Global Voices: imaging the Welsh-language web

I’ve written an article for Global Voices about the Welsh-language web:

[…] Recent research presented by the BBC at a media conference shows that of the time spent on the web by the average Welsh speaker, only 1% is on Welsh language content. We can assume that most of the remaining 99% of the time is taken up by English-language content. There are several factors behind these percentages, which form a contemporary story of linguistic domain loss.

Although the Welsh language web is large from an individual user’s perspective, it has relatively few resources available when compared with other languages. Even the Basque language, which statistically is in a comparable situation to Welsh in its homeland, is much more privileged on the web in its number and diversity of established websites and levels of participation.

Wales has comparatively fewer institutions that would view an increase in quality web content as an important part of their mission. There is perhaps an excessive reliance on voluntary efforts. Yet the cumulative amount of spare time at the disposal of volunteers, what the American writer Clay Shirky refers to as cognitive surplus, is also small. […]

Read more.

“Press release as blog post” drives me mad

MH at Syniadau says:

I have to admit to not being fond of the way that political parties interact with the media before a general election. Policy tends to get broken down into bite-sized chunks that will fit into a one column story or a two minute video clip on the news. There is no room for any detail.

Clywch, clywch! “Press release as blog post” drives me mad. Several times I’ve wanted to learn more and explore the detail – and been let down. By all the parties.

Boiling a complex issue down to a single press release with few or no links is too simplistic. It’s designed for newspapers, radio and TV, who have limited space. But news is, we have endless space on the web.

It also makes me think we’re stuck in familiar habits. Then just bolting on our digital media strategy.

Although I include party politics, this observation is applicable in many fields. We can do far better than this in Wales.

e.g. how about a manifesto wiki (or some kind of open collaborative platform) with deep levels of detail and relevant outbound links depending on how far you want to go down? People can ask questions, suggest improvements and help make it better and more accurate. It’s not expensive. Nobody in Wales is trying this at the moment.

(I know Hywel Williams AS tried something similar once with Wiki Deddfu, the technology was there but it lacked the investment of time and understanding of the human side. Also, it’s vanished from the web so we can’t learn the lessons and you can’t check if my analysis is correct.)

Corollary: it’s very hard to find a blog written by a PR company in Wales which is actually worth your time. Maybe it’s the curse of feeling you have to be “on message”. Comment if you know differently.

Wales Referendum 2011: I was there… kind of

I’m very pleased about the yes result in the Referendum on further powers for the National Assembly. These powers will ultimately benefit Wales. This post is only partly about that, it’s certainly not an attempt to sum up the total of my views on the subject – or give you a general picture. I think various blogs and commenters have done that very well.

I blog when I want to put a page or thought on the web that I don’t see from anywhere else. So this time I want to talk about my experience yesterday and jot down a thought about the “public space”.

As I was going through the coverage today, in particular Syniadau’s full videos from the leaders’ speeches in the Assembly building, it struck me today how removed from the event I was. Even though yesterday I was only about fifty yards away from the Assembly building.

Yesterday afternoon, before any of the counts, I made the short journey to Cardiff Bay. I already knew my chances of going in were small, my companion had official clearance and I didn’t. But I also knew that the yes campaign was the clear favourite in the opinion polls and was backed by all the main parties. Regardless of the outcome I considered it to be a historically significant event so I figured I wanted to be at the source. That’s not so much from a blogger’s point of view as just a citizen. If sneaking into the Assembly building wasn’t an option, perhaps I could be part of the fringe.

Cardiff Bay was about as busy as it ever is on any ordinary afternoon.

There was nothing unusual except the BBC and their twin portable offices. Maybe a few other journalists were roaming, but it was a small presence.

We walked up the steps, passing a police officer and assorted Assembly staff. We walked past the airport-style scanners to a desk. It was all very spacious, a lot of light through glass on every side, no bustling crowd in the reception. Staff representing the Electoral Commission were behind the desk with one greeter, wearing an orange Iaith Gwaith badge, standing in front. My companion had her name checked off one of the lists on the desk. “I think you’re on this list here.”

