In 2006, TIME named ‘You’ as the Person of the Year. The easy access to real time information which resulted in further shrinking of the globe and the coming together of cultures and communities, triggered TIME to put ‘You’ at the forefront. ‘You’ referred to the individual, any individual, who contributed to the generation of content on the World Wide Web; content that crossed barriers and was available at the click of a button to *anyone* who sought it.
The power of ‘You’ coupled with the ‘Internet’ seemed magical in its possibilities then. Today, it has come to be thought of as second nature, as an inevitable and intrinsic part of modern life. The tool that has been instrumental in providing a platform to millions to unleash the potential of ‘You’ is Social Media.
Social Media encompasses social networking sites/apps like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram that work as a bridge between people, as a pool of thoughts, as a stage where people can express themselves.
Qatar, with its willingness to embrace the Internet and modern technology, has in a couple of years found its footing in the social media universe. So much so, that the focus is now not so much on penetration as it is on improving quality and bettering access. But I am getting ahead of myself here.
To put things in perspective, let’s focus on numbers. In Arabia, 36,000 new people join Facebook every day. Of Facebook’s 1 Billion users, only 4% – approximately 44 million – are from MENA (Middle East and North Africa), leaving immense scope for penetration and growth. Talking about Qatar alone, 679,920 are the total number of Facebook users in the country. While the penetration of the population stands at 80.85%, the penetration of online population is only 47.38% indicating that there remains much scope for further acceptance and use of Facebook by Qatari citizens.
Twitter is a micro-blogging site that has been instrumental in getting people to express themselves, no holds barred. In the Arab world, there are 17 million tweets every day in Arabic, made possible because of the availability of the Twitter app in Arabic/Farsi languages. According to the 4th Arab Social Media Report, there were just about 60,000 Twitter users in Qatar in 2012. Given how low this number is in comparison to Facebook users, one can estimate the growth possibilities. To put it in one word, it is immense.
LinkedIn, the professional networking tool too, is fast gaining acceptance with a 9.8% penetration in the Qatar market.
Furthermore, full-fledged news blogs run by individuals or a group of individuals are gaining traction and relevance in Qatar. Case in point is Doha News, a real time news blog started and curated by the couple Shabina Khutri and Omar Chatriwala. Started in 2009, Doha News, in a short span of 4 years has become the go-to reliable news platform for many Qatari citizens. The fact that the focus on this blog is on first-hand, accurate journalism and that it reports facts and not propaganda is what pulls people to it. Additionally, its presence on Twitter is massive too as the account as a follower count of 21K+ and the comments (though regulated) on the articles /news pieces are aplenty.
These numbers and statistics prove that social media is fast becoming a tool of choice for Qatari citizens to express and connect. Given how much the citizens are glued in to social media and technology, the government too is doing its bit to push this sector and give it the impetus it needs. For one, The Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology in Qatar (ICT Qatar) recently published the ‘ICT Landscape 2013 – Households and Individuals’ report. This report gives an insight into the social media behavioural patterns of the young in Qatar as well as draws attention to the growth and future of internet technology in the country. The report clearly states that the government plans to invest more than QR 6.2 billion by 2015 for developing next-generation, cutting edge information infrastructure which includes building ‘fiber-to-the-home network that will expand universal high-speed broadband’.
It would be apt to say that just as the present picture of social media in Qatar is promising, the future holds much potential and possibilities waiting to be explored. The internet and social media is at an exciting growth curve in Qatar (and even in the rest of the Middle East, for that matter) and ‘You’ get to not just witness it, but shape it.