Not All Switzerland Speaks German, Dammit! [en]

Here we go, yet another misguided attempt at localisation: [my MySpace page]( is [now in German](

[MySpace]( now joins [PayPal](, [eBay](, [Amazon](, [Google]( in defaulting to German for Swiss people.

[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](

You know how linguistic minorities are. [Touchy.]( 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]( 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 [](, which is in German, and doesn’t have a very wide choice of French books. [My wishlist]( is therefore on 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]( 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]( 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](, 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]( 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 []( in the process., 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. [](, 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.

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Requirements for a Multilingual WordPress Plugin [en]

[fr] Quelques réflexions concernant un plugin multilingue pour WordPress.

My blog has been bilingual for a long time now. I’ve [hacked bilingualism into it]( and then [plugged it in]( Other [plugins for multilingual bloggers]( have been written, and some unfortunately [got stuck somewhere in the development limbo](

Defining specs is a hairy problem. They need to work for the person visiting the site (polyglot or monoglot). They need to work for the person (or people! translation often involves more than one person) writing the posts. They need to work for all the robots, search engines, and fancy browsers who deal with the site.

Here is what I would like a multiple language plugin to do (think “feature requirements”, suggestion, draft):

1. Recognize the browser language preference of the visitor and serve “page furniture” and navigation in the appropriate language. This can be overridden by a cookie-set preference when clicking on a “language link”.
– “WordPress” furniture can be provided by the normal localization files
– how do we deal with other furniture content in the theme (navigation, taglines, etc.)? should the plugin provide with guidelines for theme localization? do such guidelines already exist? extra information appreciated on this point
– “language links” shouldn’t be flags, but language names in their respective languages; can this list be generated automatically based on present localization files? otherwise, can it be set in an admin panel?
– upon “language change” (clicking on a language link), could the localization (action) be done in an [AHAH]( or [AJAX]( way?
– inevitable hairy problem: tag and category localization
2. Manage “lazy multilingualism” in the spirit of the [Basic Bilingual plugin]( and “true multilingualism” elegantly and on a per-post basis.
– allow for “other language abstracts”
– allow for actual other language version of the post
– given the “general user language” defined above, show posts in that language if a version for that language exists, with mention of other language versions or abstracts
– if that language doesn’t exist, show post in “main blog language” or “main post language” (worst case scenario: the wordpress install default) and show alongside other language abstracts/versions
– abstract in one language (would be “excerpt” in the “main” language) and existence of the post in that language are not mutually exclusive, both can coexist
– does it make more sense to have one WordPress post per language version, or a single post with alternate language content in post_meta? For lazy multilingualism, it makes more sense to have a single WP post with meta content, but fore “translation multilingualism”, it would make more sense to have separate posts with language relationships between them clearly defined in post_meta
3. Use good markup. See [what Kevin wrote sometime back]( Make it nice for both polyglot and monoglot visitors. [Inspiration?](
– use <div lang="xx"> and also rel attributes
4. Provide a usable admin panel.
– when I’m writing the other version of a post, I need access to the initial version for translation or abstracting
– ideally, different language version should be editable on the same admin panel, even if they are (in the WordPress database) different posts
– languages in use in the blog should be defined in an options screen, and the plugin should use that information to adapt the writing and editing admin panels
– idea: radio button to choose post language; N other language excerpt/abstract fields with radio buttons next to them too; abstract radio buttons change dynamically when main post language is set; in addition to other language abstract fields, another field which can contain a post id/url (would have to see what the best solution is) to indicate “this is an equivalent post in another language” (equivalent can be anything from strict translation to similar content and ideas); this means that when WP displays the blog, it must make sure it’s not displaying a post in language B which has an equivalent in language A (language A being the visitor’s preferred language as defined above)
5. Manage URLs logically (whatever that means).
– if one post in two languages means two posts in WP, they will each have their own slug; it could be nice, though, to be able to switch from one to an other by just adding the two-letter language code on the end of any URL; a bit of mod_rewrite magic should do it
6. Integrate into the WordPress architecture in a way that will not break with each upgrade (use post-meta table to define language relationships between different posts, instead of modifying the posts table too much, for example.)
– one post translated into two other languages = 3 posts in the WP posts table
– excerpts and post relationships stored in post_meta
– language stored in post_meta

I have an idea for plugin development. Once the specs are drafted out correctly, how about a bunch of us pool a few $ each to make a donation to (or “pay”) the person who would develop it? Who would be willing to contribute to the pool? Who would be willing to develop such a plugin (and not abandon the project half-way) in these conditions?

