English Only: Barrier to Adoption [en]

Foreword: this turned into a rather longer post than I had expected. The importance of language and localization online is one of my pet topics (I’ve just decided that it would be what I’d talk about at BlogCamp, rather than teenagers and stuff), so I do tend to get carried away a little.

I was surprised last night to realise that this wasn’t necessarily obvious — so I think it’s probably worth a blog post.

The fact a service is in English only is a showstopper for many non-native speakers, hence a barrier to wider adoption in Europe.

But doesn’t everybody speak English, more or less? Isn’t it the lingua franca of today that everybody speaks? It isn’t. At least not in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and I’m certain there are many other places in Europe where the situation is similar.

Come and spend a little time in Lausanne, for example, and try communicating in English with the man on the street. Even if many people have done a couple of years of English at school, most have never had any use for it after that and have promptly forgotten it. German is a way more important “foreign language” around here, as it is the linguistic majority in Switzerland, and most administrative centers of big companies (and the government) are in the German-speaking part of the country (which doesn’t mean that everybody speaks German, either).

The people who are reasonably comfortable with English around here will most often be those who have taken up higher academic studies, particularly in scientific subjects (“soft” and “hard” science alike).

And if I’m the person who comes to your mind when you think “Swiss”, think again — my father is British, I was born in England, went to an English medium school and spoke English at home until I was 8, conversed regularly with English-speaking grandparents during my growing years, and never stopped reading in English: all that gave me enough of a headstart that even though my English had become very rusty at the end of my teens, I dove into the English-speaking internet with a passion, and spent an anglophone year in India. So, no. I’m not your average Lausanne-living French-speaker. I’m a strange bilingual beast.

Imagine somebody whose native language is not English, even though they may theoretically know enough English to get around if you parachuted them into London. (Let’s forget about the man on the street who barely understands you when you ask where the station is.) I like to think of my (step-)sister as a good test-case (not that I want to insist on the “step-“, but it explains why she isn’t bilingual). She took up the “modern languages” path at school, which means she did German, English, and Italian during her teenage years, and ended up being quite proficient in all three (she’s pretty good with languages). She went to university after that and used some English during her studies. But since then, she honestly hasn’t had much use for the language. She’ll read my blog in English, can converse reasonably comfortably, but will tend to watch the TV series I lend her in the dubbed French version.

I’m telling you this to help paint a picture of somebody which you might (legitimately) classify as “speaks English”, but for whom it represents an extra effort. And again, I’d like to insist, my sister would be very representative of most people around here who “speak English but don’t use it regularly at work”. That is already not representative of the general population, who “did a bit of English at school but forgot it all” and can barely communicate with the lost English-speaking tourist. Oh, and forget about the teenagers: they start English at school when they’re 13, and by the time they’re 15-16 they might (if they are lucky) have enough knowledge of it to converse on everyday topics (again: learning German starts a few years before that, and is more important in the business world). This is the state of “speaking English” around here.

A service or tool which is not available in French faces a barrier to adoption in the Suisse Romande on two levels:

  • first of all, there are people who simply don’t know enough English to understand what’s written on the sign-up page;
  • second, there are people who would understand most of what’s on the sign-up page, but for whom it represents and extra effort.

Let’s concentrate on the second batch. An *extra effort”?! Lazy people! Think of it. All this talk about making applications more usable, about optimizing the sign-up process to make it so painless that people can do it with their eyes closed? Well, throw a page in a foreign language at most normal people and they’ll perceive it as an extra difficulty. And it may very well be the one that just makes them navigate away from the page and never come back. Same goes for using the service or application once they have signed up: it makes everything more complicated, and people anticipate that.

Let’s look at some examples.

The first example isn’t exactly about a web service or application, but it shows how important language is for the adoption of new ideas (this isn’t anything groundbreaking if you look at human history, but sometimes the web seems to forget that the world hasn’t changed that much…). Thanks for bearing with me while I ramble on.

In February 2001, I briefly mentioned the WaSP Browser Push and realised that the French-speaking web was really “behind” on design and web standards ressources. I also realised that although there was interest for web standards, many French-speaking people couldn’t read the original English material. This encouraged me to blog in French about it, translate Zeldman’s article, launching the translation site pompage.net in the process. Pompage.net, and the associated mailing-list, followed a year or so later by OpenWeb, eventually became a hub for the budding francophone web standards community, which is still very active to this day.

(What happened with the Swiss Blog Awards is in my opinion another example of how important language issues are.)

Back to web applications proper. Flickr is an application I love, but I have a hard time getting people to sign up and use it, even when I’ve walked them through the lengthy Yahoo-ID process. WordPress.com, on the other hand, exists in French, and I can now easily persuade my friends and clients to open blogs there. There is a strong French-speaking WordPress community too. A few years ago, when the translation and support were not what they are now, a very nice little blogging tool named DotClear became hugely popular amongst francophone bloggers (and it still is!) in part because it was in French when other major blogging solutions were insufficient in that respect.

Regarding WordPress, I’d like to point out the community-driven translation effort to which everybody can contribute. Such an open way of doing things has its pitfalls (like dreadful, dreadful translations which linger on the home page until somebody comes along to correct them) but overall, I think the benefits outweigh the risks. In almost no time, dozens of localized versions can be made available, maintained by those who know the language best.

