Talk: Languages on the Internet at Google [en]

[fr] Demain, je donne une conférence à Google sur le thème du traitement des langues sur internet.

Tomorrow 2pm I’ll be giving a talk at Google (thanks for the invitation, [Kevin](http://epeus.blogspot.com/)) about languages on the internet. It will be an updated version of the [“While We Wait For The Babel Fish” talk I gave at reboot](http://www.reboot.dk/artefact-773-en.html) a month or so ago. For details, click on the poster Kevin made:

Talking at Google: Languages on the Internet

**Update 11.07.2007:** here is the slideshow!

**Update 12.07.2007:** and here’s the video!

**Update 13.07.2007:** and here are my notes for the talk… click on the photo to decypher!

Waiting for the Babel Fish Notes (Google Talk)

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Notes From San Francisco [en]

So, roughly half-way through my five-week trip to San Francisco, what’s going on? I haven’t been blogging much lately, that’s for sure.

For once, I took some photographs from the plane. Unfortunately my camera batteries ran out just as we were coming down on San Francisco, and my spare ones were in the luggage compartment above my head. Oh, well.

Flying to San Francisco 31

I got some first-level questioning at immigration coming in. No, not the sort where they take you to a separate room, become much less friendly, and have boxes of rubber gloves on the counter. This is how it went:

– …And what is the duration of your stay?
– Five weeks.
– …And what do you do in… over in Switzerland?
– I’m a freelance… internet consultant. *OMG that sounds bad.* …I’m actually here to work on a book project. *Yeah I know I should never volunteer information.*
– What’s the book about?
– Er… teenagers and the internet.
– And…?
– Er… Well, the situation with teenagers and the internet, and what we’re doing about it in Switzerland.
– And what are you doing about it?
– Well, not enough!
– And? Come on, tell me more about it.
– Er… OK. *OMGOMG* Well, see, teenagers are really comfortable with computers and the internet, and so they’re chatting, blogging, etc. — they’re digital natives, see? — and parents, well, they’re clueless or terrified about the internet, and they don’t always understand what’s going on in their kids lives online, so basically, we have teenagers who are spending a lot of time online and sometimes getting into trouble and parents don’t know or don’t care about what they’re doing there, so we have this… chasm between generations and…
– Thank you. You can go.

The pick-up from the airport was wonderfully orchestrated and much appreciated. Being driven into town by somebody friendly rather than having to use unfamiliar public transportation really makes a difference. Thanks to all those involved (yes, it took that many people!)

Waiting on the Sidewalk

Then, through some freak breakdown of all modern forms of communication (partially documented on Twitter), I ended up waiting outside on the sidewalk for almost an hour while my kind host Tara waited for me inside her appartment. We worked it out finally, and I was introduced to my (nice and spacious) room before going to hang out at [Citizen Space](http://citizenspace.us/). A nice dinner out with Chris, Tara and Jimmy to end the day, and I happily collapsed in my bed at a respectable local hour. You will have taken note that I did not collapse at 4pm feeling like a zombie, thanks to having taken [melatonin](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melatonin) on the plane. (It [doesn’t seem to work that well for Suw](http://chocnvodka.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2007/6/29/3057876.html), but it works perfectly on me, and I’m never traveling between continents without it again.)

The four next days went by in [a blur of Supernova madness](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/06/21/taking-photos-at-supernova/): too many people, too many sessions, food with ups and downs, parties with [cupcakes](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600415592611/) and others at the top of [skyscapers](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600430915725/). I took [lots of photographs](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/collections/72157600420716687/) and even [a video sequence that got some attention](http://www.viddler.com/explore/steph/videos/5/).

Supernova First Day 33

During the next week, I started settling down. Met and hung out with old friends, made new ones, unpacked my suitcases, went walking around in town, saw [Dykes on Bikes](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600459417123/), the [Gay Pride Parade](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600487653731/), and the [iPhone launch](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600579979445/), photographed [skyscrapers in the night](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600607158151/), ordered a new camera, got my MacBook (partly) repaired, and even [dropped in at Google to take notes of Suw’s talk there](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/06/27/suw-charman-at-google-does-social-software-have-fangs/).

