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Translator boothsDoes your social media program include foreign language requirements? Even if your company does business in only one country, you might need multiple languages. The question is, how much capability do you need to check off the language box?

An email from a vendor contact in Tokyo reminded me of a conversation at the Tech@State conference a few weeks ago. We were talking about monitoring Arabic-language social media, and someone pointed out that their analysts know Arabic. They don't need translation; they just need to collect the content for their analysts to read.

It's an important distinction, and it led us into a conversation about what a monitoring platform needs to do to support different types of users. The short answer is, language capability is more than a one-box checklist item. You have to know your needs in order to evaluate tools.

International support in the software
Let's start with the scenario from that initial conversation: an organization is looking for a software platform for monitoring or analyzing social media content in a specific set of languages. Here are some tool capabilities that might back up a claim about language support:

  1. Find content written in a language.
    Theoretically, all you need is support for the required character set, search terms in the desired language, and a broad range of sources. In practice, it's harder to collect content in some countries and languages than others. Ask about source coverage in the countries you need to include.

  2. Translate foreign-language content.
    In the age of Google Translate and other machine-translation programs, it's easy to add a translate button to a tool. If your needs are simple, machine translation could be good enough.

  3. Filter content by language.
    The most basic level of language support involves identifying the language used in a text. Based on some of my testing, that's harder than it looks. Tools that can identify source languages usually offer filters based on the language, which is useful for directing items to analysts who can read them, as well as for analysis of content by language.

  4. Apply text analytics to content in the language.
    Adding more languages to the analytics engine of a social media platform is hard work. I've heard from several sources that adding sentiment analysis in another language, for example, is equivalent to starting over. If you want your tool to do text analytics in a specific language—sentiment, topics, entity extraction, and the rest—ask specifically if those features are supported in the languages you need to analyze.

  5. Provide a user interface in a language.
    So far, this has all been about the content. If you're working with native-speaker analysts, though, you may also want to support them with a user interface in their language. I've talked with people at companies that monitor social media in multiple languages using teams in multiple countries. Giving them a UI in their own language(s) is a nice touch, and one that probably pays off in increased productivity.
International support in services
Now, let's look at the other side of the business: the services market. One easy way to add coverage of additional markets is to send the work to an agency that has those capabilities. The first question is, can they support the languages you need? The follow-up question is, how do they do it?

  1. Multilingual analysts
    Is it adequate to have an analyst who knows the language? Depending on your circumstances, it could be.

  2. Native language analysts
    Anyone who's studied a foreign language knows that it's easier to learn as a small child. Native fluency makes the analyst more likely to catch subtleties that a non-native speaker might miss.

  3. Native analysts located in foreign market
    If your native-fluent analysts are current residents of the foreign country of interest, they may be better attuned to current events and cultural trends than their peers working in another country.

  4. Vendor based in foreign market
    Social media analysis firms are virtually everywhere (try searching a country name in the directory). You can find native analysts who work abroad for international firms, and you can find them working for smaller firms based in their country. Working with foreign vendors adds complexity, but it could be the right answer in some circumstances.
It's easy to make up a list of languages and mark them yes or no. When I did my first report on companies in social media analysis in 2007, I didn't go much farther than that (I did ask about native fluency among analysts). If you're building a capability with international scope, be clear about the level of language support you need, and you'll be a big step closer to finding the right partners for your program.

I've been thinking lately about nuances in product requirements. More to follow.

Photo by David Weekly.

WMSN1210.pngI've been interested in things international a lot longer than I've been blogging international topics (just look up careers in international affairs). At work, that translates into tracking down companies globally; it's one way my research is different. So when somebody takes a good look at social media patterns beyond the US, I'm usually interested.

Global view

Regional view

Country-level view

If your view has been dominated by US trends, you should be interested, too. As it turns out, people are doing this stuff all over the planet.

Some lists are more incomplete than others. What sources of regional or country-level information on social media usage have you found?

Visualizing the African Internet

Without Internet access, there are no Internet media—no "social media." Unless you've worked in network infrastructure, you probably don't think about it, but a lot of work and investment go into providing Internet access, whether you connect at work, at home, or at the corner café. As you may have heard, Internet access is not equally available around the world.

