Monday, April 26, 2004


The learning journey continues...

As an active member of no less than 6 online discussion forums, the issue regarding the use of language and participation level across large diverse online communities begs further consideration. For me it raises the question as to how well we actually understand each other and highlights our ability (or lack of it) to clearly communicate what we are trying to say through such a limited vehicle.

Recently I find myself witnessing a rising number of these online forums falling fowl of many, if not all of the following:

• Poor, incomplete and duplicated communication
• Lack of responses and singular self-absorbed postings
• Use of complex and confusing language
• Cultural differences and interpretations
• Arrogant on-line behaviour.

Worth noting that two of the forums are American, one is European and three are UK-based, and all have at some time experienced the above.

You could argue that normal meetings produce the exact same problems and this is true, yet these online forums are established to develop better knowledge-sharing and communication opportunities and are totally dependent on voluntary contributions. What appears to be occurring, in some of these, is a decline in contributions and worse still one or two individuals ‘battling it out’ in full glare of other ‘lurkers’ who watch from the sidelines and wonder whether to get involved or not. Others just decide that it is not worth the investment in time or energy and adopt the ‘two feet principle’ and walk away.

An online community is not a community if its players don’t contribute!

I found a very astute and accurate comment about one such forum yesterday that is worth reproducing here as it hits the mark very well. Putting this comment into context, the forum it relates to is specifically about improving electronic communications and in particular relates to Language Engine (LE) technology that is designed to help adapt highly context specific language into a common vocabulary. Here is the comment:

“In the ‘Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ the Babel fish sat in your ear and translated any language into your own. Your [forum] headline article highlights the proportion of projects that fail to deliver the expected benefits. I believe that the problems often stem from the sound bite language used to promote projects. For example, your article carries the following quote about the benefits of standard medical terminology: “to transparently standardise information against a consistent knowledge base to drive decision-support and outcomes-based analyses." The irony that I need my Babel fish to translate a statement about improving the use of language is not lost on me, and I can see the funny side. But how will I know whether the project has delivered if I don't really understand what it's all about?

Telling isn't it?

Why not go to the brilliant Plain English Campaign website, which is an independent pressure group fighting for public information to be written in plain English, with more than 6000 registered supporters in 70 countries, it is worth a look!

REFLECTION AND LEARNING STOP: Ask someone you trust to feedback to you their impression about the way you communicate, are you clear and concise, is what you say understandable and more importantly, what does the way you communicate say about you? Only do this is if you are ready to hear what they say and take action upon what you learn!


The POL Experience