The Emergent Brain

Connecting dots for a global brain.

Language convergence in the internet

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The internet is the first medium that allows its users a global voice. Through hyperdistribution, these voices can be increased to make relevant impacts even beyond the user’s usual reach. Martin Weigert analyzes hyperdistribution of journalistic content and its main limit, namely language, in the German internet economy blog

Some quote highlights (read the German article for some good examples and links):

“Hyperdistribution aims at improving the direct and indirect possibilities of monetizing journalistic contents by a radical increase in range. […]

Hyperdistribution in the internet barely knows limits nowadays due to close to two billion internet users. It will never be possible to reach all users interested in a certain topic, no matter how accurate the target group. Practically, however, the one factor that limits hyperdistribution is language. […]

Recently I noticed a phenomenon that tackles this issue: Sites publish certain input in English even though they are of a different native language. […]

Publishing in English on the other hand guarantees maximum hyperdistribution, attention, page views and incoming links even for an online service unknown outside of its country of origin. […]

It is to expect that more and more exclusive stories and reports in German media will also be published in English if they are of global interest.”

Translation by EmergentBrain, sorry for the pun of translating an article analyzing these benefits.

I perfectly agree with the predictions that we will see more and more articles published in certain lead languages and would even go some steps further. Weigert analyses the effect of hyperdistribution on mainstream media. However, I would like to look at it from two different angles.

First, certain specialized topics and research fields have become truly global, fostering the use of one (officially or unofficially) agreed upon language. Blogs focusing on such narrow topics that cannot be pinned down to one language – such as this one incidentally – need to think particularly hard about the limits of language on their distribution. The ten-fold difference between German and English audience sizes does not only have an impact on monetary factors but also on the quality of the discussion and thought processes involved. The bigger and more international your audience, the more different inputs and insights you get as opposed to a local or national audience limited by a specialized language. The possibility of increasing quality readership thus leads to a focus on certain lead languages for blogs and independently published content based on the agreed upon language. After all, you can expect your audience to understand the foreign language due to their interest in the topic – unfortunately creating higher entry barriers for those not capable of this language.

Second, one has to focus on certain lead languages of the internet in general. The main system is based on a number of 0s and 1s, but their visualization is still limited by language. Two possibilities emerge: Either we have a chance to translate and display these bit sequences equally understandable to all. This is the role of translation services and platforms. Yet, everyone who has ever used Google Translate knows about the reliability of these services. Or we have an internet trend leading towards one or few lead languages (the impact of e.g. Chinese language and mindsets should not be underestimated here): As everyone tries to transmit his message to interested people , these messages should automatically converge over long time to the one language that hits the broadest audience. (Other, minor languages will also be used, but why give up a larger share of the pie for an exclusive readership based on rather arbitrary factors?)

The one question arising asks which development will be faster: Convergence to one or few internet languages for general conversation (and an educational limitation on participation based on English or Chinese knowledge), or adaptation to global reach through instant translations. Looking at the current state of automatic translations, it seems that the rise of second language usage and publishing will be further encouraged in the short term by a self-reinforcing cycle of needing to understand quality content in the language that should be understood by all interested in the topic.

The effects of hyperdistribution will not only impact large journalistic entities with broad audiences but first and foremost (niche) blogs focusing on an increased audience based on a global language. What we can see here is a social system trying to reduce doubling and redundancy by choosing itself one language and forcing its participants to use it for introducing concepts on a broad scale, be they of general or special interest.


Written by emergentbrain

23/09/2010 at 00:02

Posted in Collective Systems

Tagged with ,

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