These specs need to be refined. We should start from the markup/reader end and get that sorted out first. Then, think about the admin panel/writer end. Then worry about code architecture. How does that sound?

We’ve started a discussion over on [the wiki]( Please join us!

Update: this post is going to suffer from ongoing editing as I refine and add ideas.

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Thinking About Tags [en]

What if taggy applications like Technorati, Flickr and started allowing us to query multiple tags with “and” and “or” operators?

[fr] Une proposition pour pouvoir combiner les tags (comme "blogosphere ET blogosphère", "livres OU films") dans des services comme Flickr,, et maintenant Technorati.

Some quick thoughts about tags, following Technorati Tagified.

So, there is “blog“. And “weblog“. And “blogs“. And “weblogs“.

How about a way to get the posts/photos/links tagged with any of these tags? Maybe something like .../blog,blogs,weblog,weblogs/.

That would also solve some multilingual problems: get “blogosphere” and “blogosphère” together on the same page with .../blogosphère,blogosphere/.

At, I tag the books I’ve read with “books/read“, and films I’ve seen with either “films/seen/cinema” or “films/seen” (if I saw them on DVD). This used to work fine, because a bug (poor me thought it was a feature) would include links tagged as “films/seen/cinema” when one asked for “films/seen“. That doesn’t work anymore.

Say I avoid messing with tags-with-slashes, and tag films I saw at the cinema with “films seen cinema” and others with “films seen dvd”. I’ll probably also have links tagged “films” or “cinema” but which are not tagged “seen”. How could I pull out a list of links tagged “films” AND “seen”? Perhaps something like .../films+seen/.

Update, 10:00: Kevin tells me “+” signifies a space in a URL. Maybe “&” could do the job instead, then? And if “&” can’t because it’s supposed to separate parameters, any other suggestions?

Update, 11:40: holy cow, does this already! I’ve updated my tags and lists. See “books+read” for books I’ve read, and “films+seen” for films I’ve seen. I’m a happy bunny!

Let’s get wild, shall we? .../books-read/ could list things tagged as “books” but not “read”.

Now we only need a way to assign operation priority, to be able to start retrieving lists like “books I’ve read or films I’ve seen which are also tagged as india” — wouldn’t that be cool?

Taggy application developers, hear the call!

Thanks to rvr and GabeW for the little discussion on #joiito which prompted me to write this post.

P.S.: has anybody written that WordPress plugin yet? (You know the one I’m talking about: the one that lets you painlessly technorati-tag your posts.)

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Call to WordPress Plugin Developers [en]

Call for help to WordPress plugin developers. I have a bunch of hacks and modifications I’d like to turn into plugins, but I am unfortunately as plugin-challenged as ever.

[fr] Un descriptif des plugins que j'écrirais pour WordPress si je ne faisais pas un vilain blocage sur le sujet. Ne vous gênez pas si vous voulez contribuer!

If I was fluent in WordPress plugin coding, here are the plugins I’d write. If you feel like coding one of them yourself, or helping me get it done, you’re most welcome. Carthik has already pointed me to Plunge into Plugins, which I will have a close look at once I’ve finished writing this post.

Of course, if you know of a plugin which does precisely what I’m describing here, leave a link to it in the comments!

Keywords plugin

This would be a pretty straightforward one:

  • add a “keywords” text input to post.php
  • save the value of that text input to a custom field called “keywords”
  • add those keywords as an HTML meta tag on the individual post pages.
Excerpt plugin

This one would also be pretty straightforward, as all it would do is add the “excerpt” field to the “simple” post.php layout.

Customize post.php plugin

This would be more complex, but allow for more flexibility than the previous plugin. I don’t yet have a clear idea of how to make it work, but the basic principle would be to allow the user to select which fields should appear on the post.php page. Instead of having “simple” and “advanced” controls, this would add the option to have “custom” controls and define them.