Let’s look at teenagers. When MySpace was all that was being talked about in the US, French-speaking teenagers were going wild on skyblog. MySpace is catching up a bit now because it also exists in French. Facebook? In English, nobody here has heard of it. Live Messenger aka MSN? Very much in French, unlike ICQ, which is only used here by anglophile early adopters.

Skype and GMail/GTalk are really taking off here now that they are available in French.

Learning to use a new service, or just trying out the latest toy, can be challenging enough an experience for the average user without adding the extra hurdle of having to struggle with an unfamiliar language. Even though a non-localized service like Flickr may be the home to various linguistic groups, it’s important to keep in mind that their members will tend to be the more “anglophone” of this language group, and are not representative.

The bottom line is that even with a lot of encouragement, most local people around here are not going to use a service which doesn’t talk to them in their language.

9:52 Afterthought credit:

I just realised that this article on why startups condense in America was the little seed planted a few days ago which finally brought me to writing this post. I haven’t read all the article, but this little part of it struck me and has been working in the background ever since:

What sustains a startup in the beginning is the prospect of getting their initial product out. The successful ones therefore make the first version as simple as possible. In the US they usually begin by making something just for the local market.

This works in America, because the local market is 300 million people. It wouldn’t work so well in Sweden. In a small country, a startup has a harder task: they have to sell internationally from the start.

The EU was designed partly to simulate a single, large domestic market. The problem is that the inhabitants still speak many different languages. So a software startup in Sweden is still at a disadvantage relative to one in the US, because they have to deal with internationalization from the beginning. It’s significant that the most famous recent startup in Europe, Skype, worked on a problem that was intrinsically international.

Addicted to Technology! [en]

[fr] Une longue tirade, malheureusement pas vraiment traduisible vu l'heure et la longueur, sur la dépendance à internet, qui est à mon avis un faux problème. J'y parle de notre définition de la technologie (une voiture, c'est aussi de la technologie, et on ne s'alarme pas des gens qui seraient "dépendants de leur voiture" comme on le fait de ceux qui sont "dépendants de leur ordinateur"), de la valeur (petite) généralement accordée aux rapports humains qui passent à travers un ordinateur, de l'insuffisance de la "déconnexion" pour résoudre un problème d'utilisation excessive de cet outil, puisqu'il reste un outil valable et même indispensable pour certains, même si c'est un lieu privilégié de fuite.

Help! we’re all becoming addicted to technology! Think of it… we’re soon going to be merged to our computers and cellphones, and we already have a hard time living without them. Heck, we can’t even spend a day without chatting or checking our e-mail! Or our blog comments! Where is the world going?

What technology?

Let’s take a few steps back, shall we? First of all, please define technology. Do we consider that we are “addicted” on our cars? Our clothes? Our flats? The postal system, goods manufacturing and distribution, the newspaper? Oh, but those things are actually necessary, not superfluous like all this internet/computer/techy stuff. That’s what we mean by “technology”. People could communicate very well without IM and cellphones and e-mail, couldn’t they? So, shouldn’t we strive to remember that “real” human relationships happen outside the realm of all this “technology-mediated” communication?


Cars are technology. The banking system, and similar infrastructures our world relies on, are in their way a form of technology, and certainly, built upon technology. People who argue that cars, fixed landlines, or shoes are more “necessary” than IM are simply stuck with views on what “technology” is and its value that are dictated by the state of the world when they came into it. (Read original material by Douglas Adams.)

We consider things like fixed phones and the postal system like something we need because they have been around for so long that our society and the individuals inside it have completely adapted to having them around, relying upon them, and using them. It is “normal” to feel uncomfortable or jittery if your phone landline is cut or if your watch breaks down. But somehow, it is not “normal” to feel uncomfortable or jittery when we can’t check our e-mail for 24 hours.

Computers, the internet, and the various programs we use are tools, like the phone and our vehicles. They allow us to get things done, interact and connect with others, and also enjoy some recreation. Of course, they can be over-used. Of course, some people will have an unhealthy or even pathological utilisation of them. But they differ from the classical objects of “addiction”, like drugs, which (usually) do not serve a directly constructive purpose.

Addicted to our cars

I find it very problematic to speak about “addiction” regarding computers or the internet, partly because it makes it look like the problem is with the tool (instead of the person), and partly because it is very difficult to draw the line between healthy and unhealthy use of the tool without taking in many environmental and personal factors.

I think that making a comparison between computer and car usage is quite enlightening in that respect. They have in common that they are a form of technology, they have a use, and can be abused. Yet we worry about addiction to computers, but not so much about addiction to cars. Let’s have a closer look.

A car is not a vital necessity. Before cars existed, humanity managed to survive for quite a long time, and wasn’t necessarily worse off (I guess that judgement depends on one’s view of progress). However, nowadays, depending on where you live and what your lifestyle is, it’s hard to get by without a car (though possible by making some arrangements). Would we consider somebody who uses their car everyday “addicted”? Most certainly not, because probably the main reason the car is needed is to commute to work. But what if one likes going to drive around in the countryside every week-end? Or takes the car to drive to the store when it is 5 minutes away on foot? Or uses the car for comfort, when public transport could be used? What about the distress one can end up when a car breaks down and has to be taken to the garage? Would anybody dream of speaking of addiction here?

