A confession: like many bloggers, I go through stretches where I compulsively check my “status” – the number of other bloggers linking to this blog and my resulting position on the “A-List” (or in my case, C- or D-List) of bloggers. Blogpulse, my ego-inflating (or deflating) site of choice, sees 40-odd links to this blog in the past month and tells me that there are at least 1600 bloggers more popular than I am this month…
(Which, honestly, is pretty cool. Thank you all for reading and for linking.)
Loïc LeMeur, entrepreneur, author and blogger, has an honest – and slightly cranky – post on his blog, noting that the various status-ranking tools available to bloggers (Technorati and Feedster are his specific targets) do a poor job of ranking bilingual bloggers like him. Loïc’s French-language blog is one of the most popular French language blogs on the web, and his English blog is quite well read in its own right.
Loic notes that Technorati et. al., rank the two blogs separately, rather than considering them as a single work. Blogpulse does likewise, ranking his French blog 469th, with 101 links in the past month, and his English blog 862nd, with 64 links. For the fun of it, I took blogpulse citation and ranking data for a dozen blogs, calculated an equation that relates citation numbers to rank (for those who care about the geekery, log(citations) and log(rank) covary with R^2=0.98 for this very small data set) and calculated the rank of Loïc’s joint blogs – 221st with 165 links, putting him firmly within most definitions of an A-list.
Whether Loïc is an A-list blogger or two B-list bloggers isn’t generally the sort of question I’m interested in, but the rest of his post raises some interesting questions for bridgebloggers as a whole. Loïc notes that there are a number of possible strategies a bilingual blogger can implement to engage in a global conversation:
– Write only in English, since English has become a lingua franca for the blogosphere, and alienate your local readers.
– Write only in your native language, though comment on blogs in English and other languages, sometimes translating them for your readers. Accept that this means your input into global conversations will be limited.
– Translate every post so that it appears in English and your local language. While this maximizes readership and inclusion in the conversation, it’s an enormous effort.
– Maintain different weblogs in English and your local language. Occasionally translate between the two, but cover some topics in one and others in the other.
While I wish every bilingual blogger had the time, energy and inclination to pursue the third strategy, I find many of the bloggers I’m most interested in follow the fourth strategy, writing on different topics in English and another language. Knowing that this is what Loïc does, I subscribe to both his English and French feeds – while I don’t read French, I don’t read it well enough that I can usually tell if he’s writing about a topic of interest to me, in which case I’ll plug the entry into Babelfish (or, increasingly, into the excellent translation widget built into Tiger…)
This isn’t a worksable strategy for reading my friend Ndesanjo, though – tragically, automated Kiswahili to English translation lags way behind machine translation between romance languages. And since my knowledge of Kiswahili starts and ends at “Jambo!”, I’d have a hard time deciding which posts on Jikomboe to follow… On the other hand, I would hate for Ndesanjo to stop blogging in Kiswahili and focus on his English blog, as I think his primary blog sends two critical messages: that there are Swahili speakers on the web and that people more comfortable writing in Swahili than in English should be able to share their opinions and views in the same ways that English speakers do.
Ndesanjo’s a great example of one of the challenges Loïc’s post raises: if there’s a Kiswahili blogger A-list, Ndesanjo is it. When I met Tanzanian blogger Idya Nkya in Cape Town a few weeks back, I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that Inya and Ndesanjo are old friends. Ndesanjo appears to be single-handedly dragging his countrymen onto the web one at a time, recently convincing prominent Tanzanian opposition candidates that they needed blogs. (Okay, so they haven’t posted on them yet, but it’s just a matter of time… :-)
What would a list like Technorati’s Top 100 or Blogpulse’s Top 40 look like if there were separate lists for different languages? If we featured top French, Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Swahili blogs, would people be driven to find out what top bloggers in other languages were talking about? Will Ndesanjo become the blog celebrity Hoder (who blogs in English and Persian) has become as the Swahili blogosphere blossoms? Or will we ignore the reminder that there are other vibrant conversations taking place on the web and be content to know only about the conversations that are easy for us to read?
Obviously, this is a problem we’re trying to address at Global Voices. Having folks like Haitham Sabbah on board – who can translate, both linguistically and culturally, from the Arab blogosphere to the English-speaking one – is letting us open conversations that would be otherwise closed to part of the world. And as we’re starting to look for funding to expand our coverage and content, Rebecca and I are interested in bringing dedicated translators on board to help bridge more of these conversations.
But I worry that there’s still a sense that the English-language blogosphere is “the big time” and that blogs not in English (at least in part) aren’t part of the global conversation in the same way that English language blogs are. As the next billion Internet users – who will speak Chinese, Portuguese, Hindi, Russian, Spanish and Xhosa better than they speak English – come online, this attitude is likely to limit the horizons of people who look to the web for a bigger picture.