TopicExchange plugin

As far as functionality is concerned, this plugin would do what my TopicExchange hack did:

  • add a “trackback TopicExchange channels” text input to post.php
  • store the space-separated list of keywords in a meta value named (e.g.) ite_topic (one record for each value)
  • for each value, trackback the appropriate TopicExchange channel
  • display the trackbacked channels (with link) on each post.
Bilingual plugin

This would be a clean version of my language hacks:

  • add a small “language” text input to post.php (with a default value)
  • add an “other language excerpt” textarea, which posts to the corresponding custom value
  • display the “other language excerpt” at the top of each post
  • provide a function to return the post language, and the other-excerpt language (so it can be declared in a lang attribute, allowing the use of language-dependant CSS formatting, in addition to being semantically correct)
  • if this is not already possible with the date function in the WordPress core, provide an alternative date function which will format the date correctly corresponding on the language of the post
  • optional: figure out a way to adapt text like “comments”, “categories” etc. to the post language; make the plugin usable with more than two languages.
Smart Linkroll plugin

I love the way ViaBloga manages blogrolls and would love to see a plugin for WordPress that does the same thing. In ViaBloga, you simply enter the URL of the site you want to add to your links. ViaBloga then retrieves the title, description, RSS feed address, and even (yes!) a screenshot for the site. No need to fill in fields manually anymore…

Wiki-Keywords plugin

I haven’t through this through yet completely, but it seems to me that a plugin which would add wiki-like capability to WordPress, like ViaBloga does with keywords, could be an interesting idea to explore.

Technorati plugin

This is really a simple one: add a function which will allow easy display of the Technorati cosmos of each post, like I have done manually for this weblog.

On the subject of multilingual blogging, Kevin Marks has some interesting markup suggestions I need to look at more closely.

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Correction cérébrale [fr]

Légère commotion cérébrale au judo vendredi. Quelques jours de repos s’imposent.

[en] Mild concussion at judo. Working this week hasn't helped. Seeing the doctor tomorrow and taking a few days rest.

Une “correction cérébrale” — voilà  ce que j’ai dit à  l’une de mes élèves hier, alors qu’elle me demandait si j’avais corrigé les tests de grammaire. Le pire c’est que je ne m’en suis absolument pas rendu compte.

“Zéro virgule zéro virgule zéro– euh… zéro virgule zéro zéro deux” — ça, c’était durant le cours de maths de la période d’avant.

Vendredi à  l’entraînement de judo, alors que je me trouvais au sol après avoir effectué sur mon partenaire un magnifique tani-otoshi (technique que j’affectionne particulièrement), le ciel m’est soudainement tombé sur la tête. Autrement dit, un judoka voisin (pas celui avec lequel je pratiquais) m’a chuté lourdement sur le sommet du crâne.

Résultat: un occiput pas très content, et la boîte crânienne un peu malmenée.

Conséquences concrètes: un mal de tête persistant, de la difficulté à  me concentrer, la nuque qui fait “bloc”, des absences, de petits trous de mémoire et troubles de la parole. Plus, bien entendu, l’effet “je me sens assommée” d’une légère commotion. Une fois que j’ai donné mes cours de la journée, je suis dans un état relativement moyen pour préparer mes cours, et surtout (à  deux semaines de la fin de la période!) faire mes corrections.

La pile de papiers fait maintenant une dizaine de centimètres d’épaisseur, et malgré ma visite chez l’ostéo mardi, mon état ne s’améliore pas. Au contraire, il empire presque — à  force de rester active et de courir dans tous les coins.

Les commotions, je commence à  bien connaître. Celle-ci n’est pas très forte, mais le fait que j’aie travaillé toute cette semaine, et que je sois également fatiguée et stressée n’aide pas du tout. Quand je conduis, je me rends bien compte que je ne suis pas en état.

Il a fallu qu’on me pousse un peu (“ah non, la semaine prochaine ils ont plein de tests, je peux pas me faire remplacer, peut-être dans dix jours, ou bien en début de période prochaine?”) mais demain, médecin, et arrêt de travail de quelques jours.

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U-Blog, Six Apart, and Their Angry Bloggers [en]

This very long post is, for the first time in English, a pretty complete account of what has been going on with U-blog and Loïc Le Meur in the French blogosphere for some time now. With the acquisition of Ublog by Six Apart, these problems are bound to take another dimension for the English-speaking blogosphere.

[fr] Ce très long billet expose en anglais l'histoire de U-blog et des problèmes s'y rapportant. J'ai déjà écrit à ce sujet en français (lire également les commentaires) -- pour une fois que la "barrière linguistique" empêche les anglophones de savoir certaines choses, plutôt que le contraire!