Just as the car allows us to easily cover long distances, the computer allows us to do things we could not normally do without. It’s technology. Now, if the way we live tends to require or expect us to do these things, the technology becomes “necessary”, and not “superfluous”. Makes sense?

Nurturing online relationships has little value (not)

One problem with applying the reasoning I did for the car to the computer has in my opinion been touched upon in the LIFT’07 panel I mentioned previously: the blurring of the distinction between what is “work” (ie, “necessary”) and “personal” (“not that necessary”). Aimlessly chatting on IRC can actually be very important for my professional life. In general, taking care of one’s network (really: taking care of the relationships we have with other human beings we know) is something which should not be considered “superfluous”. During the panel, Stefana Broadbent mentioned that technology allowed us to actually keep alive (“manage”) a greater number of relationships than what we would be capable of without. Which leads us to the second problem: human relationships which take place “through the internet” are less valued in today’s world than the “real” ones which take place face-to-face.

What’s missing here is that “virtual” (how I hate that word in this context) interaction is not there to “replace” face-to-face interaction, or traditional communication technologies like the written letter, the fax, or the phone. IM, chat, blogging and e-mail most often keeps people in touch when they would not be communicating at all. I would not be keeping friendships alive across the Atlantic without my computer. And some of these friendships are no less valuable than the relationships I have with people I get to see in the flesh more often because they live in my hometown.

But more than that, these “poorer” channels of communication open up different dimensions in the way we relate to others. I’ve heard this said twice recently (though I’ve been aware of it through personal experience for years). First by Regina Lynn in her (well worth reading) book The Sexual Revolution 2.0. At some point, she explains that for those who are used to texting and IMing in the context of a romantic relationship, the absence of these “channels” makes it feel like there is something missing in the relationship. Second, Stefana Broadbent (again on the LIFT’07 panel, link above) mentioned that the arrival of Skype and VoiP did not kill chat — people are still chatting even though they could use the richer communication channel and actually talk.

This is not surprising. We know that some things are easier to say or more adapted to this or that communication channel. It’s not news either — using letters or the phone rather than face-to-face is not always a choice made for questions of distance or availability.

If not addiction, then what?

Of course, as I mentioned, there are unhealthy uses of computer technology. And computer technology has characteristics that help us get “hooked”, so it won’t be surprising that people might use it compulsively or excessively. And for people who for a reason or another (and I at times can include myself in that lot) need to “escape” life/reality/pain, goofing around aimlessly online or chatting for hours with random strangers can be used as an alternative to getting drunk/stoned/passing out in front of the TV/reading all Harry Potter books cover-to-cover without interruption. But is it right to talk about “addiction” in such cases?

Whatever you call it, the problem here is that you can’t just tell the people to “unplug” as a solution. For most people who have built part of their life around the internet, the computer is a valuable tool for work and social life. And anyway, even with substance abuse addictions, going “cold turkey” does not solve the real problem, though it’s usually better for your health. (I have personal experience from “the other side”, here: I have never in my whole life even tried smoking a cigarette, because I sense that if I did, there are high chances I would turn into a heavy smoker. I’m not free. One could say I have an addiction problem, even though it is not manifest in substance abuse. It’s latent and finds an expression in total abstinence.)

If the computer is used excessively, it is necessary to address the real underlying problem. The “thing” that makes people need to escape to somewhere. Because the line between “normal use of the tool” (I need to chat to some extent to keep in touch with my friends/family/collegues) and “excessive use” (I spend all my free time chatting, forget to eat, and don’t go out anymore) is drawn in quality rather than quantity and does not comprise a clear border like a different environment, schedule, or tool, the “easy” solution of “quitting” does not work.

Then, how does one determine if one’s use of the computer is excessive? I like to say that the main defining criteria for this kind of problem is pain. Is the intensity with which one uses the computer (or cellphone, or whatever) a source of suffering? Does the person feel that it’s out of control, and would like to do something about it? Is it having concrete effects like work loss, strain on relationships, or is there dissimulation regarding the time spent at it, hinting at a general unease about the time that is used on the computer? The secondary criteria would be purpose. Addiction or escape serve a purpose (shields one from something). Is it the case? What is this purpose? It’s not a simple question, and it often doesn’t have a simple answer, and addressing it might even involve a therapist.

Not that addicted…

I find that the mainstream press and certain specialists (doctors or teachers I’ve met) are a bit quick to shout “addiction” when faced with the importance the computer and the internet have taken in our lives. I’m not an “addict” because I get uncomfortable if I haven’t accessed my e-mail in 24 hours. I’m not an “addict” because I chat to my friends from the other side of the pond every day. I’m not an addict because when I think of something interesting, I feel an urge to write about it on my blog. I’m not an addict because I need my computer to take notes during a conference, rather than a paper and pen with which I’m illegible and which hurts me. I’m not an addict because I sometimes choose to stay in and catch up with what people I know are saying on their blogs rather than go out clubbing.

Yes, when I’m not doing too well I will easily turn to my computer to escape from the world or myself. Before I had a computer and a social life on the internet, I used to turn to the TV in such occasions, or drown myself in books or music. One isn’t better than the other. But here, clearly, the problem is me, and not the nasty technology.

