Monday, February 15, 2010

Putting World Streets to work in other languages.
Example: Nuova Mobilità, Sustainable Transport in Italy

From the outset in late 2008, we were aware that the reach of World Streets into the field was going to be constrained by the problem of language. For if in countries in which English is not a main working language there are always a certain number of people who are comfortable dealing with text in English, this is not the case for the greater number of those who work at the local level with the issues. So we knew we were going to need another approach to reach these people. Our first test case to show how it is possible to work competently in another language was Italy, leading to a global/local partnership and the creation of a new journal covering sustainable transport in Italian: Nuova Mobilità.

Summary: Working with machine translations:

How to use, limitations, work-arounds: To make the contents of World Streets more broadly accessible to friends and colleagues who work primarily in other language groups, we have linked the site to the increasingly well-performing Google machine translation engines that you will now find here. In each case all you have to do is click the language in which you wish to see the rough translation, and it will quickly appear on your monitor.

If you read the translation in parallel with the English-language original in front of you, you will in almost all cases be able to arrive at a pretty fair understanding of the thrust and main content of that particular article or announcement. The result is not literature; it is a rough and ready working tool for someone who needs to know. It works better in some languages than others. In any event it is not a substitute for a professional translation, but by contrast it can be in your hands in seconds, and can be extremely helpful for those who are ready to make an effort to use it with judgment. Some people will use it when they need it, others will complain and set it aside. That is for you to choose. (We use it and use it every day. And always with caution.)

Start here: What's wrong with English for World Streets?

Actually working in English gives us a great start -- various statistics indicate that it is the first language of going on to four hundred million people, and if you include second language speakers the number moves up to something on the order of half a billion. That is five hundred million people who can, one would hope, pick up and read daily articles in World Streets with ease. That is a big number.

On the other hand it leaves out on the order of six billion people organize their daily lives around other languages, and since it is our chosen mission to create and reinforce networks of people at various levels of government and participation in public life around the world in matters of sustainable transport, we would be remiss in our function if we neglected this important fact. With this in mind, we have from the beginning of publication continuously brainstormed with anyone who cared to join us on the matter of how to get the contents of World Streets, and with it the leading edge of worldwide developments and thinking in the field of sustainable transportation, into the hands of the people who are working in countries in cities around the world where working language is other than English.

As a result of these exchanges we decided not to continue to chat and plan, but rather to start with full scale real time public demonstration showing how it is possible to create an Italian-language edition carefully adapted to the needs and interests of Italian readers working with or following developments in this area. It took more than three months to plan, but by 1 July 2009 the first issue of Nuova Mobilità was ready to go on line on.

What happened? "Executive summary in two quick images":

Thinking that your time might be short today, let's start at the end, showing you what happened in one country, Italy, when we developed a collaborative version of World Streets with skilled and committed local partners. Two pictures will serve for a thousand words.

The first of these is a map from our files showing the last eighty people to come into World Streets in late June, a few days before we started publication of the first number of Nuova Mobilità. You will note that despite the impressive worldwide coverage (extending to more than seventy countries on all continents), there were on that day zero entries coming in from Italian cities. Zero!

Before: World Streets reader map of 26 June 2009:


And now, half a year after start-up if we next look at the map showing the last eighty entries into Nuova Mobilità in the last 24 hours, an entirely different picture emerges.

After: Nuova Mobilità reader map of 13 February 2009:


Listing of Italian cities checking in
This listing of cities will be of more interest to our Italian readers than most of us surely, but what may interest them about it is that these 74 cities are listed in the order of the frequency with which readers have some into N/M.

Rome, Milan, Turin, Palermo, Cocquio Trevisago, Molfetta, Bologna, Verona, Padova, Azzano Decimo, Crotone, Ferrara, Potenza, Bergamo, Brescia, Torino, Pesaro, Genoa, Naples, Cagliari, Trieste, Novara, Catania, Piacenza, Treviso, Caserta, San Vero Milis, Manduria, Parma, Modena, San Martino Siccomario, Corato, Teramo, Favaro Veneto, Monserrato, Grùmolo, San Cesario Di Lecce, Giugliano In Campania, Montichiari, Solaro, Bresso, Ciserano, Lecce, Bari, Florence, Quartucciu, Castelnuovo, Rosarno, Brivio, Pisa, Santeramo In Colle, Pontinia, Cormano, Pescara, Catanzaro, Sannicandro Di Bari, San Donato Milanese, Trebaseleghe, San Severino Marche, Abano Terme, Nocera Inferiore, Medole, Varese, Galliera Veneta, Quartu Sant'elena, Leghorn, Limbiate, Capodrise, Turriaco, Cesena, Origgio, Incisa, Monza, Stezzano.

What is the expression: build it and they will come? Apparently this holds for more than building more roads. We need to do more of this kind of building.

Implications for other countries and other language editions

The lessons of this successful joint are perfectly clear. What we have seen works in a country like Italy can also be at least tested and most probably would, with the right kind of collaboration, work in other parts of the world as well. In fact we think this is extremely important and intend to make this one of the strong collaborative development pushes of World Streets over 2010.

We are at this time in early discussion with colleagues in a handful of countries with a view to examining this template and seeing how it might be put to work to provide high-quality coverage in other countries and language groups. Here are our priority targets:
* Chinese
* French
* Spanish
* Portuguese
* Arabic
* German
* Turkish
We have yet to define a working agreement and operations plan with any of these eventual future partners, but as soon as we do please be sure that our readers will be the first to be informed. If you wish to have a more detailed idea as to the process and the reasoning behind these collaborative projects, we invite you to read on to see how all this was handled in the case of Italy and" Nuova Mobilità - Il Diario Italiano del Trasporto Sostenibile".

