Kamkalima Proves Online Arabic Content Is Monetizable
Kamkalima is a young Arabic interactive platform for collective creation that was born in Lebanon and launched in September 2014. The platform adopts a multi-contributor model to create short stories and academic content in Arabic.
Kamkalima's model evokes earlier similar "wikinovel" projects of collaborative fiction writing (the best known example of this was the 2007 experimental book A Million Penguins by Penguin Books - which was eventually abandoned). However, the startup managed to avoid the pitfalls and complications of such an undertaking by defining and prioritizing its goals.
The initiative came to address a need for more digital Arabic content - particularly contemporary and engaging content - at both the school level and the public one. To fill this gap, Nisrine Makkouk and Siroun Shamigian, co-founders of Kamkalima, created 2 separate platforms using the same technology.
The startup won the Best Women-Led Project at the MIT Enterprise Forum in Cairo in May 2013 and will be hosted in Silicon Valley in September 2015, sponsored by Google for Entrepreneurs.
Filling the Arabic Gap in Education Technology
On the academic level, the startup recently received its first seed investment from a private source to support the development of its education platform, the first collaborative education software designed specifically for Arabic. It is a closed, private platform available and customizable for schools and other organizations, featuring interactive tools for writing and reading in Arabic.
According to the co-founders, the revolution in education technology had left out Arabic educators (Arabic language and all subjects taught in Arabic). "We heard about this from teachers who try to reach out on the web to assign extra readings, for example, or to find material to supplement existing curricula but come back empty handed," said Makkouk.
The educational platform follows a subscription model that gives access to an interactive digital media library (soon to be developed).
Creating and Publishing Arabic Resources Collaboratively
The public platform is an open Arabic storytelling platform. It invites writers and visual artists to co-create stories that are then submitted to user voting to determine how each story unfolds. Finished stories are edited and available in the platform's library.
So far, the response has been better than expected: "41% of our users visit the site more than twice. Most of our users are from Lebanon, but we also have users in the US, Europe, Palestine and Syria," said Shamigian.
Select stories will be published in other media forms, and stories that target children specifically will be converted into multisensory digital interactive books, and the contributors (authors and artists) to these stories will be remunerated.
Scaling the Arabic Language
Kamkalima started out with personal resources to create a working prototype. Makkouk and Shamigian knew they were up for challenges, particularly given that they were starting from Lebanon and providing an Arabic only platform. The development of a multi-contributor model was not easy, and by far the biggest challenge was working with Arabic text.
Based on their extensive experience working with youth in Lebanon, the co-founders believe this public storytelling platform could improve Arabic proficiency among that group. They hope this will help reshape cultural identity and encourage civic participation. According to Makkouk, several returning users said they were grateful for being acknowledged but also for the chance to develop their Arabic writing.
Kamkalima's current plan for its public platform is to build traction. "The more users we have, the better we can understand what works and what doesn’t and the more we can refine the platform to respond to these needs," said Shamigian.
Despite the social media hype, Facebook and other channels do not have the option of collecting or aggregating special writings, so Kamkalima created an alternative online platform that filled this gap. A Kamkalima app is currently in its beta phase and will be launched soon.
In parallel, Kamkalima is also exploring a number of publication channels and outlining publication deals.