If you’ve read all this, let me know what you think. I suspect I might have taken a few shortcuts here and there, and I’ll be more than happy to make them explicit if you point out what isn’t convincing.

Julian Bleecker: 1st Life, 2nd Life [en]

How to live in a pervasively networked world. What happens when 1st life meets second life?

What is 1st/2nd life? They’re different, but in what way?

1st: material contingencies. Digital data owes its life to material stuff. So our 2nd life has a material basis, and we should be mindful of it.
This material basis is a debt (some sort of HR, material, expended energy debt too).

Julian Bleecker

Online exists thanks to offline. An avatar consumes 1,752kWh per year. That is a bit less energy than a real person (2,436kWh) (cf. Nicolas Carr’s Blog, 05.12.06, see blog)

Also a debt to the sedentary body sitting in front of our computer screen. steph-note: yes, my upcoming post “On the Road to Being a Healthier Geek”…

There are critical externalities to our SL existence. 1st life doesn’t reboot when the system crashes.

How could we be reminded of these externalities in our 2nd Life? Bridge FL to SL, and get the best of both? Can we make SL worlds that take those material contingencies seriously? Where do we start? Playful reminders. Motion, time distance.

  • Wii: motion.
  • Animal Crossing: time.
  • Teku Teku Angel: distance.

How do you account for your second life?

Julian’s site.

Update 11.02.2007: Check out Julian’s post about this topic.

Rédaction d'infos pour ciao.ch [en]

Mon travail de rédaction pour le thème internet de ciao.ch, un site d’information et de prévention destiné aux adolescents, avance plutôt bien.

L’association CIAO m’avait contactée il y a déjà bien longtemps, mais entre un job d’enseignante à quasi-plein temps à l’époque, des rechutes de TMS, et les débuts un peu sur les chapeaux de roue de ma vie de consultante indépendante, le rédaction a vraiment commencé au compte-gouttes. Mais là, depuis quelque temps, on a trouvé un rythme de croisière à coups d’après-midis dans leurs bureaux et de nombreux litres de thé de menthe assaisonnés de quelques gâteaux et chocolats.

Si vous avez un moment — et surtout si vous connaissez les adolescents de près ou de loin — votre avis sur ce qui est déjà en ligne m’intéresse grandement. Est-ce que ça vous paraît adapté, pertinent, adéquat?

Le thème est loin d’être complet. Seront mis en ligne prochainement des chapitres tournant plus autour de la “sécurité informatique”: virus, phishing, spam. Le reste attend d’être rédigé…

Vidéos LeWeb3 [fr]

[en] LeWeb3 videos are online. Can't use them. Gah.

Ah oui! j’oubliais. Parlant LeWeb3, les vidéos sont a disposition — mais arghl! je proteste:

  • pas possible de télécharger les vidéos pour les voir offline Si, on peut.
  • pas possible de faire un lien vers une vidéo particulière Sisi, on peut.
  • pas possible d’avancer ou de sauter à un point défini dans une vidéo Sisi.
  • je ne trouve pas la vidéo de la conférence de danah
  • le plein écran, franchement, si ça veut dire “pixellisé et plein d’artefacts”, je m’en passe — je préfère petit et net à grand et flou (voir ce que fait PodTech en comparaison)

Je suis peut-être bicle, hein…

(Ma table ronde est la… 18ème vidéo environ, si j’ai bien compté: “Have communities replaced the Media”.)

Edit 21.01: bon, donc, merci de m’avoir répondu. Je vais faire une petite enquête interne pour tenter de saisir pourquoi j’ai raté tout ça!

First US Photos [en]

[fr] Les premières photos de mon séjour aux USA.

My first photos are online. Didn’t take many in Portland, but I got a few shots of a gorgeous sunrise over San Francisco earlier this morning.

San Francisco 8

Adolescents, MySpace, internet: citations de danah boyd et Henry Jenkins [fr]

[en] Citations and some French comments/paraphrasing of danah boyd and Henry Jenkins's interview "MySpace and Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA)". Must-read if your life has anything to do with teenagers.

Je viens de finir de lire ce fascinant interview de danah boyd et Henry Jenkins au sujet des adolescents et d’Internet, intitulé “MySpace and Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA).” Si vous travaillez de près ou de loin avec des adolescents, ou si vous êtes parent d’adolescent, prenez vingt minutes pour le lire. (PDF pour imprimer.) Voici les passages qui me parlent le plus, avec quelques commentaires. La mise en évidence est de moi. (Avertissement: tartine ahead.)

Cela fait bientôt deux ans que je fais régulièrement des conférences dans des écoles, pour faire de la “prévention blogs” ou “prévention Internet” en général. Ce qui me dérange depuis longtemps, c’est cette idée reçue qu’Internet grouille de pédophiles et est par définition un espace dangereux.

J’ai beaucoup apprécié de retrouver dans les paroles de ces deux chercheurs des choses que je pense ou dis, sans avoir fait autant d’études formelles à ce propos. Jolie confirmation de mon intuition et de ce que j’ai pu déduire de mes expériences directes.

