The Meedan Blog Archive

How do we build a truly cross-language cross-cultural community?

Notes on the challenges facing Meedan’s community builders - presented in a webinar to advisers on 15 January 2009.

There’s little doubt that Meedan’s aim to build an online community that straddles barriers of language and culture is an ambitious and challenging task. Not least in the midst of Israel’s grueling and deadly war in Gaza.

When you think about it, the challenges can seem daunting.

So often, new media technologies on the web are used to entrench language barriers and world views.

In recent weeks, I’ve been struck by just how many Facebook groups are tied to one view or other and the extent to which comment threads in newspaper sites crowd out views which challenge the consensus.

In the context of a deeply divisive war, this trend only grows.

So, how can we really hope to cross barriers at a time so filled with polemic and hate such as this?

How do we create points of commonality when traditional media are so firmly focused on forging national, class or language ties?

How do we encourage engagement over hostility?

How do we respect diverse cultural sensitivities and at the same time create an interesting and dynamic environment?

How do we grow volunteer culture equally among very different audiences?

It can feel like we’re entering unchartered space.

There has been much thinking around these questions in Meedan, and this is important.

For certain, we can’t ever assume we have the answers and stop listening, stop taking feedback on board, and stop responding to user experience.

But there has to be a plan – a way of tackling these questions. This is, at heart, the Meedan vision.

It’s about creating a certain kind of environment.

On Meedan we create the sense of commonality through conversation around diverse media narratives.

Each story or event that hits the headlines comes with multiple perspectives, multiple points of friction.

We aggregate these views onto Meedan and talk about them. Different views are part and parcel of the Meedan experience.

What’s more we try to put you in touch with a person near the event. On Meedan, location matters.

The networking tools mean you can go further than in a newspaper thread. You can take a conversation private. You can hear from the guy who lives just down the street from where it all happened.

You can become friends.

And it’s all translated by a combination of Machines and people. So as soon as you enter the thread, you enter a place that’s crossing boundaries already.

Our core community sets the tone by trying to find the space for conversation. Our translators intermediate.

We have moderation tools too so you can flag inappropriate comments.

And with a distributed network of professional translators and web journalists across the Middle East, USA and UK working alongside volunteers, we have a healthy mix of professional insight with volunteer horsepower.

So is this unchartered territory? We say no. Meedan’s closest partners have all made vast strides in this space and have huge experience to bring to the task. Meedan is merely putting the technology and a new kind of network together.

We hope you’ll join for the ride.

-George Weyman