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Author: Kaija Poysti (Page 1 of 4)

Critical mass

Every now and then the question of critical mass pops up when discussing the uses of social media in companies and organizations. “How many users should we have before social media is useful?” IMHO there is no absolute answer to the question, as it depends entirely on what you use social media for. A wiki can be very useful for a project team of 4 people to produce project documentation – especially if they happen to reside in different countries. A board of directors consisting of 6 people can save time by having agendas and and meeting minutes stored in a shared workspace and edited by all members.

Social media is inherently social, so instead of defining critical mass one could say that the minimum mass for social media is 2 people. If writing a blog saves you a couple of emails, that is already good. Now, I am not against email per se (although my inbox is a disaster, and I never remember which folder I stored that email containg a really good link). It is just that email was never intended to be either a teamwork or an information management tool, although it is often used as such.

Tomorrow I will be talking about business opportunities in multilingual social media here in Helsinki. It should be an interesting event – more about it tomorrow. As for now, I want to conclude this entry by referring to the fact that lack of time is often mentioned as one of the main obstacles to using social media. This can well be a generational issue. The younger generation uses IM and Facebook and is almost constantly online. I still seem to spend a lot of time in meetings, or writing and preparing materials, or reading and evaluating a lot of stuff. And despite of coming from the land of mobile phones I prefer calling people to sending SMS or Twitter messages. A good friend of mine has done a lot of research on learning, and has pointed out that learning requires long enough quiet time to absorb and understand new topics and ideas. In an environment with constant instant messaging, where do we find that quiet time for learning?

A question of fluency

I was recently talking with a CEO of a company which operates in several countries all over the world. Not surprisingly, they use English as corporate language. But although they assume that new employees can work in English, there are differences in their fluency – and that can lead to misunderstandings, or people spending more time in communicating and understanding issues than they would in their own language.

I asked whether they tested the level of English skills when new employees were hired. It turned out that a tailored test based on the special terminology of their industry and also of management would be helpful in defining their skill level. After all, most of us would describe ourselves as fluent speakers of a language – but fluency is a very movable beast. Having spent most of my professional life writing an reading in English, I still manage to make errors of various seriousness practically every day. At times, such errors really obfuscate the meaning.

I repeat myself, but to me, the real future of the language business is in all the various new and yet even unimagined tools and solutions for employees working in a multilingual environment. As we exchange messages and develop ideas across contries, cultures and languages, we need new and faster ways to cross the language barriers. Using crowdsourcing for multilingual needs will open up interesting possibilities, just like in Google Translate where users can suggest a better translation.  Similar applications for crowdsourcing multilingual solutions inside companies and industries should proliferate.

Btw., an interesting point was made by another person responsible for training in a large global organization. He remarked that using social media in training allows them to evaluate the results better: they can tap into the conversations of the community and trough them see what people have learned and where they need to improve the training. Great idea!

Social action in the Arctic

In addition to contributing to the Globalization blog, I will also be blogging a bit about what is happneing in social media in Europe. I will start form my own region here in the north, but will move also southwards!

Although it is still cold here close to the Arctic regions, the social media scene is humming. One site to visit is www.arcticstartup.com, where Ville Vesterinen and his friends blog about social media business in Scandinavia and the Baltic region. In addition to the blog, which tells about the latest news about internet and mobile startups in the Nordic and Baltic region, they are also helping to create a buzzing ecosystem of sharing ideas and growing companies together. Great job!

Another place to get acquainted with Finnish social media companies is www.sombiz.net.

There are plenty of interesting social media companies in Scandinavia and Baltics – some of them even surprising. Muxlim, www.muxlim.com, a global Muslim community, has its roots in Finland. Games are another strong area here; www.playfinland.fi is a great site to follow news about the Finnish game development scene. Max Payne came from Finland, and there are several interesting new companies, such as Frosmo (www.frosmo.com).

In addition to consumer social media, things are happening in the Enterprise 2.0 area, but more on that in next entries!

One of the areas which I will be interested to follow is: how will European social media companies address the question of handling languages in social media? Although many communities will be monolingual, I think there are enormous needs in corporations to handle multiple languages in the various Enterprise 2.0 applications. And with multiple languages, I mean much more than the user interface: all the user-generated content, communicating with customers, open innovations etc. Thoughs or comments on this?

From Finland with love

After a long pause, I am happy to be back as a guest blogger here!  The quiet time was well spent, though: last year I co-authored a book on using, and especially about how to start using, social media in corporations (www.wikimaniaayrityksiin.blogspot.com). Available only in Finnish, I am afraid, but for a good reason: when talking about a new topic, it IS important to write in the language of the audience to introduce it.

Over the years I have heard both pros and cons about using local language. Some say that it is much better to write everything in English: wider audience and discussion, no need to invent translations for concepts. Others are as adamant about the fact that non-native English speakers are better off reading about a new topic in their own language to understand the concepts. For me, there is no right or wrong answer; both are needed.

Another very nice event was having Frank visit Finland last fall to give an excellent talk at the KITES seminar. KITES is a Finnish association for multilingual and multicultural communications; more about it in later blogs.

The Social Language

Although it is already mid-January, I would still like to wish everyone a very good 2008! It definitely looks to be an interesting year.

Back to blogging, after a very long pause. The reason was my major geographical transition: after 8 very nice years in Boston, we returned to the bi-lingual Finland and the very multi-lingual European union last autumn. The time required for a trans-Atlantic move is not to be underestimated!

Leonor’s interview with Director General Lonnroth about the languages in the EU is an excellent description of the world on this side of the Atlantic. On a very personal note, I love tuning to YLE Mondo radio every time I am driving; a local station broadcasting news from several different countries. I even get the NPR! I listen to German, French, Spanish, and Italian news, and at the same time notice the differences there are not just in the language, but also in the content. Even more fun is to listen to news from Australia and South Africa, which really change the world perspective. A good reminder that from Africa or Australia, many things do look different than from the US or from Europe. How lovely it would be to understand what they say in Chinese, Japanese or Arabic, to name just a few languages!

Anyways, things are finally starting to find their places in their new home, so I am back to blogging. We had a wonderful Gilbane conference in Boston at the end of November; it got so many ideas going in my head, especially about the social aspects of content, search, collaboration – and of course language. The question “Where are languages in social media” was asked in the conference, and the first answer was on the lines of: gee, that is a tough thing to solve. True – and yet I am convinced that we will begin to see very new types of tools and solutions. It was interesting to note that several examples were given on how in corporations social media enabled people find a language speaker inside the organization. “Through our collaboration tool, we found someone who speaks Japanes and can check our translations.” “We realized someone in our German office could translate the materials we needed.” Language skills become yet another skill to be shared in communities.

Another interesting point was that MT and its usefulness came up. With the amount of user-generated information exploding, there is no chance to human-translate everything. Could this be the real coming of age of MT?

I spoke with one multilingual service provider who said that they have started receiving requests for checking user-generated content in corporate community sites. Interesting. I would guess that need for automated checking of “bad words” increases as more content on corporate sites comes not from employees but from anyone in the web. Enterprise searches have to be multilingual, but there is always room to improve.

As Leonor pointed out: collaboration yields knowledge. That knowledge is multilingual.

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