J’essaie souvent, un peu maladroitement, de mettre en avant le rôle de construction sociale que jouent ces espaces sur internet. Voici ce qu’en dit danah:

These sites play a key role in youth culture because they give youth a space to hang out amongst friends and peers, share cultural artifacts (like links to funny websites, comments about TV shows) and work out an image of how they see themselves.


Une autre thèse que je défends et que ce ne sont pas ces espaces qui créent les comportements “déviants” des adolescents, mais qu’internet nous donne simplement accès, en tant qu’adultes, à des choses qui étaient auparavant cachées. A noter qu’une bonne partie de ces comportements font partie intégrante des processus de socialisation des adolescents, même s’ils ne sont pas plaisants.

While integrating into cultural life is a critical process that takes place during these years, the actual process is not always smooth or pleasant. Bullying, sexual teasing, and other peer-to-peer harassment are rampant amongst teenagers, as these are frequently the tools through which youth learn to make meaning of popularity, social status, roles, and cultural norms. MySpace did not create teenage bullying but it has made it more visible to many adults, although it is not clear that the embarrassment online is any more damaging to the young victims than offline. […] No one of any age enjoys being the target of public tormenting, but new media is not to blame for peer-to-peer harassment simply because it makes it more visible to outsiders. In fact, in many ways, this visibility provides a window through which teen mentors can help combat this issue.


Le vrai problème, ensuite, est la réaction que vont avoir les adultes face à ces comportements auxquels ils sont confrontés, et qu’ils ne peuvent plus nier.

Adults are confronting images of underage drinking or sex, discussions of drug use, and signs of bullying and other abusive behavior. […] In many cases, schools are being forced to respond to real world problems which only came to their attention because this information was so publicly accessible on the web. […] Much of the controversy has come not as a result of anything new that MySpace and the other social software sites contribute to teen culture but simply from the fact that adults can no longer hide their eyes to aspects of youth culture in America that have been there all along.


Pour le moment, malheureusement, la réaction la plus répandue semble être une forme de panique morale (“internet c’est dangereux”, “les adolescents ont des comportements criminels sur leurs blogs”). Je me réjouis de lire les conclusions de danah concernant les causes du vent de panique gravitant autour des modes de socialisation de notre jeunesse. Je pense personellement qu’il y a également une autre piste à explorer, et qui tourne autour de ce qu’on pourrait appeler la “culture de la peur”.

Understanding why moral panics emerge when youth socialize is central to my research.


Les outils de l’internet social sont de plus en plus utilisés dans le monde professionnel. Même si à mon sens c’est plus un problème dans le monde Anglo-Saxon qu’en Suisse (quoique… ça nous pend au nez), les écoles devraient apprendre aux enfants à exploiter le potentiel de ces outils et gérer les risques que peut comporter leur utilisation, plutôt que de les interdire ou les ignorer comme étant “des jeux d’enfants”.

Social networking services are more and more being deployed as professional tools, extending the sets of contacts that people can tap in their work lives. It is thus not surprising that such tools are also part of the social lives of our teens. Just as youth in a hunting society play with bows and arrows, youth in an information society play with information and social networks. Our schools so far do a rather poor job of helping teens acquire the skills they need in order to participate within that information society. For starters, most adult jobs today involve a high degree of collaboration, yet we still focus our schools on training autonomous learners. Rather than shutting kids off from social network tools, we should be teaching them how to exploit their potentials and mitigate their risks.


De même, si effectivement ces espaces numériques sont terriblement dangereux, il est important que l’école enseigne aux adolescents comment gérer leur présence en ligne, plutôt que de les encourager à l’éviter. La citation qui suit est une allusion directe à la volonté de certaines instances aux Etats-Unis (et ailleurs) de bloquer l’accès aux sites de “réseautage en ligne”, comme MySpace, depuis les écoles.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that MySpace critics are correct and that MySpace is, in fact, exposing large numbers of teens to high-risk situations, then shouldn’t the role of educational institutions be to help those teens understand those risks and develop strategies for dealing with them? Wouldn’t we be better off having teens engage with MySpace in the context of supervision from knowledgeable and informed adults? Historically, we taught children what to do when a stranger telephoned them when their parents are away; surely, we should be helping to teach them how to manage the presentation of their selves in digital spaces. The proposed federal legislation does nothing to help kids confront the challenges of interacting with online social communities; rather, it allows teachers and librarians to abdicate their responsibility to educate young people about what is becoming a significant aspect of their everyday lives.


Je vous cite maintenant un long passage dans lequel danah parle de la question des prédateurs sexuels sur MySpace, de la couverture médiatique de ce phénomène (qui contribue à créer un climat d’alarme déconnecté de la réalité), et des chiffres sur lesquels on se base aux Etats-Unis pour justifier l’inquiétude ambiante à ce sujet.

Il y a quelque temps, j’avais moi-même été à la recherche de matière première (chiffres, enquêtes, etc) concernant les prédateurs sexuels sur internet. Depuis des années que je baigne dans la cyberculture, je n’avais en effet jamais rencontré ni entendu parler d’une seule histoire du genre, ce qui me paraissait en décalage avec la frénésie médiatique et les opérations de prévention à grande échelle dont j’étais témoin.

