This morning I saw some article in the Chronicle about little-known Web 2.0 sites that have been popping up left and right all over the place. For those of you who haven’t heard this little phrase, “Web 2.0” is a reference to up-and-coming technology that’s “revolutionizing” the web. At it’s base, Web 2.0 is all about web content that’s created in large part by users. Flickr.com, MySpace, and Digg are all good examples of Web 2.0. It’s all the rage nowadays, in part, because there’s money to be had. Because all the venture capitalists in Silicon Valley found something worth investing in. Good for them.
It’s all pretty cool, if you ask me. Hooray for user-generated, community based content. But, on the other hand, if you read the posts on the Digg article up there, you’ll find a perfectly clear example of the pitfalls regarding user-generated, community based content.
People can be pretty dumb.
So here’s the deal. Someone posts a link to some news article or some interesting tidbit on the web to Digg. Then Digg users comment on the story and “digg it,” which means rating it with a little thumbs-up or -down depending on whether or not the user thinks it’s relevant, interesting, well-reported, accurate, whatever. I’ve found links to quite a few good articles, interesting blogs, and how-to tips this way.
In this case, the linked article is a little site that “translates” Western names into Japanese. (The site has crashed since it was linked and I was unable to actually view it, a side effect of being dugg one suspects.) As I understand it, what the site does is take someone’s name, like, oh I don’t know, “Scott.” Then converts this to how it would be pronounced in Japanese and assigns kanji to the phonetic reading of the name. Which isn’t an accurate way to “translate” a Western name into Japanese. It isn’t accurate because my name in Japanese would be SU-KO-TU and written in katakana thusly ã‚¹ã‚³ãƒ„, not kanji. You could transliterate this into kanji if you wanted, but I’m pretty sure whatever those characters mean would be wildly different from what “Scott” means in English. Which is just “Scot,” someone from Scotland.
Okay. So the silly little translate your name into Japanese site is just that. Silly. But it’s garnered hundreds of responses on Digg and been the subject of some rather heated debates on the accuracy or validity of this site. (Thankfully no one’s touched on the latent racism inherent in the activity of mistranslating one’s name and making fun of those silly Japanese and their silly language. I can only imagine that this debate would be just sad to watch given the participants.)
I could dismiss this as “these people have too much time on their hands.” But then I’d have to cop to the fact that I’m writing a blog entry about it which means I have too much time on my hands. So I’ll have to say something else witty and astute and insightful about the Web 2.0.
But nothing’s coming to mind. Mostly because I don’t think having the masses debate about the validity of a “Japanese translator” is such a bad thing. I rather like the fact that the web has now given everyone a chance to chime in about little, trivial things like this. I know it’s trivial. But, then again, it’s still new. The web seems to make time speed up and people forget that it’s still a new medium. But it is new, and because it’s new I think we need to cut the web some slack. It’s like being the first person to show up at a party. At first the conversation is light, small talk. You’re just getting used to your surroundings and wondering who’s going to show up. You don’t want to stumble into the social faux pas of talking about politics or religion. But then, after a while, as more people show up, as you have a couple more cocktails, you loosen up and the conversation goes where it will.
I suspect the same to be true of the web. We’re all just showing up right now. Give us some time and we’ll be putting all this new technology to more worthwhile, less trivial pursuits than arguing about inaccurate Japanese translation tools. Given enough time, we’ll be able to tackle much more weighty issues.