All this, actually, is documented in [my Twitter stream](http://twitter.com/stephtara) — maybe I should add a whole lot of links? — be sure to keep an eye on it if you’re interested in a more day-by-day account of what I’m doing here.

Overall, things have been good. A small bout of homesickness a few days ago, but I’m feeling better now. I need to start focusing on the things I want to get done (blogging, writing, book, writing, fixing things for clients…) — holiday over now!

Downtown San Francisco By Night 9

I’ve been thinking about my “work career” a little, too. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing, but I’m not going to be doing “Blog 101” for ever — I can feel my interests shifting somewhat already. I’ve been interested in the “social tools at large” department for a long time, but unfortunately it seems to translated to “blogging” in most of the work I do, so I’d like to expand my horizons in that direction a little. I’ve had a couple of talks with people in startups recently, and I realize it’s a kind of environment I wouldn’t mind working in — at least part-time. We’ll see what happens.

I’m also realizing that there is more potential than I first thought around [the two main things I care about these days](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/06/22/what-do-you-care-about/): teenagers online and internet language issues. Hence, the book, and also a talk on the subject of languages on the internet which I’ll be giving at Google this coming Tuesday.

Also in the “work” department, two other things have been on my mind. First, the idea of opening up a coworking space in or around Lausanne ([Ollie is having the same kind of thought](http://b-spirit.com/blogollie/?p=2140) — we’re talking). Second, trying to find a solution so that I don’t have to do maintenance on my clients’ WordPress installations once all is rolling, or spend hours swimming in HTML, CSS and WordPress theme PHP template tags. Not that I don’t know how to do it or don’t enjoy it once in a while, but it’s really not the kind of work I want to spend my time doing. So, I’ve been starting to ask around for names of people who might do this kind of thing (for a reasonable fee), and even thinking of recruiting some students in Lausanne that I could coach/train so that they can do most of the work, and call me up only for major problems. So, see, I’ve been thinking.

Some people have been asking me if I was planning to move here. Indeed, 5 weeks in the city looks suspiciously like a scouting operation. Actually, traveling has an interesting side-effect for me: I tend to come back home thinking “gee, Lausanne is *such* a great place to live! I’m never moving!” Sure, I have some underlying personal issues which contribute to making me overly attached to my hometown, and I know that someday I might end up living elsewhere. But really, for the moment, I don’t think I’d want that.

And even though I’m told San Francisco is very “European” compared to the rest of the US (which I have yet to see) I can’t help seeing how “horribly American” it is. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this city and am enjoying my time here. I know that what I say can give wrong impressions (for example, people — especially Indians — read [the story of my year living in India](http://climbtothestars.org/logbook) and think that I hated the country; it’s not true, I really loved it, and can’t wait to go back). But I walk around San Francisco and see all the signs with rules and regulations and “stupid” warnings (like, God, the pineapple chunks I buy at Whole Foods haven’t been pasteurized and may contain harmful germs! or, don’t use the hairdryer in the bath tub!), the AT&T Park and other manifestations of what to me is “consumerism gone mad”, I hear about health care and [“you’re expected to sue” horror stories](http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/06/23/sicko_barack_an.html), visa lotteries for non-renewal, the education system…

So, yes, I’m focusing on the negative. And Switzerland, even though it’s a wonderful country ;-), has its negatives too. Like many natives all over the world, I’ve developed a selective blindness to what is “wrong” in the land I come from, considering much of it “normal” as I have been brought up with it. I know that. But too much of what I see here makes my skin crawl. I’m really enjoying spending some weeks here, I love my friends, the food and the sunshine, but I don’t think I’d be happy living here.

Misty Skyscrapers in Downtown San Francisco 10

Well, this was one of these longer-than-expected posts, and it’s occupied most of my morning. My tasks for this afternoon are (in this order):

– one WordPress install for a client
– spending a little more time trying to see if there is hope for the aggravating Google Groups problem I bumped into, and if not, setting up a Yahoo! Group instead
– writing a post for [bub.blicio.us](http://bub.blicio.us) or working on my book — whichever I most feel like.

