BlogCamp: Multilingual Blogging Session [en]

[fr] Mise par écrit des notes de préparation pour ma présentation hier au sujet des blogs multilingues, lors du BlogCamp à Zürich. En deux mots: il faut des gens pour faire le pont entre les îles linguistiques sur internet, et la façon dont sont conçus nos outils n'encourage pas les gens à être multingues sur leurs blogs. C'est pourtant à mon avis la formule la plus viable pour avoir de bons ponts.

I presented a session about multilingual blogging at BlogCamp yesterday in Zürich. Thanks to all of you who attended (particularly as I was competing with Xing’s Nicolas Berg!) and wrote about the session (Bruno of course, Sarah, Sandra, Maira, Jens-Rainer, Waltraut, Jokerine, Antoine…let me know if I need to add you here), and to Greg in particular for filming the session.

Although I’m rather used to giving talks, this was the first time my audience was a bloggy-geek crowd, so it was particularly exciting for me. I prepared my talk on the train between Lausanne and Bern, and unfortunately prepared way too many notes (I’m used to talking with next to no notes), so I got a bit confused at times during my presentation — and, of course, left stuff out. Here’s a rough transcript of what I prepared. Oh, and don’t forget to look at this photo of my cat Bagha from time to time to get the whole “experience”.

Steph giving her talk.
Photo by Henning

Talk notes

In the beginning there was the Big Bang. Space, time and matter came to exist. (Physicists in the audience, please forgive me for this.) We know it might end with a Big Crunch. Internet looks a bit like this Big Crunch, because it gets rid of space. With the right link to click on, the right URI, anybody can be anywhere at any time.

However, we often perceive the internet as a kind of “space”, or at least as having some sort of organisation or structure that we tend to translate into spatial terms or sensations. One way in which the internet is organised (and if you’re a good 2.0 person you’re acutely aware of this) is communities.

Communities are like gravity wells: people tend to stay “in” them. It very easy to be completely oblivious to what is going on in other communities. Barrier to entry: culture. Language is part of a culture, and even worse, it’s the vehicle for communication.

What is going on in the other languageospheres? I know almost nothing of what’s going on in the German-speaking blogosphere. The borders on the internet are linguistic. How do we travel? There is no digital equivalent of walking around town in a foreign country without understanding a word people say. Note: cultural divides are a general problem — I’m trying to focus here on one of the components of the cultural divide: language.

Who speaks more than one language? In the audience, (almost) everyone. This is doubly not surprising:

  • Switzerland is a multilingual country
  • this is the “online” crowd (cosmopolitan, highly educated, English-speaking — though English is not a national language here)

Two episodes that made me aware of how strong language barriers can be online, and how important it is to encourage people to bridge the language barriers:

  • launching because at the time of the browser upgrade initiative I realised that many French-speaking people didn’t have access to all the material that was available in Anglophonia, because they just didn’t understand English well enough;
  • the very different feelings bloggers had about Loïc Le Meur when he first started being active in the blogosphere, depending on if they were French- or English-speaking, particularly around the time of the Ublog story.

A few questions I asked the audience (mini-survey):

  • who reads blogs in more than one language? (nearly everyone)
  • who blogs in more than one language?
  • who has different blogs for different languages?
  • who has one blog with translated content in both languages? (two courageous people)
  • who has one blog with posts in various languages, mixed? (half a dozen people if my memory serves me right)
  • who feels they act as a bridge between languages?

So, let’s have a look at a few multilingual blogging issues (from the perspective of a biased bilingual person). Despite the large number of people out there who are comfortable writing in more than one language (and the even larger number who are more or less comfortable reading in more than one language), and the importance of bridging cultural/linguistic gaps, blogging tools still assume you are going to be blogging in one language (even though it is now accepted that this language may not be English).

What strategies are there for using more than one language on a blog, or being a good bridge? Concentrate first on strategy and then worry about technical issues. Usage is our best hope to make tool development evolve, here.