Sans grande surprise, je n’ai pu mettre la main que sur une seule étude (celle-là même dont parle danah) qui fournissait des chiffres alarmants. Mais en regardant de près l’analyse des résultats fournis, j’avais été quelque peu sidérée de voir des choses comme “une fille de 13 ans à qui on a demandé sa taille de soutien-gorge” rentrer dans la catégorie “unwanted sexual sollicitation”, sans précision de l’âge ou du sexe de la personne posant la question. De plus, j’aurais apprécié une étude comparative de la quantité de “sollicitations sexuelles non désirées” dont sont victimes les ados à l’école, dans la rue, ou dans leur club de sports. Dans le troisième paragraphe que je cite, danah fait le même genre de critique.

Elle nous rappelle également que la grande majorité des enlèvements aux Etats-Unis sont l’oeuvre de personnes connues de l’enfant. D’un point de vue statistique, les enfants courent plus de risques en allant aux scouts ou à une sortie de catéchisme qu’en traînant sur MySpace. De plus, elle nous rappelle que la peur des prédateurs, régulièrement utilisée pour priver les jeunes d’espaces publiques (numériques ou physiques), sert aussi à détourner notre attention d’abuseurs statistiquement plus significatifs. Les jeunes courent plus de risques d’être victimes d’abus à leur domicile ou à celui de leurs amis que dans les espaces publics.

Voilà, grossièrement résumé, les arguments principaux de danah boyd dans les paragraphes suivants.

The media coverage of predators on MySpace implies that 1) all youth are at risk of being stalked and molested because of MySpace; 2) prohibiting youth from participating on MySpace will stop predators from attacking kids. Both are misleading; neither is true.

Unfortunately, predators lurk wherever youth hang out. Since youth are on MySpace, there are bound to be predators on MySpace. Yet, predators do not use online information to abduct children; children face a much higher risk of abduction or molestation from people they already know – members of their own family or friends of the family. Statistically speaking, kids are more at risk at a church picnic or a boy scout outing than they are when they go on MySpace. Less than .01% of all youth abductions nationwide are stranger abductions and as far as we know, no stranger abduction has occurred because of social network services. The goal of a predator is to get a child to consent to sexual activities. Predators contact teens (online and offline) to start a conversation. Just as most teens know to say no to strange men who approach them on the street, most know to ignore strange men who approach them online. When teenagers receive solicitations from adults on MySpace, most report deleting them without question. Those who report responding often talk about looking for attention or seeking a risk. Of those who begin conversations, few report meeting these strangers.

The media often reference a Crimes Against Children report that states one in five children receive a sexual solicitation online. A careful reading of this report shows that 76% of the unwanted solicitations came from fellow children. This includes unwanted date requests and sexual taunts from fellow teens. Of the adult solicitations, 96% are from people 18-25; wanted and unwanted solicitations are both included. In other words, if an 18 year old asks out a 17 year old and both consent, this would still be seen as a sexual solicitation. Only 10% of the solicitations included a request for a physical encounter; most sexual solicitations are for cybersex. While the report shows that a large percentage of youth are faced with uncomfortable or offensive experiences online, there is no discussion of how many are faced with uncomfortable or offensive experiences at school, in the local shopping mall or through other mediated channels like telephone.

Although the media has covered the potential risk extensively, few actual cases have emerged. While youth are at minimal risk, predators are regularly being lured out by law enforcement patrolling the site. Most notably, a deputy in the Department of Homeland Security was arrested for seeking sex with a minor.

The fear of predators has regularly been touted as a reason to restrict youth from both physical and digital publics. Yet, as Barry Glassner notes in The Culture of Fear, predators help distract us from more statistically significant molesters. Youth are at far greater risk of abuse in their homes and in the homes of their friends than they ever are in digital or physical publics.


Henry Jenkins nous rappelle que le décalage entre générations de parents et d’enfants pour ce qui est de l’adoption de nouvelles technologies n’est rien de nouveau. Les parents et enseignants sont souvent effrayés par le fait qu’ils ne comprennent pas ce que les jeunes font avec les technologies de communication d’aujourd’hui, et qu’ils ne sont donc pas en mesure de protéger ou superviser les enfants lorsqu’ils les utilisent.

History shows us a recurring pattern surrounding the adaptation of any new communications technology. Young people are often early adopters: they are more open to new ideas and experiences; they are looking for ways to leave their mark on the world and they are seeking places where they can socially interact with minimal adult interference. Parents and teachers are often frightened by these new kinds of communication technologies which were not part of the world of their childhood: they don’t really understand what their young people are doing with them and they don’t know how to protect or supervise their children while they are engaged in these activities. The situation is thus ripe for moral panic.


Henry continue sur les conséquences désastreuses d’une limitation de l’accès internet dans les écoles et bibliothèques. Cela handicaperait les enfants qui n’ont pas un bon accès internet à la maison et qui n’auraient donc pas l’occasion d’apprendre à utiliser ces outils sociaux s’ils ne sont pas accessibles depuis l’école.

Il ne faut plus maintenant parler de fossé numérique, mais de “participation gap” (décalage participatif — il y a sans doute une traduction meilleure). Les jeunes sont en train d’acquérir d’importantes compétences en réseautage et collaboration qui auront une conséquence sur leur futur professionnel. Ceux qui n’ont accès qu’à un internet filtré n’auront pas cette chance et s’en trouveront prétérités.

