On the one hand, the very nature of a citizen media project like Global Voices enables every single participant to contribute ideas to improve the project. All they have to do – as Bolivian volunteer translator Miguel Esquirol did earlier this week – is publish their ideas on a blog. On the other hand, it isn’t always easy to collect all of these various ideas, determine where there is consensus, create action plans to make them happen, and delegate those tasks to volunteers who have the time to enact them (or to find funding to pay people to do them). In the end, because we are all short on time and overwhelmed by to-do lists, the future of the organization tends to be decided by a small group of individuals with the most social capital.
It also helps if the ideas and critiques are published in English, the only common language of everyone in the Global Voices community. And so I have translated Miguel’s post to English and have listed some of his ideas on our wiki with the hope that others will follow suit.
Global Voices Online is, at this moment, possibly one of the most interesting projects on the internet. It is an international network of bloggers that summarize what is being published in blogospheres from all over the world, but mainly from regions with less voice such as developing countries, regions with low internet access, or with political restrictions to free speech. In other words, countries with inhabitants who don’t have a strong voice in the global conversation. The project’s objectives are to “Make a bridge between two languages, or two cultures.”
At the hands of bloggers from different communities and languages, this project seeks to make public and accessible the discussions and issues which are taking place in different communities of bloggers around the world. News and conversations that tend to go completely unnoticed in the traditional media are given space here. The articles, which are published in English, are translations and summaries of what is happening around the world.
[Global Voices] also counts on the Lingua project, which enables a new level of access by translating articles published in English into different languages thanks to volunteer translators who work permanently on the project.
Despite all the positive elements of this project, let me bring some ideas and constructive criticism which I have after a long time of visiting the page.
The home page of Global Voices (GV) is configured like a traditional blog. The screen is divided in two columns. The first has articles and the second has a map of where the news is from, plus links to other blogs, recent comments, and links to other projects of GV. In the first column, the first two stories are featured stories, then there are links to special coverage pages, and the four latest news stories. In total, on the main page you only have access to six stories. For a site with so great a multitude of themes, countries where they originate and news writers, I think the space given to articles on the front page is insufficient. It is impossible with a single look to get an idea of everything that is being talked about in the world, which is the purpose of the page. Internet users devour headlines before eating entire articles and a page with only six headlines is not sufficient to attract their attention.
There is a header menu that tries to give access to different topics and countries through tag clouds. The good thing is that all articles are well organized, the bad thing is there is no interface that makes access to all these options simple.
Despite the fact that GV is a blog and not a traditional newspaper, the format used by some newspapers (for example, NYTimes), seems much more appropriate in order to give a broader view of all that is discussed on the site. With the ability to have more space for featured news and a higher number of headlines that are not necessarily organized by date but by relevance, one would have a better idea of what is happening in the world.
I also feel that the right-hand column, with the map, links and other related projects belongs to the world of blogs with few updates and only a few authors. Given the current growth of Global Voices, the map is attractive, but lacks interactivity, and lists of “most read” and “most discussed” articles should take the place of “most recent comments”.
The map and links may also be more attractive if unified into a single interface, something like Twittervision.
All of the information is organized so that it can be accessed via RSS. On the page for feeds it reads as follows:
Warning: Very high volume.
Full site feed (everything) RSS | JSS
Just Links (right column) RSS | JSS
A high volume of feed is virtually useless because the only thing it does is fill up our feed reader. Much more important is the ability to choose news by region (which already exists) or by relevance (which does not exist), and feeds that summarize headlines just once a day. These options could be a significant improvement.
Relevance could be setup not just for feeds but the entire site, according to public interest. Categories such as ‘regional news’, ‘global emergencies’, and ‘summaries’, and levels of interest could control the amount and the flow of news. This way readers would be able to receive information not just from a single area or topic, but would allow them access to global news without being overwhelmed by the large amount of content.
The Lingua project has many positive aspects, given that language is currently one of the major barriers that separate countries and cultures. Even when the desire to learn about other places is present, language is the obstacle that prevents this from happening. The project and the work of Lingua translators will become, I believe, ever more important.
Despite this, it is also possible to offer some constructive criticism.
The Lingua project is generally unidirectional. We read blogs in their original language, translate those posts into English on Global Voices and then translate them from English into other languages thanks to the translators. With the growth of this project and the involvement of more people, it will be increasingly important to create a capacity of bi-directionality so that local Lingua translators, often with greater knowledge of the subject, are able to produce original content and Lingua translators can translate those articles into languages other than English.
