One of the great phenomena of the late 20th and 21st century as we know it today is the proliferation of our personal online presence. To a large extent people of developed countries experience the internet in some form every day. This article explores the development of the online community in the Middle East. Before we continue further, let me provide a disclaimer: The data contained in this article is not so much a scientifically rigorous analysis of the scenario. This is more of a qualitative examination.
One of the simplest ways to measure a country’s online presence is the download speed at the end user. Ookla an online speed test website better known to most of us as Speedtest.net aggregates their test data per country on Net Index. By far exceeding other Middle Eastern countries, the UAE ranks at 14.09 Mbps and Israel at 13.55 with the rest for the most part sitting below 5 Mbps. For comparison the United States sits at 16.55 On average the Middle East ranks at 5.10 Mb/s. The world average is 13.13 Mbps.
Global Map of Download Speeds
Each of these websites were chosen for providing some way to judge user location. Apple.com posts user location in their reviews. Wikipedia.com logs all page edits made without logging in with an IP address. Using a IP reverse lookup service I was able to extract a geographical location of the user (approximate).
As a note: originally data was to be downloaded from Amazon.com, however while Amazon will ship to the Middle East (surprisingly cheaply), few middle easterners posted reviews for the products I extracted data from (The Amazon Kindle for one – which is available in Wifi versions and is remarkably cheap for what it is – and supports Arabic). So we move on to Apple.
We begin our analysis by looking at reviews of the Apple Ear Pod, compatible with iphones and ipods. We choose this device because of its presence in the mobile market. Unfortunately despite its presence the UAE website (the only apple store in the middle east region) has no reviews on this or in fact many of the products. Nevertheless the results are compiled from the top 300 results of each of the US and Australian pages.
Locations of Apple Reviewers for Apple Ear Pods
Data provided by Apple.com, collected with Matlab, with locations converted to global coordinates using gps visualizer and Yahoo’s geocoding database. Map plotting courtesy of Google.com. Map textures, imagery, and geographical data property of Google.com. Blackouts on map hide my google username and the location of the temporary .kml files used as input to Google Maps.
Interpreting the results we see 2 balloons in Saudi Arabia, where there are 1.69 mobile phones per person, and considering 25% of internet users in the Middle East access data using a mobile browser this is a disproportionately small number of users even considering the language barrier. English is a language being taught in the Middle East, and the majority of users of the internet in the Middle East continue to be in their 20s and younger.
Smartphone Adoption Globally
Forrester Research Group
However, we can all see that the data from this extraction is very English centric. So in order to collect more relevent data to our question we move on to Wikipedia.org. For the purposes of this analysis we read data from the edit histories of the Arabic and English pages of Wikipedia.org for IP editors.
Looking back to 2009 we extracted 261 IP addresses and corresponding locations (non-unique) from the English page, and 89 from the Arabic page. To put this in perspective, English has 365 million speakers while Arabic has 280 million.
IP Edit Locations for Wikipedia Water Article in English
Data for both maps courtesy of Wikipedia.org, collected using custom Matlab script with geoIP conversion using geoiptool.com. Map plotting courtesy of Google.com. Map textures, imagery, and geographical data property of Google.com. Blackouts on map hide my google username and the location of the temporary .kml files used as input to Google Maps.
From the two maps, I’d argue that the number of Arabic speakers involved in the online world as a percentage of overall population is less than that of the English speaking world. Whether this is a function of infrastructure, culture, or a delay in the inception of the internet the population at large – is a question for further investigations.