BEIRUT: Is it Achrafieh or Ashrafieh? Karantina or Qarantina?
Up until now twitter users have had to guess which spelling is most popular, or try to fit both into a 140 character message, but no longer.
Twitter announced Tuesday they are now offering twitter with full Arabic functionality in addition to three other right to left languages, Farsi Hebrew and Urdu. Social media experts say that will open the influential messaging service to huge number of new people in Lebanon and the region.
Previously twitter users working in Arabic had difficulty copy and pasting sentences and searching for specific words and trending topics given the right-to-left language’s interface with the English website.
Those basic problems made the service inaccessible for people who didn’t also speak some English, the service’s main language.
Social media expert Mohammad Najem who leads social media training exercises in Lebanon called the lack of Arabic functionality the main obstacle to getting more Arabic people plugged into the service.
“By providing this service the number of Arab twitter users will increase tremendously,” Najem said who works at Social Media Exchange in Beirut. “I think mostly it’s going to help open the market for people.”
Najem said the new language access will also allow the large bilingual community to better express themselves in their mother tongue.
“It will motivate people like me to tweet more in Arabic,” he said.
Even without full Arabic functionality twitter has experienced a precipitate rise in popularity in Lebanon and the Middle East.
Twitter and other social media services like Facebook are credited with being a catalyst in the uprisings that have shaken the Arab world in the past year. Millions of people used the service to communicate and organize quickly for protests against their countries’ regimes.
In the past several years a number of Lebanese politicians and celebrities have joined the service and have a large number of followers.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri are some of the most popular tweeters in the Middle East with tens of thousands of followers and often make news with their messages.
Twitter announced they began adding right to left twitter functionality at the end of January. Since then the service has used around 13,000 volunteers to translate the service into Arabic as well as Farsi Hebrew and Urdu.
Those volunteers included Saudi bloggers, Egyptian college students, journalists, Israeli school teachers, linguistics specialists and teenagers in Lebanon, according to Twitter’s blog post on the topic.
“Right-to-left languages posed a unique technical challenge, particularly with Tweets containing both right-to-left and left-to-right content. To solve this, our engineering team built a new set of special tools to ensure these Tweets, hashtags and numbers all look and behave correctly,” Twitter officials wrote.
Lebanese tweeters already say those capabilities will allow them to reach an even larger audience in both languages.
Popular Beirut based tweeter Assad Thebian said it would be a welcome addition to his usual tweeting.
“We need to preserve our language,” he tweeted.