They turned to me: “Do you have accreditation?” and I replied no. In my peripheral vision I sensed a twitch of security staff on standby. Rather than stop to glean any insights from a hopeless situation I made plans for a reunion with my companion and I walked out. It was a pity not to be allowed in.

Plan B: now at least I could hurry home and check the online bustle. I could read some stats and binge on data rolling into multiple windows, radio and TV signals.

Except it didn’t feel like that kind of event.

Minutes later on the way home it was encouraging to bump into my old tutor on his bike, heading Bay-ward to sample the action. I did a u-turn. Soon after we absorbed a stray yes campaigner (who I’d only recently met on the streets last weekend). The three of us gathered round a transistor radio in the sun, discussing the results as they came in, watching the Bay. So much for the fringe though. We were the fringe.

It was a good afternoon. Someone mentioned that the news screen in The Hayes in the centre of town had assembled a modest number of passers-by. Where was our screen? I also thought of the people at the various counts around Wales, people at home in clusters cracking open a lager with friends, office staff gathering around monitors. We heard the cheering on the radio but I felt pretty atomised from all that.

There were other strays. Later in the Millennium Centre, waiting for the last two results, we spotted a well known Welsh historian strolling around in hiking boots, sampling the mood from passers-by, doing what historians presumably do on a historical day.

I’m trying to give you an image here of how quiet it was in the Bay. I guess events sometimes happen like that. It wasn’t a Berlin Wall moment or an Obama moment or a crowning of Hywel Dda moment.

What was public about the event was that it was broadcast in the media. The glass-walled conference with the leaders was designed for the media. But what struck me is how exclusive this conference was, when it probably didn’t need to be. I wanted a GATHERING. Political events of historical importance should be public events. You know, with speeches to the plebs, cheering, maybe a rogue boo.

What about that huge space in front of the Assembly? Or maybe inside the red Pierhead Building? Crowds are not organised as such, they appear as a congregation around the announcements – when citizens are given access. This should be the default. Of course security is an issue but if you’re a politician you should accept the small risk as you do frequently anyway. Just get out there. Stand on a platform and talk to us.

The party members gradually trickled out eventually, to pose for photos.

I should also mention that I’d arrived wearing a Yes For Wales / Ie Dros Gymru t-shirt, holding an afro wig and some oversized sunglasses. I came prepared. Thing is, you never know when a Wales political carnival will spontaneously break out and you might need to blend in with – say – fire eaters, stilt walkers and vuvuzela orchestras. This BBC photo montage captures “scenes” from the results day, including the lone figure, me. I don’t want to diminish the importance of Wales’ decision or the change but on the day there was very little that could be called a scene.

语言

語言就廣義而言,是一套共同採用的溝通符號、表達方式與處理規則。符號會以視覺、聲音或者觸覺方式來傳遞。嚴格來說,語言是指人類溝通所使用的語言-自然語言。一般人都必须通过学习才能获得语言能力。語言的目的是交流观念、意见、思想等。语言学就是從人類研究語言分類與規則而發展出來的。研究語言的專家被稱呼為語言學家。當人類發現了某些動物能夠以某種方式溝通,就誕生了動物語言的概念。到了電腦的誕生,人類需要給予電腦指令。這種「單向溝通」就成了電腦語言。

Wales as “first carbon negative country”? George Monbiot at Pierhead Sessions

George Monbiot speech part 1:

George Monbiot speech part 2:

Audience questions and George Monbiot’s answers:

Here George Monbiot speaks about the Copenhagen summit, climate change and about Wales’ sustainable energy requirements, recorded at the Pierhead Sessions event in Cardiff. If you didn’t attend the event it’s well worth sitting through the whole thing.

At the very end of the speech he throws down an audacious challenge to Wales:

we are perhaps in a position to become the first carbon negative country on Earth – in other words to actually actually cut more carbon emissions than we produce… it provides a shining example to the rest of the world, where we to take that step.

