously, they had their work cut out for them if they wanted a Wikipedia that was more familiar. They started off small, creating pages for their hometown and fixing up pages that were barren or incomplete. But, over time, the Arabic Wikipedia became something much more than its humble beginnings suggested.
The Growth of the Arabic Wikipedia
Over time, Tarawneh’s pet project became a full-time job. Acting as the administrator and chief editor of the website forced Tarawneh to spend huge amounts of time on the website. At one point, he spent 32 hours straight editing pages, resolving conflicts, and basically being the leader of the Arabic Wikipedia. Of course, operating a Wikipedia page that is of interest primarily to people in the Middle East brings about its own challenges. Tarawneh recognized early on that the Arabic Wikipedia could ruffle the feathers of some governments. The Arabic Wikipedia has been blocked outright several times by some nations and certain pages have had their content blocked.
Despite all of this, Tarawneh has managed to build a thriving community of Arabic-speaking editors. Although he encountered a few problematic individuals early on who wanted to use the website as their own soapbox, he has more or less been able to cultivate an environment that is uniquely Arabic and still fits well within the guidelines of Wikipedia. It’s clear that the Arabic Wikipedia has a flavor all its own—one that eschews the often Western-centric rhetoric of the English Wikipedia. This really underscores the truly global reach of the Wiki platform as more and more people are able to access, read, and edit Wikipedia than ever before. More Wikipedians is always a plus for people like Rami Tarawneh.