A new infographic from Appfrica International, Infostate of Africa, looks at the current state of Internet access in Africa. It's full of interesting information, and demand for the graphic has led to its availability as a poster (wouldn't that be nice as a series covering the world?).

Looking at the map reminded me of a point Hans Rosling (@Hansro) makes in his AIDs talk: Africa is not a country, and characterizing regions oversimplifies the answers to meaningful questions. That observation applies equally to the question of Internet availability.

I thought both the map and Rosling's talks (all of them) were worth sharing with you. We now return to your regular workday, which is already in progress.

One of the more interesting sessions at BarCamp Charlotte was on using social media for social change. We didn't make much progress for the non-profits in attendance; mostly we learned that they need to connect with people who would like to help them. The session did, however, prime me to notice when two different programs focused on truly global issues wandered across my awareness the same day. What started as a discussion about building word of mouth for a fundraiser shifted to something much more ambitious.

I learned about zyOzy (zee-Oh-zee) when @zyOzyfounder followed me on Twitter. For me, at least, that still gets some attention. zyOzy applies a mix of events, social media and entrepreneurship to support efforts to end extreme poverty in Africa and India.

In addition to their blog, the site links to an extended online presence that includes Squidoo, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and a wiki. Who says you need a budget for an integrated media campaign?

An old friend who now works in the NGO world pointed me toward Ushahidi, a platform for crowdsourcing crisis information. Ushahidi's original project compiled and mapped incident reports in Kenya during its 2008 post-election crisis. Reports were collected from citizen reporters using mobile phones.

The underlying technology is now being developed into an open-source platform that will be available for public and private monitoring of active situations anywhere. While in private beta, Ushahidi is being used for current projects focusing on Gaza, Congo, and South Africa, as well as a follow-up Kenya project.

What can you do with almost no budget?
"Social media are free" is the first myth to be busted—especially in a corporate marketing context—but most of the costs are driven by the need to spend time building social media programs. Free social media tools and open-source platforms, such as Ushahidi or the BuzzMonitor, put a lot of capability in the hands of NGOs that are more likely to have time and volunteers than a big budget.

So much talk about a few American companies and their adventures in social media. They're good stories, but what's happening everywhere else? I'm looking for some good examples for upcoming projects—both speaking and writing. Do you have a good example to help me avoid relying on the usual suspects?

This request started with an invitation I recently received to speak at SaskInteractive's Summit09 in March. I've accepted, and I think it would be good form to have more Canadian examples. I know there's more than Molson, but I don't have a good list of them, yet. And it's not just Canada; I'd really like to know more about what companies are already doing around the world.

Here's an example of what I'm looking for: Jon Husband wrote last week about the introduction of a community site by the French railroad company SNCF. I want more of those examples, and I know that the people who read this blog know some good ones.

So, all you folks who wonder why the American companies get all the attention, who's doing social media in your neighborhood?

I've heard a lot about text analytics since I started tracking the companies who monitor and analyze social media. I've been particularly interested in the different directions people go with the same basic source data and analytical techniques. It's not all sentiment and PR; once you start extracting opinions and themes from streams of online content, the next step is to look for correlations between online trends and external events. In marketing, you're probably looking for a link to sales; some of the companies I talk to are more interested in stock prices. But if you want to know what's really wrong with the world, you might start with Europe Media Monitor (EMM) from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre.

EMM pulls current world news from online sources, clustering reports by topic and tagging them with location and language. The real charm of the service is its optimistic focus on themes such as terrorism, communicable disease, political unrest and conflict. Clustering makes it easy to track current news on your specific combination of interests in the language(s) you can read. Of course, everything is multilingual, with "about 19" languages represented (the language filter is always there to keep things readable).

The result is a customizable news service available to government and private users through web-based dashboards, RSS and email. The site has three major components:

  • NewsBrief, a quick view of the most active stories and themes, updated every 10 minutes. In addition to the global summary, NewsBrief has current news for 13 EMM themes, EC Directorates, selected international organizations, and a handful of topics focused on the European Union.

  • NewsExplorer, a global news dashboard with drill-down analysis on nations, individuals and other entities. Detail ages show a breakdown of recent news by theme, plus excerpts of current articles.

  • MedSys, a real-time dashboard and alerting system for medical and health-related issues. Detail views focus on specific diseases or bioterrorism threats, along with a volume trend chart and interactive map for drill-down analysis. In addition to email, MedSys can send alerts by SMS.
A link to EMM Labs leads to more projects, not as fully baked as the featured projects.