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Multilingual Interviews [en]

[fr] Deux interviews que j'ai donnés récemment au sujet de la conférence que je donne à Copenhague sur le multilinguisme sur internet la semaine prochaine.

I was interviewed twice during the last week about the [multilingual stuff](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/25/blogcamp-multilingual-blogging-session/) I’m going to be [talking about this week at reboot9](http://www.reboot.dk/artefact-773-en.html):

– by [Suw Charman](http://chocnvodka.blogware.com/) for [Conversation Hub](http://conversationhub.com/): [The Multilingual Web](http://conversationhub.com/2007/05/22/the-multilingual-web/) (video)
– by [Nicole Simon](http://crueltobekind.org/) as part of her [reboot9 pre-conference series](http://bloxpert.com/Kickoff-of-the-reboot-9-interview-series-81): [Reboot 9: Stephanie Booth](http://crueltobekind.org/archive/2007-05-24/reboot_9_stephanie_booth) (audio)

Enjoy, and hope to see you at reboot!

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Google Questions [en]

[fr] Comment Google détermine-t-il (1) le pays d'où provient un site et (2) la langue d'une page? Pourquoi les résultats d'une recherche en français sont-ils différents, selon qu'on utilise google.ch ou google.fr?

So, I’m writing up a document for a client about search engine placement. Not really an SEO thing, more a “good search engine placement results from popularity and success, not the opposite” thing. Like, (gosh, am I being eloquent right now,) setting objectives like “be in the first three results for this or that keyword combination is not very realistic.”

Anyway, I’m stuck in the part about limiting seach to one country or a language (which is a “big thing” if you live outside Anglophonia and ambition to reach the local population). I realise that the way Google manages these different searches is not quite clear to me.

**Location**

If you go to [google.ch](http://google.ch) you can choose to do a search for [“pages from Switzerland”](http://www.google.ch/search?hl=en&q=stephanie+booth&btnG=Google+Search&meta=cr%3DcountryCH) (I’m using my name as a search term example). Or with [google.fr](http://google.fr/), “[pages from France](http://www.google.fr/search?hl=en&q=stephanie+booth&btnG=Google+Search&meta=cr%3DcountryFR)” (language set to English both times so you can compare). My assumption (thanks [shastry](http://vinayshastry.blogspot.com)) is that they use server location for that. But is that all? (My server is in the US, so that explains why CTTS does not show up as a “Swiss” site.)

**Language**

If I select French as the search language, I get different results whether I use [google.ch](http://www.google.ch/search?hl=fr&q=stephanie+booth&btnG=Recherche+Google&meta=lr%3Dlang_fr) or [google.fr](http://www.google.fr/search?hl=fr&q=stephanie+booth&btnG=Rechercher&meta=lr%3Dlang_fr). I assume Google uses language detection — but why are the results different?

Thanks for any explanation which can help me see a bit more clearly.

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Teenagers and Spelling [en]

[fr] Pour moi, la dégradation constatée de l'orthographe des jeunes a principalement à voir avec le fait que leur pratique d'écriture a maintenant le plus souvent lieu dans des espaces "non normés" (c'est-à-dire en-dehors du milieu scolaire et "des adultes", où "écrire juste" est important). Les SMS font bien entendu partie de ces pratiques d'écriture, mais son caractère "court" a plutôt comme conséquence l'apparition d'abbréviations très tôt dans l'écriture des jeunes, plus que la "perte" (!) de notions grammaticales ou orthographiques.

Here’s a case of “comment or post?” where I first commented, but now am thinking that I would rather have posted. So I’m reproducing [my comment](http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/05/08/dystruktshun_of.html#comment-242922) to danah’s post titled [dystruktshun of inglesh as we no](http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/05/08/dystruktshun_of.html) (I know it’s in my [comments page](http://www.cocomment.com/comments/steph) and embedded in the sidebar of the blog, but I need to remember that many of you read this blog through RSS):

> As a French teacher, [I was asked this question](http://www.tsr.ch/tsr/index.html?siteSect=343901&sid=5541448) (are blogs destroying our children’s spelling?) a couple of years back. My take on it is that compared to 15-20 years ago, most of the kids’ “writing activity” goes on in uncontrolled environments. When I was at school, if I wrote, it was usually at school. With pressure to have correct spelling, or I’d have to correct it / get a bad mark. Or I’d be writing a letter to my Grandma (better check the spelling there too).