Building Nuova Mobilità.

The reasons for giving this collaborative Italian project early priority were three-fold:
(a) Potential: Its potential to fill a gap as a trusted neutral Italian language source with one-click links to information and perspective on the full range of leading new mobility developments worldwide.

(b) Partners: Our good fortune in finding an Italian team willing to work with us on a volunteer basis for the half year or so it is going to take to get it off the ground.

(c) Prof of concept: And finally the way in which we hoped that, in time and with work, the Italian project would develop into a first-cut technical and organizational template ready to aid other language/country versions to follow in 2010 and beyond.

1. "New Mobility" for Italian readers

Italy provides an interesting and in many ways quite typical example of how the diverse strands that we call sustainable transport or new mobility are (or are not) being woven together to create better transport and better cities within a country or language area. Now as you can see in the pages of N/M, the new mobility concept is in fact gradually taking hold in Italy, but it is still very much in a minority position, and when implemented for the most part occurs on a project by project basis -- and only here and there with a broader unifying strategy. On this last score there is still plenty of room for progress. (But to be perfectly frank, there are few places in the world which have thus far really started to put all the pieces together.)

Italy had a strong claim for immediate treatment on the grounds that we had the good fortune to have already collaborated there successfully with Italian colleagues led by Enrico Bonfatti who showed up fully bilingual, understanding the underlying concepts and ready to get to work on them. Over the two months-plus we have worked with them day by day to lay a base for our collaborative project, we communicated by phone, email, Skype and videoconference on almost a daily basis, and often multiple times each day. (And this was certainly a low-carbon approach since at no time did any of us actually get on a plane or train to get the job done. Today's technologies were and are fully up to the job. And we suggest that this lesson can also usefully inform future collaborative projects.

The first World Streets’ spin-off, Nuova Mobilità, which you can now visit, work with and profit from is online at http://nuovamobilita.org/

2. Nuova Mobilità has two functions within Italy:

Window on sustainable transport in the world:
First, to provide a window on the world of new mobility for those Italian readers who are more comfortable working in their own language. To do this, the editorial team selects daily articles from World Streets and other sources which they feel will be of particular interest to the Italian reader. They then both translate and adapt them for the Italian context, with adjustments and contextual information to make them more informative for the Italian reader in search of new ideas, leads and approaches.

Window on sustainable transport in Italy:
But Nuova Mobilità also has an important “internal” function within Italy as well, namely that of providing a central information and exchange point for outstanding projects and programs, and problems and barriers inhibiting change, that are going on in various cities and parts of the peninsula. There are a number of programs and web sites already active in the sector in various places, but most of these focus on a specific problem or approach -- for example cycling, public transport, carsharing, school transport, climate issues, environmental concerns more generally, for specific cities, etc.-- Nuova Mobilità can serve as a valuable clearing house function, with its global/local orientation.

Editorial independence:
Like World Streets, Nuova Mobilità retains complete independence in terms of editorial content and the views expressed. Moreover, the program is informed by a consistent set of guiding principles which you will find spelled out in the Mission Statement.

3. Nuova Mobilità: Template for future country/language editions:

One of the main potential contributions of Nuova Mobilità is that it is put before you not as a plan or a promise, but as an operational working entity already in place and there to serve as a pioneer and concrete example for other country/language editions. Of course it can be improved in many ways, including technically, and that is part of the task of both the Italian team and the collaborators at World Streets. But Nuova Mobilità exists, it is there, it works, and it is already in place to perform valuable functions.

It is our view that despite the enormous reach of the internet and the availability of ever-better (and free) machine translation services, native language coverage is needed by many people in many places. The reality is that it is not all that easy reading every day in a second or third language. Most of us do best working in our mother tongue. The task of full and rapid comprehension of a fair body of materials that come in day after day, already difficult enough for most topics, becomes even more challenging in a new area such as this which continuously brings in many new, less familiar concepts, and along with them a new and fast-evolving vocabulary, thus adding yet another level of complexity to the challenge of understanding what is really going on.

Thus it is our firm intention to find other language/country partners to work with them to build on the Italian example which can be exported in its entirety to serve as a sort of first-stage template for future language/country editions.

To this end, we are already in preliminary discussion with eventual Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, French and German language partners the possibility of building on this example with new dedicated websites and supporting programs in the months ahead. But the list of countries and languages of course need not end there. Nor should it.

# # #

Working with machine translations: How to use, limitations, work-arounds
To make the contents of World Streets more broadly accessible to friends and colleagues who work primarily in other language groups, we have linked the site to the increasingly well-performing Google machine translation engines that you will now find here. In each case all you have to do is click the language in which you wish to see the rough translation, and it will quickly appear on your monitor.

If you read the translation in parallel with the English-language original in front of you, you will in almost all cases be able to arrive at a pretty fair understanding of the thrust and main content of that particular article or announcement. It is of course not a substitute for a professional translation, but it can be extremely helpful for those who are ready to make an effort to use it with judgment.

# # #

For more information on Nuova Mobilità:

Contact: Enrico Bonfatti, Editor. editore@nuovamobilita.org
Nuova Mobilità is at http://nuovamobilita.org
Skype: nuova.mobilita
Click here to read Nuova Mobilità in English (machine translation)

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