So, why on earth are U-bloggers so angry?

I’m often concerned that the language divide makes non-English-speaking people miss out on a whole lot of interesting stuff. These past few days, I’ve been concerned that the language divide may be preventing English-speaking people from knowing about certain things. U-bloggers are angry, and they also have the sympathy of others in the franco-blogosphere, but all that is happening in French.

How aware is Six Apart that they have a bunch of angry french customers, who were encouraged to sign up for a paying version before the end of last year under promise of new features, which weren’t developed and seemingly never will? Edit 06.01.05: see note.

Let’s rewind a bit, shall we? I always think that history explains a lot. Many of the dates here are taken from Laurent’s short history of the franco-blogosphere, a work in progress. Other information comes from my regular trips around the blogosphere and my conversations with people — in particularly, here, with Stéphane, the creator of the U-blog weblogging platform. This is the story to the best of my knowledge. If there are any factual mistakes, I’ll be glad to correct them.

In November 2002, Stéphane Le Solliec starts working on a blogging platform he calls Meta-blog. A few months later, in December, U-blog (the new name for the platform) already has a few hundreds of users.

The interface is good, U-blog is pretty zippy, and it has a great community. Also, it’s French. Setting aside any primal xenophobia or anti-americanism, a great product designed in your language by a fellow countryman is not the same thing as another great product translated and adapted from English. (Ask somebody who lives in a country where most of the important stuff is “imported” from the German-speaking part…) And let’s face it, one does like to support a local product, whether one is French, Swiss, or American. I actually considered U-blog the best hosted solution for French-speakers, at some point, and recommended it to a few friends, who started weblogs. is a native French weblogging platform which has been around for far longer than U-blog, but for some reason it isn’t quite as popular.

About a year later, Stéphane is thinking about abandoning the platform. He’s doing it on his free time, he has a baby, and U-blog takes up a lot of time. He stalls development, and stops allowing the creation of new free blogs. (It will again be possible to create free blogs a few weeks later.) Existing free blogs remain in place, but lose visibility (pinging and home page) compared to paying blogs. (Paying U-blog customers pay 1€ per month.)

Around that time, Loïc, whose interest in weblogs has been sparked by meeting Joi at the World Economic Forum, and who has unsuccessfully approached the founder of, Stéphane Gigandet (yes! another Stéphane!), gets in touch with Stéphane Le Solliec in September (2003). As a result, he acquires the platform and user-base, and founds the company Loïc really wants Stéphane to stay on board, and he does, before leaving a couple of months later (company-life isn’t really his cup of tea).

Loïc does a great job getting the French press (and later, politicians) interested in weblogs. He calls up journalists, educates them, and before long Loïc, fondateur de Ublog regularly appears in articles about weblogging. Inevitably, he starts appearing as “the guy who introduced weblogs in France”, and the expression “founder of Ublog” entertains a confusion between the blogging platform and the company (“founder” being at times replaced by “creator”). Loïc founded the company, but he in no way created the blogging platform U-blog.

You can imagine that the U-bloggers, who already weren’t very excited about having been “bought” (particularly by a guy who had the bad taste to start blogging in English), didn’t really like seeing Loïc shine so bright and Stéphane slowly fade into oblivion. Some long-standing French-speaking webloggers external to U-blog will start keeping a suspicious eye on this newcomer that so many are talking about, and who seems to be (God forbid!) making weblogs into a business (complete with press pack).

End October, when Stéphane announces the changes at Ublog following the association with Loïc, the following structure is presented (as an aside, the fact that this page seems to have been taken down doesn’t make Ublog look good. If it’s a mistake, they should put it back up again):

Free U-blog
The basic offer, with an advertising banner.
U-blog Plus
The paying offer, with a few more bells and whistles than the free one (ping, home page listing) and lots of exciting new features (for 4€ per month instead of the actual 1€)
U-blog Pro
More advanced, with own domain name, multi-author, etc… to be defined

In a smart move, existing U-bloggers were given the chance to sign up for the second offer for 1€ instead of 4€ for the coming year, starting January 1st (date at which the new tariff would become active). It sounded attractive, and quite a few went for it. The future seemed bright, with promise of dynamic future development, despite the complaints about the increase in pricing (but which did not impact existing users that much).

During the next months, some new features are introduced. More are announced.

