Multilingual Proposals (Reboot, BlogCamp) [en]

The famous conference reboot will take place in Copenhagen on 31.05-01.06. I’ll be attending.

I’m also going to make a proposal for a talk (as the (un)conference format encourages this). I’m being a bit shy about putting it up on the reboot site before I’m happy with the title and description, so for the moment it’s a Google Doc tentatively titled While We Wait For The Babel Fish.

Those of you who know me won’t be very surprised to learn that it’s about multilingualism online. By “multilingualism” online, I’m not only talking about localisation or stupid default languages, but mainly about what happens when one wants to get off the various monolingual islands out there and use more than one language in one place, for example. How can we help multiple languages coexist in a given space or community, as they do at times in the offline world? Can the tools we have help make this easier?

Another thing that interests me is this “all or nothing” assumption about knowing languages (when you have to check boxes): I wouldn’t check a box saying I “know” Italian, but I can understand some amount of it when it’s written, if it’s necessary. What are we capable of doing with that kind of information? Read the draft if you want more.

I’m also proposing a session at Saturday’s BlogCamp in Zürich which will be around similar issues, but which will focus precisely on the topic of multilingual blogging.

Feedback on these ideas (and anything here) is most welcome. Is this interesting?

Update 19.03.2007: proposal is now on the reboot site! Don’t hesitate to leave comments there.

11 thoughts on “Multilingual Proposals (Reboot, BlogCamp) [en]

  1. I think you picked a great topic, Stephanie. It is certainly a meta topic, something that gains relevance with people taking back power over the Web. If brands and corporations want to involve more people with their websites (and their products, ultimately), they will have to consider new strategies on how to localize their websites and how to implement languages.

    But the topic goes beyond language itself. It may seem it is about people and their language mainly, but it is actually also about location. The problems you experienced recently with a Website assuming you speak German, or the problems I am experiencing with Google assuming I want to search within Switzerland only, all those issues are related to more than just bad programming.

    As we continue to expand on the Web’s abilities and interaction features, we will have to fundamentally reconstruct our idea of locations and the people living in those locations. To assume languages, or people’s behavior bound to locations is an outdated model, rooted in the traditional thinking of countries and the idea that people stay where they are at all times.

    So while the Web has improved as an ever changing, multi lingual, multi cultural tool that makes people communicate and connect across oceans and borders, it can no longer assume that where I live defines what language I speak or who I am. New ways need to be developed, a better AI is required, to define language preferences based on behavior patterns rather than on server IPs.

    We separate content from function and form already. This is widely considered one of the best things that have happened to the Web lately. So why not taking that same approach towards languages, locations and people’s preferences? Why can’t we separate ourselves from the idea that location is the driving factor for our lives, when globalization and multi cultural exchange in trading, business, education and communication already proves a different reality?

    Last but not least, this question has a lot to do with usability. Removing user-driven choices with an “auto pilot” functionality, which forces me to twist and bend to work around a usability flaw the service installed which I’m trying to use—isn’t that against all principles the modern Web is standing for?

  2. Hi stephanie – I think this is a really great subject for a talk. It also affects me deeply – because I am used to use english more in my everyday life than my mothertongue ( danish)… so I will hope that you work more on this – because yes – it is interesting

  3. Wow! Thanks for all the feedback (in comments, e-mails, and IM windows). I’m glad to see this topic strikes a chord with so many of you! I’ll definitely sleep/work on it and submit it to the rebooterati.

  4. Good topic, and what that should generate a fair bit of discussion. It is rapidly becoming an issue when you think of the Chinese population – the chance of English remaining so dominant is slim.

    The other issue you rightly point out is that of translation – how do we EASILY make the Web multilingual? The “Babel Fish” we do have at the moment is often unintentionally hilarious – but you wouldn’t want to have your livelihood depending on it. Bob Sutton also highlighted a similar problem getting the title of “The No Asshole Rule” translated so that the SENSE of the title was preserved.

    Good luck … should be interesting. BTW – are you daring enough to open up access to the Google document?

  5. Oh, forgot! Good to see you found Mindmeister – there’s a couple of web-based mindmapping tools around – Anne Zelenka blooged a few at Web Worker Daily (at about the same time as I did!)

  6. Steph – that’s exactly what I meant, yes. I haven’t tried Google Docs yet, but you may be able to invite selected people to contribute, or you may have to invite the world to get a few people (that may be a little scary!)

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