What a kid can do at home with unlimited access is very different from what a kid can do in a public library with ten or fifteen minutes of access at a time and with no capacity to store and upload information to the web. We further handicap these children by placing filters on the Internet which restrict their access to information which is readily available to their more affluent classmates. And now this legislation would restrict their ability to participate in social networks or to belong to online communities. The result will be to further isolate children from poorer economic backgrounds, to cut kids at risk from support systems which exist within their peer culture, and to limit the social and cultural experiences of kids who are already behind in acquiring important networking skills that will shape their professional futures. All of this will compound what we are now calling the participation gap. The early discussion of the digital divide assumed that the most important concern was insuring access to information as if the web were simply a data bank. Its power comes through participation within its social networks. The authors of the law are reading MySpace and other social software exclusively in terms of their risks; they are not focusing on the opportunities they offer for education and personal growth. In protecting children from those risks, they would cut them off from those educational benefits.


Il y a des parallèles à faire entre les activités de socialisation de la génération “parents” dans leur jeunesse, et ce que font les ados d’aujourd’hui. Les activités sont déplacées en ligne, mais au fond, c’est assez similaire. D’après Henry, une des conséquences est la diminution des occasions qu’ont les jeunes d’être entre eux hors du contrôle des adultes. Là, je pose une question: si c’est vrai pour les Etats-Unis, qu’en est-il de l’Europe? J’ai le sentiment que cette problématique est peut-être différente.

As I suggested above, most parents understand their children’s experiences in the context of their memories of their own early years. For the baby boom generation, those defining experiences involved playing in backyards and vacant lots within suburban neighborhoods, socializing with their friends at the local teen hangout, and participating within a social realm which was constrained by the people who went to your local school. All of that is changing. Contemporary children and youth enjoy far less physical mobility, have less time outside of adult control, and have fewer physical places to hang out with their friends.

Much of this activity is being brought online. What teens are doing online is no better and no worse than what previous generations of teens did when their parents weren’t looking. The difference is that as these activities are being digitized, they are also being brought into public view. Video games bring the fantasy lives of young boys into the family room and parents are shocked by what they are seeing. Social networks give adults a way to access their teens’ social and romantic lives and they are startled by their desire to break free from restraints or act older than their age.


Il est réjouissant d’entendre que grâce en particulier à la téléphonie mobile, les jeunes sont plus régulièrement en communication avec les membres de leur famille et leurs pairs qu’autrefois.

Because of mobile phones, current college students report greater ongoing communication with their parents than in previous generations. As Misa Matsuda has argued, networked technologies are allowing today’s youth to maintain “full-time intimate communities.” While the socialization that takes place in digital publics is equivalent to that which occurs in physical publics, new media is allowing youth to be more deeply connected to their peers and their family members, providing a powerful open channel for communication and sharing.


En ce moment, MySpace et les autres outils de réseautage en ligne sont perçus comme des menaces à l’ordre public, dit Henry. Mais on peut regarder les choses différemment et les voir comme un terrain d’entraînement pour nos futurs citoyens et dirigeants politiques. Il mentionne que les jeunes d’aujourd’hui prennent des rôles publics de plus en plus tôt.

Note intéressante: la recherche actuelle démontrerait que les joueurs de jeux multijoueurs en réseau ont des aptitudes importantes pour le travail en équipe, une meilleure compréhension de quand prendre des risques et lesquels, de traiter des sources d’information complexes, etc. J’avoue que ça m’interpelle particulièrement, puisque j’ai personnellement plutôt des inquiétudes concernant les conséquences néfastes que pourrait avoir sur des jeunes en développement le fait de faire une partie de leurs expériences de vie dans un monde dont les règles ne sont pas celles de la réalité. A creuser, donc.

De nouveau, Henry relève que les jeunes n’ont personne vers qui se tourner lorsqu’ils ont besoin de conseils concernant les choix et problèmes éthiques auxquels ils sont confrontés dans ces environnements. Une partie du travail fait pour la Fondation MacArthur consistera à proposer aux jeunes, parents, et enseignants des lignes de conduite éthiques qui les aidera à prendre des décisions informées et sensées au sujet de leur vie en ligne. C’est clairement plus constructif que de mettre des filtres sur tous les ordinateurs publics et de laisser les jeunes se débrouiller seuls avec ces questions.

Right now, MySpace and the other social network tools are being read as threats to the civic order, as encouraging anti-social behaviors. But we can easily turn this around and see them as the training ground for future citizens and political leaders. Young people are assuming public roles at earlier and earlier ages. They are interacting with larger communities of their peers and beginning to develop their own styles of leadership. Across a range of issues, young people are using social network software to identify and rally like-minded individualism, forming the basis for new forms of digital activism. Current research shows that teens who participate in massively multiplayer games develop a much stronger ability to work in teams, a greater understanding of how and when to take appropriate risks, an ability to rapidly process complex bodies of information, and so forth. At the same time, these teens are facing an array of ethical challenges which are badly understood by the adults around them. They have nowhere to turn for advice on how to confront some of the choices they make as participants within these communities. Part of the work we will be doing for the MacArthur Foundation involves the development of an ethics casebook which will help parents, teachers, and students work through some of these issues and make sensible decisions about how they conduct their online lives. We see this kind of pedagogical intervention as far more valuable than locking down all public computers and then sending kids out to deal with these issues on their own.