A. Two (or more) separate blogs

  • not truly “multilingual blogging”, it’s “monolingual blogging” twice
  • caters well to monolingual audiences
  • not so hot for multilingual audiences: must follow multiple blogs, with unpredictable duplication of content

B. Total translation

  • a lot of work! goes against the “low activation energy for publiction” thing that makes blogging work (=> less blogging)
  • good for multilingual and monolingual audiences
  • technical issues with non-monolingual page (a web page is assumed to be in a single language…)

C. Machine translation!

  • getting rid of the “effort” that makes B. fail as a large-scale solution, but retaining the benefiits!
  • problem: machine translation sucks
  • too imprecise, we don’t want more misunderstanding

D. A single blog, more than one language (my solution)

  • easy for the blogger, who just chooses the language to blog in depending on mood, bridge requirements, etc.
  • good for the right multilingual audience
  • technical issues with non-monolingual pages
  • how do you take care of monolingual audiences? provide a summary in the non-post language

“Monolingual” audiences are often not 100% monolingual. If the number of people who are perfectly comfortable writing in more than one language is indeed rather small, many people have some “understanding” skills in languages other than their mother tongue. Important to reach out to these skills.

For example, I’ve studied German at school, but I’m not comfortable enough with it to read German-language blogs. However, if I know that a particular post is going to be really interesting to me, I might go through the trouble of reading it, maybe with the help of some machine translation, or by asking a German-speaking friend.

A summary of the post in the language it is not written in can help the reader decide if it’s worth the trouble. Writing in a simple language will help non-native speakers understand. Making sure the number of typos and grammar mistakes are minimal will help machine translation be helpful. And machine translation, though it is often comical, can help one get the gist of what the post is about.

Even if the reader is totally helpless with the language at hand, the summary will help him know what he’s missing. Less frustrating. And if it’s too frustrating, then might give motivation to hunt down a native speaker or do what’s required to understand what the post is about.

Other bridging ideas:

  • translation networks (translate a post or two a month from other bloggers in the network, into your native language)
  • translation portal (“news of the world” with editorial and translation work done) — check out Blogamundo

Problem I see: bloggers aren’t translators. Bloggers like writing about their own ideas, they’re creative people. Translating is boring — and a difficult task.

Some more techy thoughts:

  • use the lang= attribute, particularly when mixing languages on a web page (and maybe someday tools will start parsing that)
  • CSS selectors to make different languages look different (FR=pink, EN=blue for example)
  • language needs to be a post (or even post element) attribute in blogging tools
  • WordPress plugins: language picker Polyglot and Basic Bilingual
  • excerpt in another language: what status in RSS/atom? Part of the post content or not? Can RSS/atom deal with more than one language in a feed, or do they assume “monolingualism”?
  • indicating the language of the destination page a link points to

Extra reading

The nice thing about having a blog is that you can dive back into time and watch your thinking evolve or take place. Here is a collection of posts which gravitate around language issues (in a “multilingual” sense). The Languages/Linguistics category is a bit wider than that, however.

Blogging in more than one language:

About the importance of language, etc.:

Please Make Holes in My Buckets! [en]

[fr] Tour d'horizon de mes différents "profils" à droite et a gauche dans le paysage des outils sociaux (social tools). Il manque de la communication entre ces différents services, et mon identité en ligne s'en trouve fragmentée et lourde à gérer. Ajouter des contacts en se basant sur mon carnet d'adresses Gmail est un bon début, mais on peut aller plus loin. Importer ses livres préférés ou des éléments de CV d'un profil à l'autre, par exemple.

Facebook is Stowe‘s fault. Twitter was because of Euan. Anne Dominique is guilty of getting me on Xing/OpenBC. I can’t remember precisely for Flickr or LinkedIn or — OMG! — orkut, but it was certainly somebody from #joiito. The culprits for, DailyMotion and YouTube have disappeared into the limbo of lost memories. Kevin encouraged me to sign up for a good dozen of blogging platforms, open a MySpace account, and he’s probably to blame for me being on Upcoming. As for, I’ll blame Matt because he’s behind all that.

Granted, I’m probably the only one responsible for having gotten into blogging in the first place.

Let’s get back on track. My aim here is not primarily to point an accusing finger to all my devious friends who introduced me to these fun, addictive, time-consuming tools (though it’s interesting to note how one forgets those things, in passing). It’s more a sort of round-up of a bunch of my “online selves”. I feel a little scattered, my friends. Here are all these buckets in which I place stuff, but there aren’t enough holes in them.

