Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dialing without mittens (Twitter in Catalan #twitterencatala)

We want Twitter translated into Catalan, image by Vilaweb.catWe Americans mostly speak English (and exclusively English) and are so lucky to have so much technology in our own language. Imagine, for a minute, if we didn't. If you had to navigate in French or in Japanese. It would feel like dialing a telephone with mittens on.

Catalans dial with mittens every day because Twitter's interface is not available in Catalan. Twitter announced last week the translation into five new languages with plans for six more, none of which was Catalan. There is no logical reason for this. Catalan has more speakers than several of the languages proposed and has a vibrant, active online community. Catalan, for example, is the 13th most used language on Wikipedia with over 350,000 articles published in that language, many more than say, Wikipedia articles in Korean, Malay, Danish, or Hungarian, all of which have or are slated to have Twitter versions.

In fact Dick Costolo, Twitter's CEO, promised last year that Twitter would soon be found in Catalan. And yet the months pass by, and it doesn't happen.

Since I joined Twitter a couple of years ago, it has turned into one of the most important tools on my computer. It helps me learn new technologies, keep up with the ones I already know something about, connect with colleagues all over the world, and confirm if what I just felt really was an earthquake.

One of the best features of Twitter is the way it conveys what Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein call “ambient intimacy” in their excellent work, The Twitter Book. Ambient intimacy is the connection that you feel for people who you follow by dint of the personal details that they add to their Twitter feeds.

And despite the luddite view that knowing what someone had for lunch is just too much information, knowing that they barbecue organic vegetables or can their own strawberry jam really does give context to the more professional information they might be sharing. In the same way that the real life examples in my books make the technical information more tangible, and thus more intelligible, knowing something about the people we are talking to online makes the information they share all the more valuable, and frankly, more interesting.

Which is a very long explanation of why I tweet so much about Catalonia and Barcelona and the Catalan language and Catalan politics and human castle building and calçots.

Albert Cuesta, a journalist in Catalonia, started a petition to ask Twitter to provide its interface in Catalan. I ask you to please sign that petition: He's not even asking Twitter to do the translation, just to allow that the translation be made. And then please retweet and spread the word.

Today at 2pm EDT, 11am PDT, and 8pm local time in Barcelona (CET), we will tweet in unison our request to translate Twitter into Catalan. Please join us by adding #twitterencatala @jack @biz @dickc to your tweets.

Catalans, too, deserve the right to use this powerful tool in their own language; to dial without mittens.


  1. This is a bit disingenuous. I am of two minds about the Catalan state, but your thorough glossing over of the overripe politics surrounding the issue is a bit much. Your '# of speakers' link is probably the most disingenuous: the second largest concentration of speakers is in Valencia, yet I do not see you arguing that they should have an experience "without mittens" and that Twitter should provide its interface in Valencian.

    Not that any of that is a reason for Mr. Costolo to reneg on his promise.

  2. Valencian is Catalan. It doesn't matter which variation of the lenguage they use.

  3. There is something your should know. Catalan coexist with Spanish, and catalan is the second language in Catalonia. In spain we have different languages like Catalan, Euskera, Gallego, and some varieties like de Valencian, Asturian... in spain is know by everyone that there is always a campaign for the catalan or the independence of this territory and it's a problem and something that causes argues between people from spain and people only from catalonia, but here in Barcelona have people who don't like this ideology.

    For me it's not a problem if they put Catalan in Twitter, but it should be also Euskera, Gallego and the other languages, like in Facebook.

  4. When discussing about Twitter in catalan and referring to Catalans, everybody that speaks the language is included, no matter which country you talk about.

    And looks like some always turn it out in a political discussion. Relax, this time is only about a translation in our own language, yours included.

    Thanks for the great article.

  5. Hi Pau,

    I think it is great that you ask for Twitter in Catalan, you have my full support. But stating that "this time" is not a political issue is somehow naif. Everything around Catalan is a political issue, sadly enough. It has been transformed by politicians in the main weapon to fight between them, and too many people use it a difference factor between human beings.
    Again, to me is just a language and therefore I hope Twitter or any other SW supports it. But trying to make us think it is not a political issue...
    Best regards


  6. "There is something you should know": Catalan coexists with Spanish in Spain, with French in France... and CATALAN IS THE FIRST LANGUAGE IN CATALONIA, ANDORRA, BALEARIC ISLANDS, VALENCIA (where it can be called "Valencian"). The second language is Spanish in Catalonia, Balearic Islands and Valencia, because of the simple fact it's imposed by law, and it was imposed by the force of arms during the last 500 years, like French succeeded to be imposed in Northern Catalonia.
    Yes, "there is something you should know".


  7. Hi again Pau,

    I still support your case today (strongly), but as you see from latest post, yes, it is a political issue. Not to mention the sentence of the Supreme Court or the Sabadell High School incidence.
    Again, this is pure political as Alfons states which still makes your case for Twitter absolutely right.


  8. Asking for a translated interface a political issue? You can't be serious.

    It's about translating an interface, it's not about asking for a separated TT zone or something.

    Honestly, only someone who considers any humble advance in the use of Catalan as a threat can view it as a political issue. The kind of people who would like it reduced to a folklorical pecularity.


More of my books