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Twitter Arabic Launching in 2011 to Win Over Middle Eastern Market

Arabic will be Twitter’s sixth foreign language interface. But there are already lots of homegrown competitors.

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The Middle East market has historically been difficult for Twitter to expand into–and not only because the text runs from right to left. But a new Arabic-language interface being introduced in 2011 is expected to change that.

Biz Stone, Twitter’s co-founder, announced
the upcoming launch
of Twitter Arabic in an interview with David George-Cosh of Abu Dhabi
anglophone The National newspaper. A Twitter spokesperson also confirmed that the Arabic-language interface is one of the firm’s
aims for 2011, but declined any further comment. Twitter’s
Arabic homepage is expected to launch in the next year. The
Arabic-language interface will also coincide with an effort to boost
advertising revenue from Arabic-speaking Twitter users.

Arabic
will be Twitter’s sixth foreign language interface. The firm
previously rolled out Italian, Spanish, French, German, and Japanese
homepages over the past few years. The use of Arabic-language
characters will cause Twitter some technological headaches, much as
their Japanese interface did. Arabic is written from right to left,
with most letters having four cases. Users have found it particularly
difficult to write in the language on mobile phone keypads–one of
Twitter’s primary interface–and have given birth to a rich
subgenre
of ersatz Arabic text message romanization replete with
its own slang and grammar.

The
Arabic-speaking Middle East has long been a weak spot for Twitter. Active communities of
Twitter users exist in Egypt, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and
the other Gulf states, but user sign-up and retention rates lag far
behind the Americas, Europe, and East Asia. Twitter has had much
better luck with user retention in Turkey and Israel, two Middle
Eastern countries whose primary alphabets have been easier to
integrate into Twitter clients and tweets than Arabic.

One of
Twitter’s main challenges in their upcoming Middle Eastern expansion
will be competition with various homegrown imitators. WeziWezi
is a Jordan-based Twitter clone with an IM-based interface and Watwet
is an extremely popular Twitter-like service that is integrated with
Twitter (users post simultaneously to Twitter and Watwet). However,
Watwet has more sophisticated viewing and sharing functions than its
American counterpart. Watwet, which is also based in Jordan, had
more users than Twitter as of 2009
–but most of these users were
Jordanians.

The
gap in Arabic-language Twitter functionality has led to improvised
creations that could also create headaches in the company’s attempts
to lure users to the homepage instead of a client. Artwitter
is a web client for Twitter that is optimized
for Arabic’s right to left format
. A desktop client called Kzalek
allows users to tweet in Arabic–but the software’s strongest
attraction is that it translates
English-language tweets
into Arabic using (the often garbled) Google Language API.
Kzalek is based on the Adobe AIR platform and borrows heavily from
the popular English-language TweetDeck software.

For
Twitter, launching an Arabic-language interface is just another salvo
in their battle to draw users to their homepage or to
revenue-boosting clients. The major question will be how to monetize
a market with a highly diverse user base and plenty of local
competition.

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