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onsdag den 14. august 2013, kl. 18.05

A suggestion for implementing a mixed, trans-lingual twitter

Dear Twitter -

It is no secret that I very much love your platform and your service. And one of the fantastic benefits we users get from twitter, is the ability to connect with other people around the globe, and find out firsthand what peoples ideas and thoughts are, in to us exotic places.

There is one obstacle to following and being followed internationally - language.

While I am not going to suggest you translate every tweet into every language, I think I can here present a viable (and at the core, simple) solution to some of the problems language presents to Twitter users.

The Problem
If you only read and write one language, and are happy following and being followed by people speaking only your own language, then you have probably never encountered this problem. But if you mainly tweet in a smaller language, then chances are big you'll have encountered several dilemmas concerning language - and not being able to find a perfect solution.

In other words - if you are the typical english-only speaking American you probably don't know about this problem. If you are from a smaller country you probably do.

The thing is, if you want to follow someone who only occasionally tweet in a language you do understand - then you are going to get a lot of tweets you simply do not understand. Consider @DrBassemYoussef for example - if I were to follow him, I would be getting a whole lot of tweets I have no idea what say, since I do not understand Arabic, and an occasional one I do understand, when he makes a tweet in English.

This would be no problem if it were just one person I followed like this. But if I start following many who makes occasional tweets in a language I understand, but mostly in something that to me is gibberish - then soon my whole timeline will start to be bogged down in gibberish.

Therefore I choose to follow very few of these only understandable accounts, although I in many cases feel like I'm missing out on something, since I would like to be there when they make a tweet I can understand.

As a native Danish speaker I have a similar problem. Most of my tweets are in Danish, but sometimes I would like to discuss international events internationally - i.e in English. But since most of my tweets are in Danish, it is almost impossible to get any followers that do not understand Danish. Which I can indeed understand, as it is the exact same problem I have with people tweeting mostly in a language I do not understand.

Some Danes have therefore chosen to tweet almost exclusively in English, but in so doing they have a problem discussing Danish affairs (since they don't want their feed to fill up with tweets in Danish, as this might scare away the International Horde, and it is really awkward to discuss Danish affairs between to Danes in, tweeting in English).

Other set up an English language account, and then have to switch back and forth, and not have your "home crowd" see your English tweets. This is the solution I myself chose with @TheLeopardBoy, and it's not really working out very well - because @Leoparddrengen is my prime account, and the one from which I enter discussions, even if they are in English. Maybe it would work better if I were more disciplined - but I'm not.

This is of course not a problem facing only Danes, but people from all minor languages - and, as such also people from major languages, although they are less aware of the problem.

My proposed solution
Basically it's simple: only show users tweets in languages they have said they want to receive. That way you can follow as many exotic tweeps you'd like, you won't be overwhelmed by a lot of gibberish, but only see tweets that you can actually understand.

And as a Dane, I would be able to make most of my tweets in Danish, without scaring away anybody, as they would only see the occasional one in English.

Technically this can be accomplished by:

To each user add:

  • An option to filter languages (if turned off it will work like today)
  • A selection of accepted languages
  • A default language (for new tweets)

To each tweet add:

  • Language information - which language does the tweeter say this is

That's basically it. The language information is taken from the default language, when tweeting, unless specifically changed by the user. So @DrBassemYoussef could have as default Arabic, and only change it for tweets made in English, and I could have my default language set to Danish, and likewise only change it for tweets made in English - and we could follow each other without swamping the other with un-understandable tweets.

And it would be much more appealing to follow people in exotic places, who mix their languages. As it would be much more appealing for people in exotic places to follow me, even though I mix my languages.

My accepted language list would probably be something like Danish, English, Norwegian, Swedish, German, Dutch - stuff I'd have a chance understanding. Others might have a longer list, or a shorter one, or accept all languages (as is the case today).

Further benefits
While the main benefit would be to make it easier for people to follow each other internationally, with less regard to "language noise", I see more benefits for users and Twitter.

International hashtags: As it is today, many international events has an official hashtag - but many from smaller languages choose to use a "local" one instead. Because, if we Danes for example, use the international hashtag, our tweets will be drowned, not make much sense to most reading them - and it will fill the international (ie English) with noise.

A very good example of the is the yearly European Song Contest, which is a big event on twitter - but is very fragmented. And it's probably the same way with most trans-European events. If language filtering was implemented in hashtag search, then everybody could use the same hashtag.

Also, knowing which languages a user "accepts", and languages tweeted, would be of great benefit for Twitter, when determining which users to suggest to follow to a particular user.

And certainly not least, it should help Twitter target promoted tweet and promoted users better.

And I'm sure there are many other benefits to be discovered.

In conclusion
I sincerely hope you will consider implementing this, or something like it, in a future API. I really believe it would become a great feature in making twitter even more of a tool to help people interconnect, globally.

This idea is free of charge. If you can use it - please do so, even if it only inspires you; I'm not going to come running demanding any kind of compensation if you do :)

I will continue to love twitter, even if nothing is done about this mixing of languages, but I will love it even more if a great solution is found.


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