There may even be a bunch of caveats and challenges not immediately obvious from Monbiot’s presentation of the issues. But this is where dreamers and schemers like Monbiot can inspire us. Someone else can pick up the practicalities.

More devolution from the UK government is pretty much necessary for this. Wales’ energy requirements and distinctive advantages are different from those of England. The Syniadau blog makes a good summary of the issues here. In short, last week’s policy statement on renewable energy from the Welsh Assembly Government has some of the talk to move beyond coal burning but we don’t have the powers to actually make it happen.

In Wales, we are currently a net exporter of energy. It’s one of our lesser-championed products. Along with animation and cheese. But this abundance of energy comes at a cost to the environment.

So I’d also add that to maintain this income from energy, or even increase it, we should be backing sources we can rely on for the long term – wave, tidal, wind power and so on. As Monbiot points out, these are resources we have in abundance.

Surely even climate change deniers will be exhilarated by the suggestion of this? Allowing for his USA context, Tim O’Reilly gives us even more reasons to back sustainable energy sources.

Unfortunately, as Monbiot mentions, we have the staggering fact of open cast mining happening at Ffos y Frân in Merthyr, causing terrible noise, dust and smoke pollution from as little as 36 metres of the nearest house. All this has the approval of local Labour councillors, Welsh Assembly Government and the UK government.

Comments are turned off for this post but pingbacks and trackbacks are on. So if you write a response on your own blog and link to this post then yours will get a link below.

Hacio’r Iaith – what it is, why it is and what happened (monster post!)

A group of us did a free, open event in Aberystwyth on 30th January 2010 called Hacio’r Iaith. It was fun. I learned things. It was based on the BarCamp format. You can use the format to have a conference on any subject and many people do. Some people call it an unconference.

The reasons we organised an offline event should be obvious. A chance to shake hands and consume body aroma content, the only remaining experiences not yet available online.

Around 40 people came. That number seemed about right for a one-day event, I didn’t even get a chance to talk to everyone properly.

One of the main aims was to get people together to talk about shared interests, so on that basis it was almost bound to be a success after the second or third person said they’d come along. When you know people will get talking there is no need for anxiety, even if the wifi access goes down (it was fine actually), the food doesn’t arrive (it did and was splendid – thanks chefs and sponsors!) or the firewall doesn’t allow FTP access (unfortunately it didn’t, but that was a mere glitch and chance to learn something).

Keywords will be in bold here because this is getting long…

The offline component of the event is finished. For a few reasons it’s a pity you can’t access big chunks of the event now. You really had to be there maaan. Saying all that, it’s still open to an extent because we purposefully made it a hybrid of offline and online. Several web-based backchannels existed before and during the meet-up: the event wiki, the group blog, Twitter messages, videos on YouTube and photos/images on Flickr.

These backchannels persist afterwards, which increases the value of doing the event for years to come. That goes for potentially everyone on the web (especially now that Google Translate can get you the gist of the Welsh in several other languages).

These are some of the benefits of the social web. These benefits are seldom discussed by the mainstream media, incidentally!

I want other people to see all this stuff if they search for related things. I know there are other people who attended who want it to have an influence. On that note, not every problem is a problem of information. (That’s the second Neil Postman link in this post. Consider that chin thoroughly stroked.) But some problems are related to information. For instance, taking abundant information and converting it into something useful is something we can step up. It’s something that could benefit Wales, where I live and most of the attendees live.

I’d like to see more BarCamps, unconferences and so on happening in Wales. Incidentally that’s part of the reason why I’ve chosen to write this in English, to give the non-Welsh speaking people in Wales some access to the proceedings. And other people around the world who might be interested.

As far as I know, Hacio’r Iaith on Saturday was the first BarCamp-style event to be conducted in Cymraeg, the Welsh language. The subject matter? Web and technology as it relates to the Welsh language. Those things – language and subject matter – don’t necessarily follow. Naturally people discuss their language in their own language. But a group could organise a BarCamp about any subject and do it in the Welsh language. Absolutely any subject.

