December 6, 2009
So Joe has a good summary of the euroblog meet-up (“Herding Cats“), with a more detailed followup on the way.
There are a lot of competing ideas, which is exactly what we need – the main point is that this discussion is finally underway, with ideas flowing across Europe via blogs, Google Wave, Twitter and email. Following Wave, in particular, is a challenge.
Many of these ideas are also contradictory – for example, some want the focus to be on parties, others remember previous experiences where partisan nonsense mucked things up. I suspect both are right.
But I’m not going to try to summarise and comment on everything here. Instead, I want this post to clarify a couple of things about the ideas I’m throwing into the mix. So apologies in advance for the length. You should be used to it by now.
Centralisation, or the lack thereof
For quite some time I’ve been advocating the use of decentralised Web2.0 tools to knit the conversation together:
I thought I’d kick off with a quick survey of the tools used by those of us interested both in social media and EU affairs … Such tools are the building blocks of a European public sphere
– Survey: What’s in your toolkit?
As I said in last week’s post, I gave up on that survey because we’re still too loose and unfunded, a sentiment echoed by Nosemonkey during the chat. But last week’s post did resurrect the idea of using tools to
transfer content from national debates … to each other via some sort of platform (bloggingportal, a twibe? whatever).
Note that I wasn’t advocating a major centralised effort – creating a Twibe is hardly revolutionary – and, not for the first time, I mentioned bloggingportal as a potential platform for helping content find its way between national debates.
Nevertheless, it was suggested that I was trying to organise content centrally, and that a “(semi-)professional platform that organises / aggregates relevant discussion threads to give an overview”, would be a less centralised approach than what I was advocating.
Funnily enough, such an approach would be more centralised and ambitious than I was thinking (my emphases):
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.
[the use of] some quite basic tagging/aggregation tools … creating an irregularly updated, utterly distributed library of ‘views from across Europe’
And still, Ralf Grahn is now telling me that we don’t need any dazzling new projects.
Sigh. So, sorry for quoting from my own comments, but I’m a little fed up with the accusation that I’m trying to create some ‘dazzling new platform’ when all I’m suggesting is that we use the standard suite of Web2.0 technologies already out there, and perhaps bloggingportal if anything centralised proves necessary.
I obviously wasn’t clear enough – hence this post’s focus on clarifying some of my ideas, currently spread out over several posts and comments, here and elsewhere, Google Wave, etc.
In other words, I need to herd my own cats. Which, ironically, illustrates just how difficult it is to follow a conversation distributed across so many places.
Multilingualism: the network effect
This was the focus of the chat and a lot of really good ideas came out.
In Ralf’s post, he gives some language post stats from bloggingportal:
A very rough indication of the blog posts now is about 60 per cent in English, 20 in French and 20 shared between the rest of the languages.
I’m not surprised that so many blogs are in EN. When I was launching blogactiv a couple of years ago, we just couldn’t get French or German-speaking bloggers to blog in their own language. In the chat, for example, Julien Frisch mentioned that he tried to blog in English and German, but couldn’t make it sustainable.
This is the network effect – it’s much more valuable to be part of a bigger network than a smaller one, as the value of the network is proportional to the square of its members (in this case, community and audience).
Right now the ‘European blogosphere’, roughly speaking, is divided into separate linguistic spheres. So people choose the biggest one, which accordingly grows faster, becoming more valuable. A recipe for a vicious circle. Julien chose to continue in English, not German.
One solution here is to look at it from another perspective – rather than build a multilingual European blogosphere, think more about bringing the EU policy debates into the national blogospheres, in national languages, and then build language bridges between debates on the same subject.
Along the long tail
This may be hard for people obsessing about EU affairs to understand, but – as Nosemonkey mentioned in the chat – EU affairs are dull. Only EU geeks care about EU affairs for their own sake. They can have their EU-Geek-O-Sphere, of course, but it’ll just be another online group.
Some suggested that we should all blog in such a way as to make EU affairs sexier. Well, you can take a cow around the world, but in the end you’ll still have a cow.
But everyone cares about something (see When does EU blogging matter?). So rather than try to make EU affairs interesting for its own sake, let’s join the debates at national level and show how decisions being taken at the EU level are relevant to them …
Building language bridges
… and then build language bridges between those debates, using decentralised tools and (perhaps) a central platform like bloggingportal.
That way, not only would national debates learn more about – and contribute to – relevant EU-level discussions and programmes, but could learn from each other directly.
Imagine, for example, if members of a network, or club, posted summaries of national blogging conversations (“glosses”) in a lingua franca (English, Esperanto, whatever), summarising and pointing to one or more individual posts (still in the national languages. Once again, sorry but I’m going to quote myself:
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.
A centralised platform comes in handy when managing translations, particularly machine-assisted. For example, it could allow the above network to manage a ‘machine translation budget’ and a ‘human translation budget’.
With google translation, the machine translation budget is infinite, but there are companies out there claiming to do a better job, feeding their systems with specialised content so that they translate on a certain issue better than Google. They are paid on a subscription model. So this could be sponsored by the private or public sector, or indeed the translation service supplier.
Users, having read a gloss, decide they would like a translation of a specific post highlighted by the gloss, or perhaps the gloss itself.
They first request a machine translation out of the machine translation budget. If this budget is limited, a controller has to decide, so we’re looking at a voting/rating system here.
If/when the machine translations are published, users can then either volunteer to improve the translation, or ask for a professional translation out of the human translation budget, if it exists.
So all of this is entirely possible on zero translation budget, as Joe is going to explore with Transposh (Google + volunteers-via-wiki).
My hunch is that the best path is to build a zero translation-budget system as a proof-of-concept, but build it with the idea that financed translations (human and/or machine) could be added if/when a sponsor wants to get on board.
Finally, when building a jigsaw puzzle, it helps to have some idea of the final picture before you start drawing and cutting the individual pieces.
When looking at these problems, the key is to develop integrated, self-consistent solutions: i.e., ideas which successfully tackle the interrelated issues of content, audience, translation resources, technology, centralised/federal network, user-friendliness, quality, relevance, timeliness and more, all together.
Of course, nothing like that is ever going to see the light of day. But it’s fun to aim high. 😉Mathew Lowry