Sometime around when I was 14 years old the World Wide Web showed up. and it seems that I have been developing with it ever since. So never, ever did I expect to be as lost on the Internet as I currently am: it feels like the one domain where I should be competent. With the help of an anonymous invite donor, I signed up for grono.net, a Polish social networking site akin to Facebook or MySpace. I thought the transition would be simple enough, and within an hour or so my profile would be set up and I’d be arguing about the merits of European hip-hop in no time. Boy, was I wrong.
I just want to preface this experience with the fact that I speak Polish quite well; it’s my first language, I lived in the country til the ripe age of 7, my parents continue to speak Polish to me on the phone. My technical term knowledge isn’t great, but I anticipated that would come quickly with exposure.
Signing Up and “Logging” Things
Anyways, so I’m signing up for this service, and I realise within seconds that I don’t recognise words. The whole thing feels foreign and uninviting, even though it is laid out quite well. I’m used to getting clues and cues about the state of things from the visual elements and words on a page. I’m missing the familiar combination of “password,” “forgot,” and “logout.” What the hell is a haslo? OK, haslo is password, good. Wyloguj. Is that Log In, or Log out. Wy-Loguj. Is “wy” the in- or out- modifier? I start wondering what it would be like if I was entirely new to the Internet and didn’t really understand what I was “logging” into or out of in the first place. What am I logging? Trees?
I’m already confused. No matter, keep on registering. I’m looking for “Canada” on the list of countries, no dice. Oh right, Kanada. I can imagine that being frustrating for someone from Deutschland, having to find Germany all the time. At least the Polish word for Poland starts with P. Moving on, there is no province field, and none of my home towns show up in the list of cities. I feel like I’m setting up a profil with an incomplete identity.
Terms I Don’t Understand
I’ve successfully registered! OK, next, onto site navigation. Once again, thank God I know roughly what the registration process entails .. me entering some stuff including some unique identifier that is not my actual identifier (name), a communication outlet like email, some details, press a button, that “registers” me, and takes me to a “home page” (or Strona Glowna) .. the Head-ish Page. I’m looking at the buttons across the top of the page. Some of them make sense: Fotki i Filmy, Pictures and Videos. Ogloszenia are Classifieds, just like in the newspaper. I feel more comfortable.
I see this term “w gronie” everywhere. I assume it has something to do with the name of the website, but I’m not entirely sure what the connotation is. A grono, as the logo of the website implies, is a grouping of things on a stalk .. winogrona means grapes. I’m assuming I’m a grape. Just goes to show how important the name of your website is in determining expected activity on the site. In frustration, a Polish blogged indicated that grono may also mean .. shit.
Now, what the hell are Grona i Fora? Didn’t I just establish that I was a winogrono/grape. I click it and recognise the familiar groups and forums setup. I’m not sure which are groups, which are forums, which are threads. What’s a thread anyways? Why do we call them threads? Like, a thread in a tapestry, that is a forum? I see these terms: Obserwowane, Moderowane, Fora. Observed, Moderated, Forums. Thank sweet lord that I spent years on TorontoCivics, Honda-Tech, and Stillepost .. otherwise the concept of a “moderated forum” would be foreign and confusing to me.
So I think I’ve found a forum (or is it a group?), and it has threads in it. The word temat (topic) shows up a lot, so does watek. Watek is the word for grape stalk in Polish … so … I’m getting a little tired of the grape analogy already. Especially once I figure out that “topic” and “thread”, or in this case temat and watek are actually the same thing, while grona (stalks) and fora (forums) are not. Then there are posty (posts). What really is a post? What makes it different from a message or a comment?
And now, first pr0st …
Like a good citizen, I’ve decided to read before posting too much. Needless to say, the language, lexicon, and etiquette are different than they would be in English-speaking North American forums. I don’t have good insight into it yet, other than knowing that I’d be the worst kind of n00b: barely-speaks-the-language-n00b. Luckily there are English-language groups and grona, and the majority of young Polish internet-savvy social networkers speak a little English.
So as a web guy, it’s nice to get reminded of the few things that I take for granted when participating in or developing web communities:
- People use familiar text and images as cues for activity and context. This is hard to understand until the cues you’re used to go away … you know to look for login boxes and submit buttons, for example, but their meaning is thrown in doubt when the text labels change.
- The registration process is foreign to most people who don’t already use forums. Don’t assume people know what logging in, logging out, registering, and profiles are.
- Ads in the sweet spots centred, above-the-fold totally throw off initial orientation.
- Community terminology doesn’t have to follow the standard “forum”, “post”, “admin” line. New users may have a better understanding of “topic”, “message”, and “community moderator.”
- Be consistent with terminology, and careful about name-branding choices (grape, wth.)
- The language of web communities is something that’s difficult to pick up as foreign national. Dedicated foreigner-friendly forums can’t hurt.