Diversity and the Internet

Quartz published a terrific excerpt from Ethan Zuckerman‘s new book, “Rewire” where he points out that English is only used by roughly 27% of people on the internet, which is down from 80% in 1996.

While English may be emerging as a bridge language, a wave of media is being produced in other languages, in newspapers, on television, and on the Internet. As technologies make it easier for people to communicate to broad and narrow audiences in their native languages, we’re discovering that linguistic difference is surprisingly persistent.

But more importantly, he talks about some of the ambitious, editorial thinking he and Rebecca MacKinnon undertook to make Global Voices one of the only publications on the web that succeeds at bringing together diverse ideas from around the globe, translating them and packaging them for a global audience. This is not easy work.

In those early days (2005), we never seriously considered publishing an edition other than in English, assuming that translating our work into other languages would be prohibitively expensive and that, since our community of editors and authors used English as a “working language,” everyone could read and appreciate our output.

In 2010, members of our community asked for an additional change to Global Voices: they wanted to publish original content in French, Spanish, and other languages besides English. This presents a challenge for our editorial team. While virtually everyone involved with the project speaks multiple languages, it’s hard for our editor in chief to take responsibility for posts in languages she does not speak. After a long debate, we reached a consensus, and now our multilingual newsroom translates stories written in over a dozen languages into English. This leads to uncomfortable moments: I sometimes glance at our servers and discover our most popular (often our most controversial) story is in a language I don’t read well, and I find myself waiting for our French-to-English translators to catch up so that I can understand what our team is publishing. But it’s clearly been the correct step to take. Our coverage of Francophone Africa is much stronger than in past years, because authors who can write easily in French can now compose in that language, then rely on a community of translators to make their work accessible in English.

Read the full excerpt »
“Rewire”, Ethan’s latest book »