The second criticism I have is that in the pages of Global Voices in different languages, there is a greater preponderance of translating texts that were originally from the same language. This is unnecessary because the project does not encourage us to know more about what is happening around us – for that there are already hundreds of websites and blogs – but rather what happens in countries and regions to which we have never had access.
The project permits various local communities greater participation in the global community by translating the discussions and issues so that we are able to know what is happening beyond our borders, especially in those communities which, due to their language or their culture, has made them inaccessible for the rest of the world.
But there is an important community that is absent from this global discussion, and I think that could potentially be the best bridge to interpret what happens in remote places, not just by translating language but also in the interpretation of reality. Migrants from different countries scattered around the world do not have a voice because they do not belong to the country where they live, nor in the country that they left.
Moreover, as I have seen, migrants are the group who have contact with online communications (chat, news, and blogs) to build bridges to their communities of origin. It seems to me imperative that these groups have greater participation in the global community, not just to give them a voice that they normally do not have, but also as sources for what projects like GV seek to accomplish: building bridges between cultures and languages. These are living bridges that are interested in strengthening ties.
The Global Voices project has a large number of bloggers who are dedicated to collecting news stories and articles from other blogs in order to give meaning and context in ways that are easily accessible to readers. They give voice to the voiceless. But as has been discussed a lot, talking for someone is not necessarily the same as giving someone voice. I could now dwell on the issue of Spivak’s Voice of the Voiceless, but what I often feel is missing at Global Voices are authentic voices.
My proposal is a place for guest columnists, writers from different countries that can say with their own voice and their own ideas what they think about a particular topic. A column of different invited authors who aren’t a source of news, but rather an enriching supplement to GV’s current content.
Global Voices is a project full of potential whose most important value is in the collaborators who work on it and their personal interests. There is still much to do, but we are on the right path. I can only wish the project good luck and I hope soon to see new achievements. I, for my part, will continue doing my work translating articles.
I think Miguel’s criticisms are indeed constructive. Some of them I agree with, other not; so let me take them one by one.
Usability and Feeds – There have been many discussions on the “core team” mailing list over the past year about the need for a redesigned Global Voices homepage which is more portal-like and thus allowing for more diverse content. I agree that we need to improve how we present and highlight the fast flowing stream of content that typically lasts no more than a day, or even just a couple hours, on our home page. I also agree that, similar to the NYTimes and most news sites, we should highlight the most read, discussed, and “liked” (similar to facebook) articles. I disagree, however, that we should get rid of the “most recent comments”. Rather, I would like to find more ways to involve Global Voices’ community of readers. I think that highlighting excerpts of the best comments on the front page is a good way to do this. I also agree with you about about adding more relevance to feeds. While we do have a “breaking news” feed, we should also have feeds for “most popular posts”, most “liked” posts, and “feature posts” as chosen by the managing editor.
Lingua – I never understood the discussion on Lingua about original content. If a Lingua translator would like to contribute original content to Global Voices all they need to do is find a native English speaker to translate the post into English and post it on Global Voices. I’d be happy to help with this.
Global Community and Immigrants – I absolutely agree with you about this. And if you look at the bloggers who are frequently cited on Global Voices, many of them are in fact migrants who no longer live in their country or origin. The same is true with probably the majority of Global Voices authors. In fact, you’re a great example. 🙂
There are several initiatives that seem to be picking up serious steam. Of course, I know that you’re aware of Bolivianos Globales. Also, Eduardo has mentioned to me the possibility of starting a Voces Bolivianas project here in Argentina.
Nuestra Voz is a community of Spanish-speaking migrant bloggers (mostly based in California) who want to strengthen the online participation of Spanish speakers in the United States and also strengthen their ties with the global community. Finally, as Ivan wrote in his post announcing the latest translation project funded by the Ford Foundation, New American Media has shown interest in working with us to make “ethnic media” available in more languages. That would surely introduce more migrants into the global community.
Voices – Here I disagree. I don’t see a distinction between “original content” and “sourced content”. If someone has an opinion that he or she would like to express, then (s)he should do so on his/her own blog and we’ll link to it. Where those words are published doesn’t matter. Whether it is on Global Voices or on another website, it will still be just one click away. That’s what is so beautiful thing about the internet.
What I would like to see happen – another project we’ve been talking about for years – are hosted conversations in which bloggers from different regions all participate in the same discussion. Unfortunately, once more than 30 people people participate in any conversation, it no longer feels like a conversation.
Miguel, I have added a page on the wiki with some of your recommendations. Please feel free to add more.