In March, Six Apart and Ublog SA sign an exclusive representation agreement in Europe. An announcement is made in the U-blog newsletter. April 29th, TypePad arrives on U-blog. The official Ublog weblog will publish another four or five brief posts related to TypePad before going quiet.

One can wonder: what sense does it make for a blogging platform like U-blog to sign an agreement with another, similar, hosted blogging platform like TypePad? Was the U-blog platform not good enough? Will development be stalled on the “old” platform, will it be abandoned? Overall, U-bloggers are worried and unhappy (I could add more, but those are two good starting-points and seem to sum it up pretty well). They are now offered three possibilities (as often, what is said in the comments is much more interesting than the post itself):

Free U-blog
The basic offer, same as before.
U-blog Plus
The paying offer for those who already have it, same as before, but no new features.
A more advanced platform, where the active development will take place. Approx. 15€, but discount prices for current U-bloggers.

In short, all new development efforts seem to be going towards TypePad, and U-blog Plus will stop evolving, unlike what had been promised end of October. Reactions are aggressive (we all know that end-users are not kind when they complain). When U-bloggers ask about the new features that had been promised to those of them with paying accounts, they are told that the features are on TypePad. Loïc, who has already ruffled a few feathers by demanding that a popular blogger remove a post about him, under threat of lawsuit, does not distinguish himself in the area of good customer relations. (In particular, his comment regarding the contents of Aurora’s weblog (bondage and S&M), in the middle of a thread about U-blog and TypePad, didn’t look very good.) U-bloggers (particularly the paying ones) feel a bit cheated.

There is no question for me that Loïc is being given a harder time than he deserves, but it is pretty clear that he is not doing a very good job communicating with his unhappy customers. does not seem to be a howling success. I have heard complaints of people who find it slow (slower than U-blog, in particular) and not intuitive. Jean-Luc Raymond, the blogger who runs MediaTIC, publishes a critical post about Now, JLR isn’t the blogger I respect the most. He doesn’t always verify his sources, and has been known to remove embarrassing comments and posts with little ceremony. However, if his article on TypePad is over the top (as I suspect it might), it would in my opinion deserve more precise refutation than this dismissive comment of Loïc’s.

So, what is going on today? Basically, a continuation of what was already going wrong. Now that Six Apart has bought Ublog, the U-blog platform and communitydefinitely seem doomed.

No official announcement of the transaction has been made on the U-blog site (as I mentioned, the official “corporate” weblog is dead). Loïc’s answer to my post raising the point is that U-bloggers who want information can contact him on his blog. Worse, in my opinion, Loïc withheld the announcement on his blog until it was published by the media. So in the franco-blogosphere, we learnt about it through the press rather than through Loïc’s weblog (the de facto official source of information for U-blog, as the company site has not been communicating anything these last months).

Aurora goes to war, and other U-bloggers are following suit. One can disapprove of their virulence, but calling them “Aurora’s fan-club” (in the comments to my post) does not get anybody anywhere, and mocking Aurora’s sexual preferences in response to her criticisms is distasteful, and unbecoming of the Director for Europe, Africa and the Middle-East and Executive VP of Six Apart.

Loïc may have a squeaky-clean image in the anglo-blogosphere, but it is far from being the case in the franco-blogosphere, particularly when you start digging around in comment threads. I find it especially disturbing that there seems to be a discrepancy in attitude between Loïc’s discourse on his weblog and his comments on other people’s weblogs.

I personally do not think Loïc is a bad person, or has bad intentions. He’s interested in “the business side of weblogs” (and in that we differ), and that of course will make him unsympathetic to some, but I do believe he is genuinely interested in what he’s doing. However, I think he does not understand his customers very well, and does not communicate with them well either. His ambition as a businessman, excited by the challenge of managing an American company, leader in its domain, does at times seem to overshadow his concern about his end-users well-being.

This has been a long post. If you’ve read it, thank you. If you’ve just skimmed it, let me briefly come back on my main points:

  • U-bloggers have been promised features for their pay-version, which will not come.
  • The acquisition of Ublog by Six Apart seems to point to a near death of the old blogging platform, and more dramatically for its users, of the very strong community built around it. (Typepad doesn’t really have this “community” thing to it.)
  • Ublog (and now, Six Apart Europe) is demonstrating pretty poor communication with its unhappy users

Update, 24.07.04: a brief update after some comments I’ve received about this article.

