Mathew Lowry

So the debate about the Euroblogosphere, or the Eurosphere, or the European Public Sphere, or web2eu, or the European online public space, of whatever-we-call-it-next-week, has sparked again into life, like a Frankensteinian monster with dodgy spark plugs screwed into the base of its neck.

The latest incarnation is over on the blog of Joe Litobarski, who’s organised a Google Wave and a Skypechat this Thursday. I’ll be joining in, so I thought I’d post a few thoughts first.

As usual, the comments on Joe’s blog evolved into a discussion about multilingualism. I say that not because all comments on Joe’s blog end up discussing language, but because all discussions about EU-oriented websites eventually end up doing so – I used to call online multilingualism ‘the meeting-killer‘ when I was discussing reforming EUROPA within the EC. Accordingly, the main subject for the Skypething is multilingualism – a subject I’ve covered (see comments to Julien’s post, and a couple of posts) before so I won’t delve into it again here.

However, there was also quite a bit about Esperanto, which I hadn’t seen before, and some quite excellent contributions debunking English’s supposed suitability as a ‘lingua franca’. My 0.02e on Esperanto reads: “Network effect”. At one eurocent per word, that’s bargain-basement argument-clinching, you have to admit. The information about English requires further research – if I get the time I’ll post the figures the EC uses when considering multilingualism on EUROPA.

What was worrying (to me at least) about the latest discussion was the navel-gazing: is it a Euroblogosphere, a European blogosphere or a EU GeekoSphere? Is Julien a Euroblogger while Nicole is not? Are members of the Eurosceptic-Geekosphere (no, I’m not making this up) in any of these groups, or somewhere else? And does calling something something actually make it something, or is just being sweet or pretentious of humble or arrogant? I could go on but you’re just going to have to read it all because I’m going off to get a good, stiff drink and watch something frighteningly relevant by Monty Python:

Aah, that's better. Everything's in perspective now. 😉

I totally understand the desire to agree on a shared vocabulary - a couple of months ago, for example, I floated the idea of everyone tagging our posts on this subject using a single term, allowing us to aggregate and widen the discussion. The idea was to explore a more widely applicable model for improving the signal-to-noise ratio of online conversations and raise the level of the debate. But I gave up almost before I started. We're still too loose and too unfunded a community. A term will emerge eventually, and many of us will continue to bicker about it for some time after that, and it probably won't make much difference.

Can we focus on substance now?

1) We can't "knock down" national barriers, as Joe argues, to make what he calls a Eurosphere. But we can perhaps build bridges across the language chasms - where he writes:

"people writing and reading more from national blogospheres and then taking it out into the Euroblogosphere"" and "It might mean translating bits and pieces from national blogospheres for the English-speaking Euroblogosphere",

it's an example of convergent evolution - this was basically the approach I described in my comment to Julien's post a few months ago about a 2007 project. We even looked at machine translation issues back then, and the company I liked most is still interested in using such a project to demonstrate their technology.

But even with that, it takes either volunteers or sponsors to fund development and the human translation (machines can help, but they're not enough), and both volunteer and sponsorship models bring major issues with them.

2) EU geeks blogging in a tight circle won't matter much. Sorry, but there you are - it's just another small online community. Open or elitist (I find the former), we're interested in a niche subject and won't affect much if that's all we do.

Social media (I prefer that term to x-blogosphere) will only really achieve its potential to open up EU affairs when those EU affairs are discussed in national public discourses - (see (When) does EU blogging matter?).

The most constructive roles the members of a 'Euroblogosphere' could play would be to:

  • accelerate the take-up of discussions on EU affairs in national online debates (national blogospheres, if you prefer);
  • form cross-lingual links between national debates on the same subject.

GolfieroGoffredo, in his comment to Joe's post, gave one example of how this could look like:

... established bloggers in all of the states interviewing local MEPs and offering analyses on their national governments relationship to Europe, thereby enabling the interested to gain a continuous snapshot view of the continent.

Another would be for each of us to get more involved in national debates, particularly national eParticipation/eGovernment programmes - after all, most national policy and legislation debates are framed by EU regulations.

The idea would be that each of us pipes awareness of EU affairs into the national debates, and transfers content from the national debates (news, views, best and worst practices) to each other via some sort of platform (bloggingportal, a twibe? whatever).

So, on any given day, you might be both informing people in your country's national debate(s) (in their language) both about what is going on at the EU level, and covering the ideas being discussed in the national debates in other countries on these same issues.

