Reaching Out to Africa

On October 27, 2009 · 2 Comments

I’ve been tracking the countries of origin of Twelve Mile Circle visitors for nearly two years. That’s not entirely surprising for a website that relies upon geographic content as its primary reason for existence. I’ve reported before that one of my goals is to collect at least one visitor from every country, filling in the geopolitical map. I’ve done extremely well worldwide except for one continent. Africa.


Twelve Mile Circle Visitors from Africa

Countries shaded in green represent visitors to my site. Notice the huge swaths of empty territory. I’m in a bit of a quandary as I try to figure out how I can develop a greater African readership. One obvious way that came to mind would be to increase coverage of geo-oddities in Africa. I do have some already, for example:

However, even when I’ve feature African content it has never increased visitors from the continent. This contrasts with topics I’ve featured on other continents. Generally a few hits will dribble in from Google searches in the first weeks and sometimes quite a bit more over a sustained period.

I’m guessing that the Twelve Mile Circle may also have a Euro-centric point of view that simply does not resonate with an African audience. Perhaps I should also think of Africa less as a monolith and more as its actual rich tapestry of very distinct cultures and peoples.

I suppose another issue would be that this website is written in English and Africa is a continent of many languages, both traditional and the colonial holdovers. Unfortunately there’s not much I can do about that. I did take a couple of years of French and Spanish during my school years but never gained much proficiency. Running various pages through translation websites won’t work either. The translators have gotten a lot better over the years but they still mangle the language pretty horrifically. As an example, I can use software to translate this paragraph into Swahili.

Nadhani ingekuwa suala jingine kwamba tovuti hii imeandikwa kwa Kiingereza na Afrika ni bara ya lugha nyingi, wawili wa jadi na holdovers ukoloni. Si kwa bahati mbaya kuna mengi naweza kufanya kuhusu hilo. I did kuchukua miaka michache ya Kifaransa na Kihispania wakati shule yangu miaka lakini kamwe kupata kiasi duni. Mbio mbalimbali kurasa kupitia Tafsiri Nje haitafanya kazi aidha. Ya Watafsiri kuwa Gotten nyingi bora zaidi ya miaka lakini bado mangle lugha pretty horrifically. Kama mfano, naweza kutumia programu ya kutafsiri aya hii katika Kiswahili.

But if I take this Swahili text and translate it back into English it reads,

I think it would be another matter that this site is written in English and African languages is just the most, two of the traditional and colonial holdovers. Unfortunately not a lot I can do about it. I did take a few years of French and Spanish during my school years but never get much less. Running through the various pages All websites will not work either. Gotten a team that many years better but still pretty horrifically Jingle language. As an example, I can use the program to interpret this paragraph in Kiswahili.

No, that definitely does not seem to be an option. Actually it seems almost insulting.

I’m willing to take suggestions either on a general approach or about specific geo-oddities on the African continent. Please feel free to post a comment if you have any thoughts or recommendations.

On October 27, 2009 · 2 Comments

2 Responses to “Reaching Out to Africa”

  1. Craig says:

    Your stats already appear to gibe fairly well with African internet usage:

    http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats1.htm

    It looks like you have the top nine countries based on percentage of overall internet users in Africa, accounting for 82.6% of the users (Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, South Africa, Sudan, Algeria, Kenya, Tunisia, and Uganda). And you have 16 of the top 25, accounting for 95.4% of users.

    The limiting factor for your blog isn’t the lack of interesting topics, but simply a lack of potential readership.

    (And FWIW, you already cover the East Africa countries where Swahili is most prevalent fairly well. If anything, you would need to add Arabic and probably French ahead of Swahili, then Portuguese.)

  2. Craig says:

    As for the question of translation using a machine translator, one way to improve performance is to revise your original text per the errors that you find in the initial translation.

    Notice that the Swahili version of your paragraph contains the English words “holdovers”, “I did”, “gotten”, “mangle”, and “pretty horrifically”. These are words and phrases that the translator either didn’t recognize (“holdovers”, “mangle”, “horrifically”) or couldn’t parse (“I did [take]”, “gotten”, and “pretty” as an adverb).

    I speak many languages myself, so I’ve got a feel for what machine translators can and cannot handle. This is how I would simplify your example paragraph to get it into a machine translation ready state:

    It is also a problem that this website is written in English, but Africa is a continent of many traditional languages and colonial languages. Unfortunately, I can not do much about that. I had learned French and Spanish for a few years in school, but I never learned to speak either well. I also cannot use websites for translation. The translators have become much better over the years, but they still make bad mistakes. As an example, I can use software to translate this paragraph into Swahili.

    Google turns that into:

    Pia ni tatizo kwamba tovuti hii imeandikwa kwa Kiingereza, lakini Afrika ni bara ya wengi jadi lugha na lugha ya kikoloni. Bahati mbaya, siwezi kufanya mengi kuhusu hayo. Mimi alijifunza Kifaransa na Kihispania kwa miaka michache katika shule, lakini mimi kamwe kusema aidha kujifunza vizuri. Mimi pia hawawezi kutumia tovuti kwa tafsiri. Ya wafasiri zimekuwa bora zaidi kwa miaka, lakini bado kufanya makosa mabaya. Kama mfano, naweza kutumia programu ya kutafsiri aya hii katika Kiswahili.

    And that translates back via Google as:

    It is also the problem that this site is written in English, but Africa is a continent of many traditional languages and colonial languages. Unfortunately, I can not do much about it. I learned French and Spanish for a few years in school, but I never learn to speak properly either. I also can not use the site for interpretation. The translators have been better for years, but still make bad mistakes. As an example, I can use the program to interpret this paragraph in Kiswahili.

    Unfortunately, like the Monty Python Hungarian Phrasebook, there’s no way to be sure it’s right without learning the language.

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