THE FACEBOOK OF NEWS
In this era of smart apps for mobiles, another platform that intends to connect editors and news assimilators in the region, who can have discussions on subjects that stimulate them, is making the rounds.
A new platform connecting editors and news assimilators in Qatar has been doing rounds in the region.
Maydan Qatar, a social news platform for people networking around news and events, is the brainchild of Ali Al Assam, who founded Diwan, the first science and technology non-for-profit organisation in the Arab World, with fellow Iraqi technologists and social scientists. Diwan is said to have created the desktop publishing revolution in the Arab World in 1984.
Fast forward to 1995 and Al Assam founded KnowledgeView to focus on Internet-based information systems. In 2014, with the effort of a group of people in KnowledgeView, taking advantage of various projects over the years including research funded by the European Union for the information society in Europe a decade ago, Maydan Qatar was born.
“The driving force for all technical developments is the belief in the need to empower individuals and grass-root innovators to advance societies, especially those in the developing world,” says Al Assam. “Maydan Qatar is designed to help empower the Qatar's national economy as part of the Qatar National Vision 2030.”
Maydan Qatar is a mobile-first application but it has a large web presence too.
“We encourage users to download the ‘Maydan Qatar' mobile apps on iOS and Android and tell us what they think. We did not try to replicate other models as we think we are quite unique in this regard. The idea was developed to solve a problem: how can users be persuaded to engage with prime content,” says Al Assam.
Promoted and owned by Qatar News Agency (QNA), Maydan Qatar is intended to benefit Qatar's knowledge economy, empowering the local commercial and enterprise publishers by acquiring their content and providing a link back to their online sites.
About the business model, Al Assam says: “Down the line, QNA may decide to generate revenues from advertising and subscriptions, though it is free as of now.”
According to QNA officials, they benefit by reaching out to people in Qatar and by showing the outside world the progress being made in Qatar. “QNA strives to make best use of the technology so as to reach not only its traditional subscribers but all citizens in Qatar and abroad using technologies such as the Agenda apps, and now the Maydan Qatar. Thus we see the future of the media sector as very much digital and very much mobile,” they aver.
The main reasoning to launch the portal
is Al Assam's strong views on the future of newsprint. He thinks that the newsprint medium will largely be obsolete in 10 years or so. “There will still be some specialist publications that are retained for artistic and specialised services, but it will largely be dead,” he says.
“Our advice to our publishing clients is to be consumer-centric first and take maximum advantage of their vast experience in creating premium content. This experience cannot be matched by newcomers. You have to focus on using new technologies to continue to serve your users irrespective of what forum is used. You should embrace online, and more mobile, to engage your users even better than before.”
There is no doubt that the publishing industry is going digital. The digital consumption in this region is expected to boom in the coming years. The younger generation is active and engaging throughout different platforms.
However, this revolution comes with many challenges for publishers such as monetising digital content when most content is readily available online for free. “Publishers will also need the right tools to reach and monitor their digital presence effectively with minimum cost. This is where KnowledgeView can be helpful and supportive with the right technologies and solutions to face those challenges,” Al Assam says.
Talking about the constraints that the Arab publishing world faces, Al Assam is optimistic about the turn the technology has taken in terms of Arabic language. With multi-language information systems and implementation of the world standard, UNICODE, now a reality, Arabic is fully utilised on the Internet.
“We don't see any constraints at the moment, even with using novel technologies in Maydan Qatar like text to speech and machine translation,” he says.
Pioneers in education
Reminiscing about his first venture in Iraq, Al Assam takes us through Diwan, the first first non-profit technology organisation in the Arab world formed by a group of Iraqi engineers back in 1984. “They went on to create the desktop revolution in the Arab world with Al Nashir Al Maktabi and Al Nashir Al Sahafi.
Before Al Nashir Al Maktabi was launched on the Apple Mac, timed to launch at the same event that launched the Apple Arabic Mac in London in 1984, there was no way Arab publishers, large or small, could do quality publications at affordable prices.
“We changed all that, and we had close to 15,000 users of Al Maktabi by the early 90s. Diwan also developed news and photo management systems, that were used by the largest European publications such as the Times of London, a technology continued by our present KnowledgeView.”
Continuing on the success of Diwan, KnowledgeView revolutionised the Arab world with its innovations in the Arabic language.
“KnowledgeView was created to further develop the work on information sharing and online publishing started by Diwan. We appreciated the importance of the Internet and technologies like XML at a very early stage. KnowledgeView's first client was the UN agency Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) where we created RAPID Publish and RAPID Archive as web-based applications for the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996. We were also pioneers in that respect. Publish Live for online and paper publishing and NewsSocial are also pioneering in our view and are used by many publishers in the Arab World and in Europe,” he says.
The fine print
What makes Maydan Qatar informative and engaging is that its users can follow their favourite authors or journalists and communicate directly with them over their articles. “Interacting directly with the audience will open up opportunities for journalists to host different opinions and debates and see how their material inspires others. Also the number of followers is a good indicator of a journalist's popularity,” says Al Assam.
A critical element of news consumption today is filtering. People mainly want to follow news or subjects of interest from certain sources. “This app will allow people to customise their news according to their preferences and encourage them to contribute their own articles and reports with minimum ease,” he adds
ALI AL ASSAM Founder KnowledgeView