Voici, en très résumé, les conseils principaux que Henry propose aux parents. J’y retrouve le conseil que je répète un peu comme un disque rayé, de conférence en conférance: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.

Parents face serious challenges in helping their children negotiate through these new online environments. They receive very little advice about how to build a constructive relationship with media within their families or how to help their offspring make ethical choices as participants in these online worlds.


  1. Communication with your daughter or son is key. Build a trusting relationship through dialogue. It is important to talk with them about your concerns; it is even more important to listen to what they have to say about their online experiences and why these sites are such an important part of their interactions with their peers. […]
  2. Create an account to understand how the site works, but not to stalk your kids. […]
  3. Ask your kids how they choose to represent themselves and why. […]
  4. Talk about private/ public issues with your kids. Help them to understand the consequences of making certain information publicly accessible. Get them to think through all of the possible audiences who might come into contact with their online information. Teens often imagine MySpace as a youth-only world. It isn’t and they need to consider what the consequences would be if their grandparents, their teachers, admissions officers or a future employer read what they said about themselves. […]
  5. Talk through what kids should do if they receive unwanted attention online or if they find themselves the victims of cyberbullying. […]

Voilà. J’ai fait un peu plus de traduction libre que ce que j’avais prévu, et peut-être un peu moins de commentaire — mais la plupart des citations parlent d’elles-mêmes. J’espère que vous aurez trouvé intéressant ce que disent ces deux chercheurs, danah boyd et Henry Jenkins. A nouveau, je ne peux que vous encourager à lire l’interview en entier si vous travaillez avec des adolescents. Si l’anglais est un obstacle infranchissable pour vous, la traduction Google peut vous aider.

See All The Blogtalk Talks [en]

[fr] Allez voir les enregistrements des conférences données à Blogtalk. En ligne presque en temps réel.

Via Suw, Blogtalk talks are being put online almost in real-time. Go look. Good job, guys. Extra brownie points for you 🙂

No brownie points, though, for not giving a mike to people who asks questions form the public. You can understand a microphone-less person asking a question at you, but not away from you. Next time, maybe?

Harvard Law in Second Life [en]

[fr] Un cours de la prestigieuse Harvard Law School est en train d'avoir lieu en partie à l'intérieur de Second Life. Quand je parle de Second Life comme outil/média éducatif, c'est à des choses comme ça que je pensais. Je suis allé y faire un tour, j'ai parlé avec une des instigatrices du projet, et je compte bien essayer de suivre en tous cas une partie de ce cours, qui a lieu les lundis et mardis.

By chance, I picked up a link to today’s RocketBoom in the #wordpress IRC channel (thanks, twidget). I don’t often watch RocketBoom, but the new presentator (en?) had a nice British accent, so I watched the whole thing.

A Harvard Law course in Second Life caught my attention. I watched the trailer, and decided to hop in and see for myself. I’ve been telling people around me that Second Life provides opportunities for education that we can barely yet imagine. I’m glad to see that it’s starting to happen. Watch the trailer for yourself [10.5Mb].

Inside the Second Life lecture hall (a replica of the real Harvard one, from what I understood) I chatted a while with Rebecca (one of the instigators!) and a student, LZ.

I learnt that the class was open to “public” (“at large”, they call it), and I’m very tempted to participate. I missed the first classes though, yesterday and today, but the wiki contains a lot of information and is supposed to give links to the lecture videos (haven’t found those, I’d be glad if somebody can point me to them). A lot of reading material is online. They also have a 20-minute introduction to Second Life but Flock can’t find the missing plugins I need to view it. Damn!

So, anyway, had to let you know about this. I think it’s exciting!

Nuit du Journal Intime: quelques paroles [fr]

[en] Excerpts of an interview I gave last week to the DRS with other participants to "la Nuit du Journal Intime". I speak of intimacy (what it is for me, are we losing intimacy), blogs and private diaries on the web (not viable in the long run, in my opinion), and of what I don't say about myself on my blog (a lot!)

Comme je l’ai raconté, nous avons été interviewés par la DRS après le débat ouvrant la Nuit du Journal Intime. J’ai reçu le CD et fait une compilation de ce que j’ai dit à cette occasion, avec quelques commentaires.

A votre disposition en format MP3, 3.4Mb pour 7 minutes d’audio (oui, j’ai des progrès à faire, suggestions bienvenues): DRS Interview (extraits + commentaires)

J’y parle:

  • de ma conception de l’intimité et de sa perte éventuelle
  • de la viabilité et de la possibilité d’un journal intime sur internet
  • de la mise en scène de soi dans le monde “online”
  • de ce dont je ne parle pas dans mon blog…

Si je fais référence à des choses dans ce “podcast” et que vous voulez des précisions, des liens, etc… n’hésitez pas à demander des compléments: les commentaires sont là pour ça!

(Et question subsidiaire pour ceux qui sont abonnés à ce blog: est-ce que le fichier MP3 apparaît comme un “enclosure”?)

(Et question subsidiaire pour ceux qui s’y connaissent: comment je peux faire apparaître un slider audio dans le billet pour que les gens puissent écouter juste en cliquant sur le bouton “play”?)