(Photo: Rowan El Shimi)
2011 was a pivotal year in the history of the Middle East and North Africa region. Revolutions spread from Tunisia to Egypt and other countries in the region. Social media played a crucial rule as a tool to organise protest and disseminate information to the world in real time. However, the veracity of the information circulated on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube was often a major concern especially in countries like Syria, for example, that shut down any semblance of independent media.
It is for this reason that there has never been more important to open the lines of communication between the Arabic-speaking and the English-speaking worlds.
Meedan is an award-winning non-profit technology organisation based in San Francisco. The Arabic word meedan describes a town square or a gathering place. The organisation’s mission is to facilitate cross cultural communication, cooperation, and exchange of ideas by developing technologies to overcome the language barrier in online communication. Meedan’s design and engineering team works to develop open-source tools to connect conversations and media exchange across languages, while Meedan’s program team works to implement these technologies with partner organisations working in new media journalism, open education resources (OERS), and inter-faith dialogue.
Meedan began in 2007 with a three-year research partnership with IBM’s Emerging Technology and Language Technology labs to develop a human-augmented machine translation engine and a bilingual news sharing site. The site displayed news translated into English and Arabic, and allowed monolingual users to communicate and exchange opinions by translating their comments on relevant news stories.
Meedan is currently working on developing Checkdesk, a new platform for corroborating, curating, and publishing the best of citizen media. The project is supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and was a winner of the International Press Institute News Innovation Contest. Meedan is also currently partnering with Al Masry Al Youm, Egypt’s leading newspaper on a beta implementation of Checkdesk which has been used to live blog the Egyptian elections.
In the current second phase, Meedan is extending Checkdesk tools and social media verification and journalism trainings to multiple media organisations across the MENA region. This work will help to strengthen media plurality and increase awareness of issues relating to democracy, governance and human rights. In providing a tool for serious investigation of social media content on the web, it will contribute to improving access to credible and accurate citizen reporting in Egypt and the Arab world.
That’s only part of organisation’s media work in the region. In addition to the news site and Checkdesk, Meedan commissions, translates, and edits commentaries and news reports from bloggers and news-makers in Libya, Syria, and Egypt for a range of high profile global media organisations. This includes The Guardian, The Economist, TIME, Wired, and the Huffington Post.
Additionally, Meedan offers English to Arabic and Arabic to English translation services to a number of high profile clients including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Kiva.org; The Elders; United States Institute of peace; and the University of Cambridge.
Meedan fosters a growing community of professional and volunteer translators. The translators share their experiences and collaborate on translating sophisticated texts. The community also mobilises and recruits new volunteers to respond to urgent events. In 2011, Meedan helped coordinate a team of volunteer translators who came together to translate hundreds of voice messages coming from Egypt through Speak2tweet service after the Mubarak regime cut off Internet access across Egypt.
As part of Meedan’s effort to bridge the language barrier, the organisation also regularly highlights and translates important social media content from the MENA region and publishes it on Twitter and Facebook.
Enabling access to open educational resources (OER) ranks high among the organisation’s priorities, and thus, Meedan has developed Yallah 2.0 forum, a bilingual platform for the graduates of Qatar Foundation International’s student exchange program. They also are working on developing Classroom to Classroom (C2C) educational platform for QFI, which is an online global education, social learning community, dedicated to resource discovery, standards aligned content, authorship and lifelong learning.
Meedan is a bridge organisation, in the formal sense of bridging language communities on the web and in the functional sense of bridging software design and development with more traditional development programming and trainings. Against the pressing demands of a world that is writing its history in real time and in hundreds of languages, Meedan is taking an ambitious run at creating change through technology.
For more visit http://news.meedan.net/
Anas Qtiesh is a Meedan Research Associate