> Today’s teen spends most of his/her writing time on IM, in e-mails or text messages, or in blogs/SN. Peer pressure to “write correctly” can’t really be said to exist.

> Text messaging has brought to them abbreviations. I remember discovering (stupefied!) that one could abbreviate words when I was in 9th grade (tjs=toujours, bcp=beaucoup). Now, kids know all these — and many more “bastard abbreviations” (jta=je t’adore) that might make our older skin crawl.

> I’d say that there are two ways in which teens’ writing today is “modified” by their writing habits:

> – peer spaces (“uncontrolled” regarding “proper writing”) => funky spelling and disregard for “grammatical rules”
> – length limitation (SMS) => abbreviations

One thing I wanted to add, which is “somewhat related”, is that historically, spelling stabilised when the printing press came into use. That explains why in French (and English too, for that matter) written spelling can be so widely different from pronunciation: the oral language has continued to shift, but our spelling has remained frozen. (If I’m saying stupid things here and you know better, let me know — but as far as I remember my linguistic courses from university this is how things happened.)

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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](http://blogcamp.ch) yesterday in Zürich. Thanks to all of you who attended (particularly as I was [competing](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/432373547/) with [Xing’s Nicolas Berg](https://www.xing.com/profile/Nicolas_Berg/)!) and wrote about the session ([Bruno](http://www.lunchoverip.com/2007/03/a_day_at_the_bl.html) of course, [Sarah](http://politikblogs.wordpress.com/2007/03/24/live-blogging-from-blogcampswitzerland/), [Sandra](http://www.chiperoni.org/wordpress/archives/2007/03/24/blogcampswitzerland/), [Maira](http://vitaminab.org/cms/en/multilingual-blog), [Jens-Rainer](http://www.blogwiese.ch/archives/556), [Waltraut](http://siebensachen.twoday.net/stories/3478815/), [Jokerine](http://www.hdreioplus.de/wordpress/?p=150), [Antoine](http://gedankenblitze.ch/?p=13)*…let me know if I need to add you here*), and to [Greg](http://cascades2alps.blogspot.com/) in particular for [filming the session](http://youtu.be/gLf_EquogUc).

Although I’m rather used to [giving talks](http://stephanie-booth.com/conferences), 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](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/433344448/). Oh, and don’t forget to look at this [photo of my cat Bagha](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/349150808/) 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](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/03/21/faire-part/) [Pompage.net](http://pompage.net) because at the time of the [browser upgrade initiative](http://web.archive.org/web/20010223215147/http://www.webstandards.org/upgrade/) I [realised](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/02/24/tableaux-ou-non/ “Look at all those English language links I pointed my poor French readers to.”) 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](http://loiclemeur.com/) 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](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/07/21/u-blog-six-apart-and-their-angry-bloggers/).

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](http://blogamundo.net/dev/about)

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](http://fredfred.net/skriker/index.php/polyglot) and [Basic Bilingual](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/01/23/basic-bilingual-plugin/)
– 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](http://daniel.glazman.free.fr/weblog/archived/2002_09_15_glazblogarc.html#81664011)

**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](http://climbtothestars.org/categories/languages-linguistics) is a bit wider than that, however.