For nearly everyone who attended it’s their number one language for everything they do daily and has been for as long as they remember.

I can only talk about the sessions I attended. Everything is from my perspective!

The first session was about tools for Welsh learners, including a website and series of online lessons called Say Something In Welsh build with phpBB, an iPhone application called Learn Welsh and some ideas for mobile app “flashcards” suggested by a tutor. We talked about the conflicting difficulties of making apps available to all mobile users, even if they are web-based apps running on mobile. I asked Aran from Say Something In Welsh a question about open content and search engines. The site is a private “walled garden” for a number of reasons related to maintaining a community of learners, but it’s free to register to join. (UPDATE: See Aran’s comment below for more about this.)

I then stayed for the Metastwnsh podcast recording and live web stream. Metastwnsh is a web and technology blog with several contributors. There was some discussion of gadgets and some jokes. My favourite part was a discussion of how the language choice of our online posts and conversations can differ from that of our offline choice. In particular, Twitter was cited as an example of a tool which first language Welsh speakers sometimes opt to use in English, for many reasons – some understandable. It was suggested that perhaps in some cases they file it under an “English language part of their brain”, alluding to the possibility that bilingual people associate some spaces or platforms with specific languages. So the effect of the platform is not necessarily “neutral”, or doesn’t remain that way. (I’ve been building a list of Welsh speakers on Twitter, including learners. Every person who is on the list can see the list and access all the other members of the list. It’s a way of strengthening the network and thereby, potentially, the impulse to post in the Welsh language should people wish to do so. Linguistic diversity leads to other forms of diversity and improves the internet as a whole in my opinion.)

I popped next door to catch the very end of a presentation about Llen Natur, a website about wildlife and nature. It has a dictionary of species, maps and photos.

Free lunch was not something I had insisted on, especially as it increases the admin for such events. But Rhodri ap Dyfrig was convinced it was possible and fixed up catering and covered it with money from some of the sponsors. For me it was a valuable part of the event, meeting some very talented people I’d only previously known online.

It was my turn next – purely because I’d volunteered to speak, as had everyone. So the title was “FyWordPressCyntaf.com – does dim angen profiad o flaen llaw” (which translates as MyFirstWordPress.com – no previous experience necessary). I wanted to talk about WordPress as a blogging and general site CMS, downloadable from wordpress.org with no coding necessary. It gave me the chance to talk about free software (unambiguously rendered as meddalwedd rydd in Welsh, free software as in freedom) with a bit about how localised code and themes are available for Welsh (but, as I also added, we can always do with more). Unlike the audience, Welsh isn’t my first language so I had a job explaining some of the concepts. I achieved my main objective though, which was to get a bare bones installation of WordPress running to show how quick and easy it can be.

In hindsight it was a little ambitious to shoehorn the mash-up/hack session into the event plan. On the day I ended up putting my talk in the hack session, which came just to mean practical session. Even WordCamp, which I attended last year, was spread over two days – allowing space for team building, pre-planning and the hack session on the second day. At Hacio’r Iaith, I think the initiative and creativity of the attendees to do the hacks could have been there, as well as the capability. But in a day already packed with presentations and to some an unfamiliar format, it became too much to expect. Next time some more practical stuff would be good. I do think a dedicated hack event could work.

We had a quick discussion about making online how-to videos and what subjects to cover. There is plenty of room for how-to videos in Welsh, especially showing non-geeks and normal people how to get the best use of software and the web. The ideas we generated are available to take.

Finally I went to a session on the game Civilization IV and its unofficial Welsh translation, using game mods. Welsh translation of open source games like OpenTTD also came up. I’m not a big gamer but it gave me some ideas…

Video by Sioned Edwards

A Useful Fiction by Patrick Hannan

Sometimes I feel as if I’m always playing catch-up.

