December 3, 2009
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.Mathew Lowry