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.

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THIS ISSUE -

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.

Business model

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

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