Blogging in more than one language:

– [Writing](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2000/08/18/writing/) — translation is just too much work; bilingual desires, but daunted by the workload
– [Bilingual?](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2000/11/24/bilingual/) — the day (four months after its birth) this weblog became officially bilingual
– [Multilingue!](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2002/09/17/multilingue/) — how to indicate the language of a link target using CSS
– [Life and Trials of a Multilingual Weblog](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/07/11/multilingual-weblog/) — written after some discussions on the topic at [BlogTalk 2.0](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/07/07/blogtalk-20-compte-rendu/)
– [Basic Bilingual Plugin](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/01/23/basic-bilingual-plugin/) for WordPress
– [Thinking About Tags](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/01/16/thinking-about-tags/) (and languages)
– [Requirements for a Multilingual WordPress Plugin](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/01/22/requirements-for-a-multilingual-wordpress-plugin/)
– [Multilingual Proposals (Reboot, BlogCamp)](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/18/multilingual-proposals-reboot-blogcamp/)

About the importance of language, etc.:

– [Multilingual Dragon](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2002/12/22/multilingual-dragon/)
– [SwissBlogs Needs Your Help](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/03/23/swissblogs-needs-your-help/) — [SwissBlogs](http://climbtothestars.org/?s=swissblogs), oldest Swiss blog directory (and multilingual already), call for help. *(I mentioned during my session that I would not comment on any ideas about Switzerland needing a “national blog directory” of any type… part of the story here if you want to dig.)*
– [SpiroLattic Resurrection](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/02/25/spirolattic-resurrection/) — some background on a short-lived multilingual wiki experiment
– [Vous parlez de blogosphère suisse?](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/03/07/vous-parlez-de-la-blogosphere-suisse/) — a tag proposal to try and give the fragmented “Swiss blogosphere” some cohesion
– [About the Swiss Blog Awards (SBAW)](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/04/30/about-the-swiss-blog-awards-sbaw/)
– [English Only: Barrier to Adoption](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/24/english-only-barrier-to-adoption/)
– [Not All Switzerland Speaks German, Dammit!](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/04/not-all-switzerland-speaks-german-dammit/)

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Multilingual Proposals (Reboot, BlogCamp) [en]

The famous conference [reboot](http://www.reboot.dk/listpublish-63-en.html) will take place in Copenhagen on 31.05-01.06. [I’ll be attending](http://www.reboot.dk/person-471-en.html).

I’m also going to make a proposal for a talk (as the [(un)conference format](http://www.reboot.dk/article-203-en.html) encourages this). I’m being a bit shy about [putting it up on the reboot site](http://www.reboot.dk/listpublish-189-en.html) 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](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/24/english-only-barrier-to-adoption/) or [stupid default languages](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/04/not-all-switzerland-speaks-german-dammit/), but mainly about what happens when one wants to get off the various monolingual islands out there and *[use more than one language](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/07/11/multilingual-weblog/)* 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](http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddcrwvm8_16d3fhsz) if you want more.

I’m also proposing a session at Saturday’s [BlogCamp in Zürich](http://barcamp.ch/BlogCampSwitzerland) which will be around similar issues, but which will focus precisely on the topic of [multilingual blogging](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2004/07/11/multilingual-weblog/).

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

**Update 19.03.2007: [proposal is now on the reboot site!](http://www.reboot.dk/artefact-773-en.html) Don’t hesitate to leave comments there.**

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Not All Switzerland Speaks German, Dammit! [en]

Here we go, yet another misguided attempt at localisation: [my MySpace page](http://myspace.com/stephtara) is [now in German](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/409678094/).

[MySpace](http://myspace.com) now joins [PayPal](http://paypal.ch), [eBay](http://ebay.ch), [Amazon](http://amazon.ch), [Google](http://google.ch) in defaulting to German for Swiss people.

[Switzerland](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switzerland) is a multilingual country. The linguistic majority speaks Swiss-German (reasonably close to German but quite un-understandable for native German-speakers who have not been exposed to it). Second language in the country is French. Third is Italian, and fourth is… (no, not English) …[Romansh](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romansh).

You know how linguistic minorities are. [Touchy.](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/04/30/about-the-swiss-blog-awards-sbaw/) Oh yeah.

As a French speaker with rather less-than-functional German, I do find it quite irritating that these big “multinational” web services assume that I speak German because I’m Swiss. I’d rather have English, and so would many of my non-bilingual fellow-cititzens (particularly amongst web-going people, we tend to be better at English than German).

