Rough notes on using social media in one’s second language

My emphasis on this blog has changed over the years. It’s interesting to read back over old posts where I documented my progress with Welsh. Later on I was pretty uninhibited about blogging through the medium of Welsh on here, as a means of practising and as a method of seeing more stuff in Welsh online. Although very beneficial for me I guess it’s uncommon to practise like that in public. There were/are quite a few non-standard grammatical formations in my posts as well. Or, in other words, mistakes.

A few people have asked me recently about my experiences using social media in Welsh as a second language – especially blogging. Someone was asking me today about the experience and challenges as part of her research project.

So here’s a copy of some notes I sent as I figured they might be of interest to people who read this blog.

In hindsight it took me a while to get to a standard where I thought I had anything to say. There are blogs out there where people practise the very basics – which is obviously fine – but I think I wanted to do something more expressive. I think writing to be understood (which was an aim) is a challenge. There were a whole load of things to accomplish before even considering that as an option. I think I considered it for a fair while before actually doing it.

That said, as opposed to blogging, tweeting in Welsh was something I started quite early on I think. You could liken it to a child gaining confidence in learning to speak (or walk, etc.).

The first thing I tried on a computer was emailing in Welsh – even just greetings and valediction around an email in English. I made loads of mistakes with that but it was a key learning experience.

One thing to mention is that Facebook is not always the friendliest place for practising Welsh. It’s common to receive comments from ‘friends’ who are not comfortable with seeing Welsh being used. For example people have said things like ‘did a cat walk on your keyboard?’, ‘that’s easy for you to say’ and also some quite blatant expressions of disdain/displeasure at seeing Welsh being used. It’s funny how very few people say ‘I don’t understand your message, would you be able to give me a translation or a summary in English please?’, which is surely a more courteous way of answering. I’ve heard that that these attitudes cause problems for people who are learning, particularly the more timid. I’m a pretty confident person but even I sometimes feel a bit gun shy about using Welsh on Facebook. Interface is irrelevant here – it’s about existing friend group and expectations. Maybe this point counters the hypothesis that fluent Welsh users are judgmental about informal Welsh and bratiaith. That is, in my experience by contrast it has been the non-Welsh speakers who cause problems.

Twitter is better for confidence because it’s not predominently based on offline relationships for many people. There is a lot of freedom and variation in the way it’s used. There is a more of a sense that people can experiment, be individual and also that those who don’t appreciate it should just unfollow. And then blogging offers the best feeling of a space you control yourself where anything goes, at least in my experience.

These notes are incomplete and are based on personal experiences rather than data.

All Wales Convention – Closed!

Remember the recent All Wales Convention? Yesterday they sent me this message via Facebook:

Diolch am ymaelodi a’r Grwp hwn. Gan fod yr Adroddiad wedi ei gyhoeddi bellach, rydym wedi cadw cofnod o gynnwys y Grwp Gweplyfr a’i ddirwyn i ben.

Thanks for joining the Group. Since the Report has now been published, we have kept a record of the Facebook comments and closed the Group.

What?

Closing the Facebook group is probably a mistake.

Part of the reason for using social media to get people’s opinions SHOULD be open access to the original stuff. The Convention achieved that during their work – to an extent – but what now?

Where can we read the opinions that were submitted via Facebook? (I’ve replied to ask and will blog the response, if any. But I suspect they’re filed in a dusty box somewhere.)

It’s not only about reading them – but quoting them, scrutinising them and linking to them. The group now has the text: “The work of the All Wales Convention is now complete”. That’s correct, but its recommendations and conclusions will affect Wales for a long time to come.

There are lots of UNKNOWN reasons why you’d keep something live on the web, and preferably with its own unique URL. Who knows what future purpose it might serve? It’s cheap, so why not? Incidentally here’s: the URL to the blog post you’re reading.

Real time web is exciting but it doesn’t diminish the value of persistence. And if all this is undesirable for someone, they have the option of writing you a letter or email instead.

Weirdly, for some reason, there are only three members in the group now and most of the submissions have already vanished. As for the discussion forum on the All Wales Convention main site, it’s being closed for comments – but kept live for future reference. Does this mean your comments via Facebook are worth less than comments on the main website? I hope not.

For me this brings to mind major weaknesses in Facebook as a tool for political engagement. Sure, it’s fashionable right now and it does offer access to large numbers of people. I’m not saying Facebook should never be used for this sort of project. But it’s very difficult to export your data for archival purposes like this. It’s also impossible to deep link to a specific comment. Facebook itself makes no guarantees about the persistence of your data either.

UPDATE 11/12/09: The group has gone, along with everyone’s comments. I received a short reply saying they only had a paper copy and would get back to me about how it could be accessed. I hope future government projects emulate the good parts of this example (attempting to engage with people, mainly) and leave out the bad. Lots of potential blog posts there…

Peace and Love, the Ringo way

Is it me or is this possibly the worst PR ever?

This clip has been broadcast today by TV and covered by loads of media – and counting.

It’s a great example of how NOT to communicate.

Whatever you think of Ringo Starr as a musician, he has worked hard over a span of five decades to build a following of dedicated fans. The breadth of his fanbase is the envy of many musicians, particularly emerging bands.

And in a succinct 44-second video clip he declares his intention to toss a great deal of that away. Well, throwing away mailed correspondance from your fans is tantamount to the same thing. Massive blunder.

This is not just about music. For “fans” substitute, if you prefer, “customers”. Except that someone who takes the trouble to write is more like a super-customer or super-fan: enthusing about you, recommending you to others, blogging about you, announcing your news for you on forums…

Through my work with musicians I have observed this kind of fan at close range. Granted, they are a little more earnest than the rest. They hang around after the gig. They might need a bit more maintenance than the average person. But they are great people to have around. You can’t afford to ignore them, let alone cut them off. Whether you’re on a small level or a big level, they are offering to help you with whatever you are trying to achieve.

This is not about privacy issues either. Ringo Starr’s website boldly announces his new album. He is an active artist, still touring. Therefore he is actively making invitations for people to embrace him as a person and get into his music. People will respond to those invitations, he CANNOT switch that off. (If he wanted to be left alone to spend some time with the family, garden or somesuch he always has the option of doing a Rick Astley and disappearing completely for several years.)

This recent speech by wine blogger Gary Vaynerchuk explores these ideas in a social media context. It’s a kind of semi-ridiculous motivational thing about building brands using social media. He does a lot of shouting… you need to answer your emails, respond, care about your users, through as many media as possible – that sort of thing. While entertaining, it’s pretty obvious stuff! Fulfilling these obligations can be time consuming. Vaynerchuk takes an extreme approach by personally responding to every message.

As a byproduct of his own success, Ringo has a bigger, more cumbersome issue with postal overload. How about hiring someone for a day a fortnight? Give them a custom rubber stamp of a Ringo-face and a stack of envelopes. Or a stack of signed postcards? While you’re at it, why not bung in a flyer mentioning the new Ringo album and tourdates?

Aside from straightforward courtesy, it’s good for business.