Feeds are good. Feeds allow me to have Twitter,, Flickr, and even stuff in my blog sidebar. It also allows me to connect my blogs to one another, and into Facebook. Here, though, we’re talking “content” much more than “self”.

One example I’ve already certainly talked about (but no courage to dig it out, my blog is starting to be a huge thing in which I can’t find stuff I know it contains) is contacts or buddies — the “Mine” in Stowe’s analysis of social applications. I have buddy lists on IM and Skype, contacts on Flickr and just about every service I mentioned in this post. Of course, I don’t want to necessarily have the same contacts everywhere. I might love your photos on Flickr and add you as a contact, but not see any interest in adding you to my business network on LinkedIn. Some people, though — my friends — I’ll want to have more or less everywhere.

So, here’s a hole in the buckets that I really like: I’ve seen this in many services, but the first time I saw it was on Myspace. “Let us peek in your GMail contacts, and we’ll tell you who already has an account — and let you invite the others.” When I saw that, it scared me (“OMG! Myspace sticking its nose in my e-mail!”) but I also found it really exciting. Now, it would be even better if I could say “import friends and family from Flickr” or “let me choose amongst my IM buddies”, but it’s a good start. Yes, there’s a danger: no, I don’t want to spam invitations to your service to the 450 unknown adresses you found in my contacts, thankyouverymuch. Plaxo is a way to do this (I’ve seen it criticised but I can’t precisely remember why). Facebook does it, which means that within 2 minutes you can already have friends in the network. Twitter doesn’t, which means you have to painstakingly go through your friends of friends lists to get started. I think coComment and any “friend-powered” service should allow us to import contacts like that by now. And yes, sure, privacy issues.

But what about all my profile information? I don’t want to have to dig out my favourite movies each time I sign up to a new service. Or my favourite books. Or the schools I went to. I mean, some things are reasonably stable. Why couldn’t I have all that in a central repository, once and for all, and just have all these neat social tools import the information from there? Earlier today, David was telling me over IM that he’d like to have a central service to bring all our Facebook, LinkedIn, OpenBC/Xing, and MySpace stuff together. Or a way to publish his CV/résumé online and allow Facebook to access it to grab data from it. Good ideas, in my opinion.

I’ll mention OpenID here, but just in passing, because although in my dreams in used to hold the promise of this centralised repository of “all things me”, I don’t think that it’s what it has been designed for (if I get it correctly, it is identity verification and doesn’t have much to do with the contents of this identity). Microformats could on the other hand certainly come in handy here.

So, please, make more holes in my buckets. Importing Gmail contacts in sticking feeds here and there is nice, but not sufficient. For the moment, Facebook seems promising. But let me use Twitter for my statuses, for example, or at least include the feed somewhere (I can only include one feed, so I’ve included my suprglu one, but it has a huge lag and is not very satisfying). Let me put photographs in my albums directly from Flickr. Talk with the profiles I made with other similar services. Grab my school and work info from LinkedIn and OpenBC. Then make all this information you have about me available to republish how I want it (feeds, feeds, feeds! widgets! buttons! badges!) where I want it.

Also, more granularity. Facebook has a good helping of it: I can choose which type of information I want to see from my contacts. I can restrict certain contacts from seeing certain parts of my profile. I’d like fine control on who can see what, also by sorting my people into “buddy groups”. “Friends” and “Family” as on Flickr is just not enough. And maybe Facebook could come and present me with Stowe-groupings of my contacts, based on the interactions I have with them.

Share your wild ideas here if you have any.

Giving FeedBurner a Spin [en]

[fr] FeedBurner produit un fil RSS à partir de votre blog. Quel intérêt si notre outil de blog préféré le fait déjà? FeedBurner fournit des statistiques de consultation et tout un tas d'autres services sympas.

Heard about FeedBurner so much I thought I’d give it a try. Feed stats sound like a nice thing to have. So, here’s the new address: Consider changing your subscription if it’s not too much of a hassle to you. You’ll get my links in there two in daily bundles if you do. 😉

Update: now using the feedburner plugin. Let me know if any breakage reaches you.