Yes, I’ve said that [English-only is a barrier to adoption](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/24/english-only-barrier-to-adoption/). But getting the language wrong is just as bad, if not worse (most people have come to accept the fact that English is the “default” language on the internet, even if they don’t understand it). If I want my Amazon books to be shipped here free of charge, I have to use [Amazon.de](http://amazon.de), which is in German, and doesn’t have a very wide choice of French books. [My wishlist](http://www.amazon.de/exec/obidos/wishlist/3ZN17IJ7B1XW/) is therefore on Amazon.de too, which maybe explains why I never get anything from it.

Paypal is almost worse. I can’t really suggest it to clients as a solution for “selling stuff over the internet”, because all it offers in its Swiss version is a choice between German (default) and English. You can’t sell [a book in French](http://lavoieetsesdegres.com/) with a payment interface in German or English.

So please, remember that country != language, and that there is a little place called Switzerland scrunched up in the middle of Europe, caught between France, Italy, Germany and Austria ([Liechtenstein](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liechtenstein) is even worse off than us I suppose), and that not everyone in that little country speaks German.

Thank you.

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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](http://barcamp.ch/BlogCampSwitzerland#unAgenda), 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](/logbook/). 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](http://isablog.wordpress.com/) 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](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/02/16/to-hell-with-bad-browsers/) and realised that the French-speaking web was really [“behind” on design and web standards ressources](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/02/13/poor-french-web/). I also realised that although [there was interest for web standards](http://mammouthland.free.fr/weblog/2001/fevrier_01.php3), many French-speaking people couldn’t read the original English material. This encouraged me to [blog in French about it](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/02/24/tableaux-ou-non/), [translate Zeldman’s article](http://pompage.net/pompe/paitre/), [launching](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2001/03/21/faire-part/) the translation site [pompage.net](http://pompage.net/) in the process. Pompage.net, and the [associated mailing-list](http://fr.groups.yahoo.com/group/pompeurs/), followed a year or so later by [OpenWeb](http://openweb.eu.org/), 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](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/04/30/about-the-swiss-blog-awards-sbaw/) is in my opinion another example of how important language issues are.)

Back to web applications proper. [Flickr](http://flickr.com) 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](http://fr.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](http://wordpress-fr.net/) too. A few years ago, when the translation and support were not what they are now, a very nice little blogging tool named [DotClear](http://www.dotclear.net/) 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](http://translate.wordpress.com/) 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](http://myspace.com) was all that was being talked about in the US, French-speaking teenagers were going wild on [skyblog](http://skyblog.com). MySpace is catching up a bit now because it [also exists in French](http://fr.myspace.com/). [Facebook](http://www.facebook.com/)? In English, nobody here has heard of it. [Live Messenger aka MSN](http://www.windowslive.fr/messenger/default.asp)? Very much in French, [unlike ICQ](http://icq.com/), which is only used here by anglophile early adopters.

[Skype](http://skype.com/intl/fr/) and [GMail](http://gmail.com)/[GTalk](http://www.google.com/talk/intl/fr/) 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](http://www.flickr.com/groups/topic/69039/), 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](http://www.paulgraham.com/america.html) 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.

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Chassons les fautes [fr]

[en] Typos and other stuff. Encouraging readers to hunt them down in the photos I took.

Comme promis hier soir aux participants du [dernier Bloggy Friday](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/10/30/bloggy-friday-pas-oublie/), une petite chasse aux fautes. Trois images pour vous, au moins trois fautes. Cliquez sur les images pour les voir “en grand” et laissez vos trouvailles dans les commentaires. (Merci de me lire dire si mes super liens ne fonctionnent pas.)

Chasse aux fautes Chasse aux fautes Chasse aux fautes

Ceci dit, si l’envie vous prend d’exposer également les coquilles que vous trouvez à droite et à gauche, utilisez le tag [chasse aux fautes](http://technorati.com/tag/chasseauxfautes), comme ça tout le monde en profite. De même, si vous avez des photos de fautes qui mériteraient d’être bloguées, n’hésitez pas à me les envoyer. L’anonymat du photographe sera préservé, sauf demande expresse de sa part… 😉

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