Registered organizations (governments?) get additional filtering and reporting options. There's also a restricted version of the MedSys site with additional information.

If you're a news junkie, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to throw your productivity out the window, but this is worth checking out. The question I'm finding most interesting lately is, "what else is this good for?" Given the history of interest in text analytics by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, it's no surprise to know that they're still looking for ways to predict the future. It is a surprise to find such interesting sources available to the public.

Hat tip to Penny Herscher, who pointed out the article from Wired.

An article in this week's BusinessWeek is stirring up a good discussion about social media and ethics in China. People aren't thrilled with the unfortunate choice of metaphor in the title, either: Inside the War Against China's Blogs. Since I linked to the original article, it seems only fair to point out some of the thoughtful responses.

French blog map for your wall

Do you remember Randall Munroe's map of online communities? Is it printed and posted somewhere in your office? It is in mine. Here's another poster that can add some color to your wall: a conceptual map of French blogs (the language, not the country), courtesy of blogger Ouinon (via Loic Le Meur).

The map, while more visually stimulating than the rest of the document, is only the packaging. The rest of the document describes 200 French blogs, grouped into categories and ranked several ways. And, of course, there's a list of all the blogs in the map, so if you want to explore, say, French art blogs, this is another way to start. Plus, it'll look great on the wall.


Translating RSS feeds


I've been thinking about languages again. I talk to a lot of companies, many of them outside the US. Fortunately for me, English is very popular as a second language, which makes the conversations possible. It doesn't always help me with their web sites and blogs, however, and so I find myself making regular use of automated translation services. The piece I'm missing is a reliable way to translate RSS feeds.

Rafe Needleman posted a quick, easy, and—when I tried it—ineffective method of translating feeds using Yahoo Pipes. The titles get translated, but the body stays in the original language. Not much help. I didn't get any farther with Google Translate, although I'm still experimenting with other combinations of translation and RSS services. If you've found a combination that works, I'd like to hear about it.

What we need is a feed translation service, which takes in a feed, translates it, and creates a new, translated feed. With the acquisition of Feedburner, Google has the pieces. Any chance they'll do it?

If the whole idea of machine translation goes against everything you know about language, I know. I'd rather be able to read all those languages, too, but there will always be languages I can't read, and I can't justify proper translations. I can do a minimally acceptable job reading the French blogs, and I can get the general idea with other Romance languages. There will always be more languages that I can't read, and for those, machine translations are a great service, even with their flaws.

Science project challenge
Speaking of languages, I haven't heard from anyone who's tried my translingual influencer analysis science project. If your company has multilingual capabilities and does influence analysis, this could be a powerful demonstration. Can you identify relevant, influential sources who pick up a topic in one language and write about it in another?


A new Weber Shandwick survey on advocacy by consumers (via Simon McDermott) provides support for the idea of paying attention to online conversations, although traditional media still outrank online for their ability to reach and influence consumers. The survey confirms the role of word of mouth advocacy as it reaches an eye-opening conclusion about international markets.

Key observations:

  • Decision-making among global consumers has accelerated.
  • 45% of global consumers identified as Advocates.
  • High-Intensity Advocates are critical to reach.
  • Badvocates waste no time.
  • Advocacy is more common in Europe and Asia.
  • Both traditional and new media play critical roles in forming Advocates' opinions.
I see support for defensive monitoring, influencer analysis and traditional media analysis in the list. What's really interesting is the observation about advocates in Europe and Asia, since most social media analysis companies say that US clients are ahead of European clients in understanding social media and the benefits to their business. It's also interesting to contrast with the English-centric services of many US and UK companies.

When I started asking social media analysis companies which languages they can handle, it seemed a simple enough question. English is ubiquitous, and a few predictable languages show up over and over again. Then I started seeing more obscure regional languages and dialects, and the language matrix started growing dramatically:

    Chinese (Mandarin)
The bottom line for clients is that you can probably find someone to monitor any language they can think of. But if you want to know what consumers in a given market are saying, you'll want a vendor who can understand their language.

Update: The Guide to Social Media Analysis (2nd edition) includes a table that summarizes the language capabilities of 63 vendors across 55 languages, from Arabic to Zulu.

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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