  • I have now learnt that Six Apart did know about the problems at Ublog (since before the acquisition).
  • Although I considered it a possibility that they might not know, my main motivation for writing this article was that there was more to the Ublog story than what the English blogosphere in general was getting.
  • Of course, not all U-bloggers are unhappy. We’re talking about a bunch of very vocal and very angry people, not about the whole community. But in my opinion, the fact they are a minority does not mean they should not be taken seriously.

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Life and Trials of a Multilingual Weblog [en]

Here is an explanation of how I set up WordPress to manage my bilingual weblog. I give all the code I used to do it, and announce some of the things I’d like to implement. A “Multilingual blogging” TopicExchange channel is now open.

[fr] J'explique ici quelles sont les modifications que j'ai faites à WordPress pour gérer le bilinguisme de mon weblog -- code php et css à l'appui. Je mentionne également quelques innovations que j'ai en tête pour rendre ce weblog plus sympathique à mes lecteurs monolingues (ce résumé en est une!) Un canal pour le weblogging multilingue a été ouvert sur TopicExchange, et vous y trouverez peut-être d'autres écrits sur le même sujet. Utilisez-le (en envoyant un trackback) si vous écrivez des billets sur le multinguisme dans les weblogs!

My weblog is bilingual, and has been since November 2000. Already then, I knew that I wouldn’t be capable of producing a site which duplicates every entry in two languages.

I think this would defeat the whole idea of weblogging: lowering the “publication barrier”. I feel like writing something, I quickly type it out, press “Publish”, and there we are. Imposing upon myself to translate everything just pushes it back up again. I have seen people try this, but I have never seen somebody keep it up for anything nearing four years (this weblog is turning four on July 13).

This weblog is therefore happily bilingual, as I am — sometimes in English, sometimes in French. This post is about how I have adapted the blogging tools I use to my bilingualism, and more importantly, how I can accommodate my monolingual readers so that they also feel comfortable here.

First thing to note: although weblogging tools are now ready to be used by people speaking a variety of languages (thanks to a process named “localization”), they remain monolingual. Language is determined at weblog-level.

With Movable Type, I used categories to emulate post-level language awareness. This wasn’t satisfying at all: I ended up with to monstrous categories, Français and English, which didn’t help keep rebuild times down.

With WordPress, the solution is far more satisfying: I store the language information as Post Meta, or “custom field”. No more category exploitation for something they shouldn’t be used for.

Before I really got started doing the exciting stuff, I made a quick change to the WordPress admin interface. If I was going to be adding a “language” custom field to each and every post of mine, I didn’t want to be doing it with the (imho) rather clumsy “Custom Fields” form.

In edit.php, just after the categorydiv fieldset, I inserted the following:

<fieldset id="languagediv">
      <legend>< ?php _e('Language') ?></legend>
	  <div><input type="text" name="language" size="7"
                     tabindex="2" value="en" id="language" /></div>

(You’ll probably have to move around your tabindex values so that the tabbing order makes sense to you.)

I also tweaked the wp-admin.css file a bit to keep it looking reasonably pretty, adding the rule below:

#languagediv {
	height: 3.5em;
	width: 5em;

and adding #languagediv everywhere I could see #poststatusdiv, so that they obeyed the same rules.

In this way, I have a small text field to edit to set the language. I pre-set it to “en”, and have just to change it to “fr” if I am writing in French.

We just need to add a little piece of code in the form processing script, post.php, just after the line that says add_meta($post_ID):

 // add language
	$_POST['metakeyselect'] = 'language';
        $_POST['metavalue'] = $_POST['language'];

The first thing I do with this language information is styling posts differently depending on the language. I do this by adding a lang attribute to my post <div>:

<div class="post" lang="<?php $post_language=get_post_custom_values("language"); $the_language=$post_language['0']; print($the_language); ?>">

In the CSS, I add these rules: {
  content: " [fr] ";
  font-weight: normal;
} {
  content: " [en] ";
  font-weight: normal;
background-color: #FAECE7;

I also make sure the language of the date matches the language of the post. For this, I added a new function, the_time_lg(), to my-hacks.php. I then use the following code to print the date: <?php the_time_lg($the_language); ?>.