I really, really need to draw a picture about this, but essentially this is online community management at a European scale. And don't think for a minute I'm just talking about hooking together national and EU-level debates about arcana like the Lisbon treaty or Hermann van Rompuy - we go wherever the audience is, right along the long tail, which means we can blog about culture, sport, economic affairs or butterflies.

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Comments

  1. “What was worrying (to me at least) about the latest discussion was the navel-gazing: is it a Euroblogosphere, a European blogosphere or a EU GeekoSphere? Is Julien a Euroblogger while Nicole is not? Are members of the Eurosceptic-Geekosphere (no, I’m not making this up) in any of these groups, or somewhere else? And does calling something something actually make it something, or is just being sweet or pretentious of humble or arrogant?”

    To be fair to me – the last few are jokes that you’ve mangled horribly out of context. 😀

    I don’t mind what you call European blogging. But the reason I went to such lengths to distinguish the “EU-Geekosphere” from other aspects of European blogging was because people complained that I was presenting the small group of EU politics bloggers as the whole of the Euroblogosphere. I think you’re just bitter because you’ve had this debate a thousand times already, and this is new to some of us. 😛

    Apart from that – an excellent post. I’m particularly interested by this translation company you’re talking about. I imagine the product is something to do with human-assisted machine-translation? I have some thoughts about this – and I’m looking forward to hearing your opinion tonight!

  2. I have to admit that I don’t like the concept of network management in the case of blogging.

    I also have to admit that I sometimes think that when you and others say what we should do this all sounds more like work than like blogging.

    And I have to admit that I prefer pragmatism, and I prefer thinking about content instead of structure – because this is maybe the biggest problem of anything pan- or trans-European: Its development is looked at with a focus on creating structure first (but structure is boring), instead of just discussing content and letting structure evolve from the discussions.

  3. I am with Julian – once you start organising content it is work. Maybe one should think about a (semi-)professional platform that organises / aggregates relevant discussion threads to give an overview. If it is useful, people will start to use it.

  4. In case you haven’t realised this yet, you must always take my posts (and everything else) with a couple of pinches of salt. My Australian sense of humour has gotten be into all sorts of trouble here in Europe. Just another example of the wonders of cross-cultural communications! 😉

    This thing about ‘network management’ is interesting. I used the term community management and expected some blowback – noone likes being managed! But this would be based on a misunderstanding – online community management (OCM) is not management in the ‘making people do/think/act how you want them to’ sense of the term.

    Managing an online community is about cultivation, facilitation, connecting people together, encouraging and rewarding contributions, etc. Moreover, while the standard model of OCM comes from the private sector – think a software company running an online help forum, both helping users and getting users to help each other – the sort of OCM we’d need would be collaborative and decentralised.

    Which, by the way, is exactly how bloggingportal is supposed to operate, no? Which brings us to the problem of relying exclusively on volunteer labour, with me being the best example of the most unreliable volunteer.

    I guess it sounds like work if you don’t like that sort of thing – I imagine you think blogging is not because you like doing it. It’s a question of personal taste, really – personally, I like connecting people together at least as much as I like spouting my own personal opinions.

    As for content vs structure … well, I’m an information architect, so call me biaised, but I think that content without structure is a missed opportunity. Obviously content is what it’s all about, but without some sort of structure, we’ll continue with the cacophony we have now, only it’ll get worse:

    … a collection of haphazardly linked conversations across an endlessly proliferating array of platforms; separated by language, geographic context and political persuasion; punctuated by isolated echo chambers populated by me-too bloggers, xenophobes, Europhiles and pyjama people; infested with bandwagon-hopping ‘social media experts‘ and PR agencies, ghost-blogging and posing as someone else…

    Of course, structure will emerge as and when it is required, which is exactly why we are having this conversation. I just want it to happen yesterday.

  5. @Christiane S-H,

    Hi, thanbks for your comment. It arrived while I was writing my comment, so I missed it.

    A “(semi-)professional platform that organises / aggregates relevant discussion threads to give an overview” is definitely one possibility. In fact, I would call it an ambitious path – as mentioned in previous posts, it could be a lot simpler, and less work-intensive.

    The entire world of social media is based on the technologies which would make ‘organising content’ possible without much work. I briefly explored Posterous, Twitter/Twibes, etc. And of course bloggingportal is there already. No ‘work-centric’ central platform is strictly needed. And if people want to just blog, OK. Noone’s forcing anyone to do anything.