This book “A Useful Fiction“, which came out last year, has just brought me reasonably up-to-date with devolution of the United Kingdom, particularly some of the finer details which I’d missed.

It has many good insights into the idea of Britain and its democracy, or rather democracies. The cover picture is a Union Flag with some serious-looking cracks in it, so you get the general idea.

I like Patrick Hannan’s scattershot style. He doesn’t resist a few cheeky observations about Blair, Brown, other politicians, Prince Charles, etc. He has some fun with the subject, which is pretty important if you’re talking about devolution and suchlike. That said, he’s fairly even-handed and journalistic about it.

Read it before it gets out of date! It’s published by Seren.

It turned out to be Patrick Hannan’s last book. Here’s an obituary of Hannan written by Meic Stephens.

Can we trust BARB’s viewing figures for Sgorio on S4C?

Yesterday The Telegraph printed a story about S4C viewing figures for the football programme Sgorio:

Sgorio – Welsh for score – turned into a no score draw on the night despite regularly pulling in tens of thousands of viewers on other nights.

It is a regular show on Channel Four in Wales featuring top matches from the German, Spanish and Italian leagues.

Under the TV rating system, any programme with fewer than 2,500 viewers is regarded as “making no impact”.

Today the Western Mail ran a very similar story. Before we get into a discussion about what this might mean, let’s examine the figures. According to The Telegraph:

The figures were compiled by the Broadcasters Audience Research Board.

The body surveys viewing habits of 11,300 viewers in 5,100 British homes, and weights them according to the rest of the population.

How many homes own television sets in the UK? Let’s use BARB’s own figures:

In 2009, 25.9 million homes own at least one television set out of a total of 26.6 million homes in the UK.

Let’s concentrate on television-owning homes. According to this 97% of homes in the UK own a television.

The 5,100 British homes is 0.02% of the homes that own a television. BARB is collecting these figures by sampling one house in every 5000 television-owning houses in the UK, roughly speaking.

That may be adequate for popular programmes but is it enough to gauge the popularity of a minority language programme?

S4C publishes a top 20 chart. It would be good to have figures for other special interest programmes for comparison, but BARB doesn’t publish these figures free of charge. (Subscribe if you want.) Regardless, how meaningful are these figures in light of the sample size? I’m not aware that BARB has more fine-grained techniques for sampling S4C viewing, anyone know?

How many people live in Wales and in the UK? Let’s take the population figures from the Office for National Statistics:

Wales: 2.9 million
United Kingdon: 59.8 million

Let’s now look at sampled viewers. BARB’s sampled viewers make up a proportion of the total number of viewers in the UK. Let’s assume BARB has picked a fair distribution of sampled viewers in Wales. We could then expect the proportion of sampled viewers in Wales to match the proportion of the UK who live in Wales.

As a proportion, Wales makes up 4.8% of the UK population. Therefore we would expect BARB to have sampled approximately 548 viewers in Wales (which is 4.8% of 11,300).

I’m going to make an assumption here. I’m going to assume that out of the 2.9 million people in Wales, 97% have access to a television in their own home. This reflects the 97% of households who own a television in the UK. Therefore we calculate that around 2.8 million people in Wales have a television in their own home. My aim is to get an approximate impression of the scale here – the order of magnitude – to decide how trustworthy the statistics are. The figures may be slightly off, so please let me know if you have more accurate figures.

Therefore, each sampled viewer in Wales represents roughly 5000 of the television-watching population in Wales. This is similar to the figure for households above. I’m also assuming S4C’s heartland is Wales, although it is sometimes available in households outside Wales.

BARB’s threshold is 2,500 viewers for a programme “making an impact”. These are not real viewers, but figures extrapolated from the comparatively tiny sample size.

So according to this analysis, the conclusion that Sgorio made “no impact” rests on just ONE of the sampled viewers in Wales.

Again, is this enough to measure the reach of a programme, in particular one in a minority language?

UPDATE 21/10/2010: Comments are off but trackbacks and pingbacks are on.