Can more be done? Yes! I know I have readers who are not bilingual in the two languages I use. I know that at times I write a lot in one language and less in another, and my “monolingual” readers can get frustrated about this. During a between-session conversation at BlogTalk, I suddenly had an idea: I would provide an “other language” excerpt for each of my posts.

I’ve been writing excerpts for each of my posts for the last six months now, and it’s not something that raises the publishing barrier for me. Quickly writing a sentence or two about my post in the “other language” is something I can easily do, and it will at least give my readers an indication about what is said in the posts they can’t understand. This is the first post I’m trying this with.

So, as I did for language above, I added another “custom field” to my admin interface (in edit-form.php). Actually, I didn’t stop there. I also added the field for the excerpt to the “simple controls” posting page that I use (set that in Options > Writing), and another field for keywords, which I also store for each post as meta data. Use at your convenience:

<fieldset style="clear:both">
<legend><a href=""
title="<?php _e('Help with excerpts') ?>"><?php _e('Excerpt') ?></a></legend>
<div><textarea rows="1" cols="40" name="excerpt" tabindex="5" id="excerpt">
<?php echo $excerpt ?></textarea></div>
<fieldset style="clear:both">
<legend><?php _e('Other Language Excerpt') ?></legend>
<div><textarea rows="1" cols="40" name="other-excerpt"
tabindex="6" id="other-excerpt"></textarea></div>
<fieldset style="clear:both">
<legend><?php _e('Keywords') ?></legend>
<div><textarea rows="1" cols="40" name="keywords" tabindex="7" id="keywords">
<?php echo $keywords ?></textarea></div>
<!-- I moved around some tabindex values too -->

I inserted these fields just below the “content” fieldset, and styled the #keywords and #other-excerpt textarea fields in exactly the same way as #excerpt. Practical translation: open wp-admin.css, search for “excerpt”, and modify the rules so that they look like this:

#excerpt, #keywords, #other-excerpt {
	height: 1.8em;
	width: 98%;

instead of simply this:

#excerpt {
	height: 1.8em;
	width: 98%;

I’m sure by now you’re curious about what my posting screen looks like!

To make sure the data in these fields is processed, we need to add the following code to post.php (as we did for the “language” field above):

// add keywords
	$_POST['metakeyselect'] = 'keywords';
        $_POST['metavalue'] = $_POST['keywords'];
   // add other excerpt
	$_POST['metakeyselect'] = 'other-excerpt';
        $_POST['metavalue'] = $_POST['other-excerpt'];

Displaying the “other language excerpt” is done in this simple-but-not-too-elegant way:


    <div class="other-excerpt" lang="<?php print($the_other_language); ?>">
    <?php print($the_other_excerpt); ?>

accompanied by the following CSS:

background-color: #FAECE7;
background-color: #FFF;
div.other-excerpt:before {
  content: " [" attr(lang) "] ";
  font-weight: normal;

Now that we’ve got the basics covered, what else can be done? Well, I’ve got some ideas. Mainly, I’d like visitors to be able to add “en” or “fr” at the end of any url to my weblog, and that would automatically filter out all the content which is not in that language — maybe using the trick Daniel describes? In addition to that, it would also change the language of what I call the “page furniture” — titles, footer, and even (let’s by ambitious) category names. Adding language sensitivity to trackbacks and comments could also be interesting.

A last thing I’ll mention in the multilingual department for this weblog is my styling of outgoing links if they are written in a language which is not my post language, using the hreflang attribute. It’s easy, and you should do it too!

Suw (who has just resumed blogging in Welsh) and I have just set up a “Multilingual blogging” channel on TopicExchange — please trackback it if you write about blogging in more than one language!

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Sloppy Vienna Update [en]

A few random facts about the last two days in Vienna.

This will be short and incomplete because I am just about to go straight asleep in front of the screen. I spent the last two days roaming around with Horst, Suw and Philipp.

  • “Einbahn” means “one-way”, and not “subway” — those signs got me going round in circles on Friday
  • ate good food
  • froze watching “Citizen Kane” at the Vienna open air cinema last night
  • regretted not attending BlogWalk after all
  • Horst is at least as much into Bollywood as I am!
  • lots of thoughts of things to post about languages and weblogs
  • black Switcher jacket lost and found (thanks to the anonymous soul who picked it up)
  • bad lasagna on the riverbank
  • girl-talk during the football match
  • not enough sleep, so much to read, so much to write, so much to talk

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