Monday, February 20, 2012

Eksi Sozluk: A Model for the Middle East?

Eksi Sozluk (or, "Sour Dictionary") is an Internet compendium of information comprised by numerous authors similar to Wikipedia. From The Next
The site has 36,000 authors, and an equal number of users who hope to become authors. It contains more than 10 million entries, gathered into more than 2.5 million topics, and it attracts 7.5 million unique visitors a month, out of a total Turkish Internet population of a little over 30 million. It’s an enormous success that few outside Turkey have heard of.

This is even more surprising, when you consider that the site just celebrated its thirteenth anniversary February 15th. It’s the grandfather of blogs, older than Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter; it was launched before Urban Dictionary, which has 6 million entries.

Screen shot 2012 02 18 at 12.16.06 PM Can Turkeys contribution to the Web be reproduced elsewhere?“The idea was to create a user-made dictionary,” says Sedat Kapanoğlu, the site’s founder. There’s no editing: anyone can create any definition. Like a real dictionary, the entries are ordered numerically, but there’s no limit to how many definitions there can be; they can surpass 10 thousand entries, as is the case with “Love”, or for the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The most-read definitions are ranked first. All of this is processed in real time.

Some people see this as a sort of forum, but, Kapanoğlu insists, “We wanted to avoid that, and we created rules to prevent it from happening. We wanted a dialogue between ideas, not people. When a contributor leaves, the ideas and conversations remain.”

The site’s only revenue stream is advertising; in order to avoid “disrupting the user experience,” it is limited to one ad per page.

“We have more entries than the English version of Wikipedia,” Kapanoğlu responds when asked, “but the quality isn’t the same.” Jokes and false info abound. “We believe that no one has the authority to decide what stays on a site,” he says. “We’re neutral in terms of administrating it, and we’ve become one of the largest Turkish sites to defend the freedom of expression in a country where it is threatened.”

So there is no control of any sort. “I decided to let everybody express themselves, independently of social, religious or political stance It was very radical back then… and now makes us one of the most popular sites in Turkey.”

. . . .

The requests to copy the idea in English, French, Romanian and Arabic haven’t had much success. Kapanğlu is convinced that it can’t work anywhere else. “The way the site has grown is linked to specific aspects of Turkish society. We wanted to express ourselves, but had no space for that. The laws of physics don’t apply to social media; every culture needs its own platform.”

It’s a fascinating response, but one that Uçkan, the professor, doesn’t agree with. He recalls that Google’s social site Orkut, which is immensely popular in Brazil (and which plays an important role in India), was invented by Turkey’s Orkut Büyükkökten. Turkish-style socialization could perhaps spread elsewhere. “It can be copied. The format can be entertaining anywhere.”
It should be noted that Eksi Sozluk is one of many websites to face censorship and other attempts by the government to limit freedom of expression. Just this past June government officials detained 50 Eksi Sozluk users for insulting religion, and this was not the only time the website has been subject to state action. For more on Internet freedom in Turkey, click here.

UPDATE I (2/23) --  See also this article in today's Wall Street Journal on Turkey's emerging Internet market. According to the article, Turkey constitutes the fifth-largest Internet market in Europe, and Turkish users, in contrast to their other European counterparts, tend to spend more time online and be quite younger. Even more significantly is Turks use of social media. Turks constitute one of the top five audiences on Facebook and are within the top ten on Twitter.

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