Mono or multilingual community?

Multilingual communityTwo months ago there was a discussion in our forum proposing to make it English-only (it was mostly English, but there were two small Spanish and Portuguese sections). Almost at the same time, there was a petition to open a Dutch-speaking board. Which decision should we take?

Both options had good convincing reasons. If we standardized to English-only, we could avoid dispersion of information and isolation of groups of users in language-specific islands. Every comment, suggestion, solution and improvement could be shared equally for everyone in a common language. And Zentyal users need to have some level in English anyway, because no one can work in IT nowadays without understanding Shakespeare’s language.

However, even if people can understand written English, interacting in a forum is a different matter. Many users would feel more comfortable if they could do so in their mother tongue. So, forcing everyone in English might make us actually lose many interactions from potential users who can then start their own Zentyal forum elsewhere in their own language. The result would be eventually similar with either option, except that with an English-only forum, users interactions would be scattered in different sites, instead of different boards in the same forum.

With this rationale we eventually opted for a multilingual forum. We can open as many language-specific boards as required, with three conditions:

  1. The main forum language will remain English
  2. A board needs to have at least one person responsible for its moderation and maintenance
  3. Every useful contribution will be translated and shared in the English sections and/or in the community documentation

So, once we set these minimal rules, and once mmullenders kindly offered his help, we launched the Dutch board. The results have been very positive: the board started to get alive and during the 7 weeks since launch, it has accounted for some 5% of all the forum posts during the same time. More importantly, the number of Dutch forum member has increased by an astonishing 40%!!! Which means that either there were many Dutch who did not feel comfortable writing English, or that our SEO in Dutch has improved and we have been found by many new users searching in their mother tongue. That is easy to prove: take the words “VPN achter een proxy server” (VPN behind firewall), one of the topics started during the past 7 weeks. Now google them and the first result is our forum 😎 Proost Nederland!

Encouraged with these results, this week we launched the French board, again after a petition from the community and with a responsible for it (christian, one of our Forum Moderators, who happens to be from France). The results are even better: in just two days the number of posts in French have surpassed the total number in Dutch, and a google search of a topic started yesterday, with such a generic title as “Comment envoyer et recevoir des mails” (How to send and receive emails) is on the top 10 results!!! All I can say is: Mes fĂ©licitations Ă  la communautĂ© francophone! :-)

Now, when will we have boards in German and Italian? 😉

July 21st, 2011




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