    My point would be that if the ‘Euroblogpsphere’ focuses on the Brussels bubble, nothing much will really change – perhaps the bubble will get a bit bigger, but it will still be an insider bubble, full of people who appear to most decision-makers I know here as “FT columnist wannabes” (this is a direct quote, btw). My focus has always been on popping the bubble. 😉

  6. This discourse is not about navel-gazing, it’s about identity-formation – something quite essential for the cultivation and facilitation of any online community, and something every generation has to go through at some point. But I will add a couple of generous pinches of salt, and voilà.

    But I’m with you when it comes to structure vs content – content is always the better trump, but structure can provide context and accessibility. And I want all this to happen yesterday as well!

    So now I am thinking why exactly such a decentralised interview scheme as hinted at by GolfieroGoffredo should only be there in 5 years from now – surely we can make this happen sooner?!

  7. It’ll be quicker than 5 years, hopefully!

    Fair point about the identify formation/navel-gazing, but you must admit that any excuse to insert a Monty Python video into a post just cannot be denied! 😉

  8. Hehe – well, my thoughts on Esperanto are on my blog (I don’t think it’s really a serious option for Europe). But I’ve set myself the challenge of trying to learn it for a month next year – so then I’ll see for myself how easy or difficult it is to pick up.

    I think a really important thing to keep in mind when we talk about creating bridges between the various national blogospheres is that we do not need to translate all the blogs in Europe to have a European public space. Nor do we need to get all Spanish bloggers talking to all the Italian bloggers, and so on.

    What we need is just to select the “hot topics” and report them in the English speaking blogosphere. That could be done through a structured process (like a Bloggingportal.eu “editors choice” list that is translated into English by volunteers) – or it could be done in a decentralised, unstructured way (like Julien Frisch’s “German Blog Round-ups”).

  9. Agree totally – what you refer to is what I was talking about in one of my comments to your blog:

    The minimum we need to tackle multilingualism in an online EU public space is the ability to gloss a text – to quickly get across what another post, in a language we don’t understand, is about.

    … and is in fact what I’ve been talking about for over two years now 😉

    As you rightly say, some sort of structure is required to make this happen – and from some of the comments above, this may be difficult.

    My point is that maybe Esperanto may be a better language for the glossing process than English. As I said, yesterday I didn’t feel that way, but today i’m glad you’re giving Esperanto a whirl, for the reasons in my comment.

  10. I agree on the point regarding a European blogosphere growing along the “long tail”. For that to happen, though, usual blogger in Europe will have to think beyond a national audience, and write/comment accordingly. That”s a mind shift that hasn’t occured yet, but which be worth to foster.
    People are intersted by themselves. But as exchanging experience and opinion with other internet users abroad gives them the feeling they learn something useful for their own understanding, we can imagine blogging with and for other Europeans could become obvious for them.

  11. Absolutely. It’s all about the network.

    Imagine one blogger in Country X, regularly posting (and commenting elsewhere) on national affairs in the national language. The difference is that s/he often refers to the relevant EU policy developments, best practices in other countries, and the ideas being discussed in other countries. Presto, the EU enters the national debates, and people learn from experiences in other countries.

    How does this happen over the language barrier? Because our blogger is using a pipe of content from bloggers who regularly gloss the debate in their country, using a lingua franca (English? Esperanto?) and/or machine translation.

    Moreover, because they use some quite basic tagging/aggregation tools, all of this content is easily found, creating an irregularly updated, utterly distributed library of ‘views from across Europe’ that our blogger can tap into when composing his nationally-oriented posts.

    Our blogger hasn’t got time to contribute to this library, but s/he does link to the relevant pieces, and some of his/her readers get interested, and start contributing to the cross-border exchange. It’s certainly good for their traffic…

  12. Bridging Euro & national blogospheres: in practice, re: enlargement

    Congratulations to all for the lively debate.

    Two large countries (and more) have a hard time imagining the EU enlarging again in any big way, while Brussels keeps negotiating further. Now, here is a real, substantial debate to be had!

    You can join it in any language you wish… as long as you choose:
    English:
    http://english.blogactiv.eu/category/enlargement/
    français:
    http://french.blogactiv.eu/category/elargissement-et-pays-voisins/
    deutsch:
    http://german.blogactiv.eu/category/Erweiterung/

    BTW, the blogosphere has a chance to make an impact if it manages to attract more ‘traditional’ (web 1.0) people like myself. Which will happen very soon… Now, you’ve been warned! 🙂

    Happy Christmas,

    Christophe

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