MyGaelic.com – why did they spend a quarter of a million?

Gaelic English road signsThe headline says it all really. We had a tip off that the site was finally released as a beta and so we decided to take a quick look. Holding our breath really because we SO wanted it to be worth the £250,000 that was paid for it.

The much-trailed site has alot to recommend it. It loads quickly, it has a modish contemporary feel, taking advantage of technologies like AJAX in useful and intuitive ways. The interface is bright, usable and above all is as competently realised as you would expect for the budget. All good.

We liked the switch over between English, Simple Gaelic and Gaelic at the top of the page. It is seamless, well thought-out and even when non-gaelic speakers/readers stray into Gaelic content, easy to untangle. Navigationally then, good. (There is a reservation here, and we’re not sure how it would play out, but there may be a problem with search engine indexing on the site. Unless they have really nailed this, they may end up confusing Google and the likes with code which carries all three languages – not something we’d recommend really, especially as without traffic the site will die and this potential error may choke it off at the source.)

The content is not as comprehensive as we would have expected though for the money – but then we do hear there’s a news service on the way. We found sections like Genealogy really disappointing. Not only is the content restricted to a single page, there are links to other sites right off the section head (Thought given to Page Rank anybody?). No contextual news, no deeper analyses. This is true of all the content areas. To be fair though this is a site in beta, and work is evidently still continuing. Maybe there’ll be more added to these content sections and soon.

Sign up is as good as we have seen on any platform for users. It’s secure and notably quick, although this may be a function of the number of folk who have registered so far … I was able to register my first name as my username, a sign, if we needed one, to show how widespread the site’s presence has been signalled perhaps? And once in, there is all you’d expect there to be in a networking platform: areas called ‘my page’, ‘my stuff’, ‘my groups’, ‘my friends’ and ‘my inbox’.

Now, we’re not going to go into detail on the specs here, except to say that the very first thing we noticed was the lack of a rich text editor for any user-inputted text. For us this is indicative of the difficulty in the approach the developers have taken, or at least seem to have taken. These chaps don’t seem to have noticed that there’s a javascript open source rich text editor called TinyMCE which is freely available for download and use – and its used on some of the most prestigious websites in the world in all languages.

Now this is not to say that the developers, The Creative Cell and Reefnet, don’t use Open Source – they do, they used all sorts of Open Source technologies in mygaelic.com’s production, including CakePHP – it’s more to do with the fact that there are extant, fully developed applications which are fit-for-purpose very-nearly-out-of-the-box, and which with a tenth of the development costs could produce a site with equal or much better capabilities. We’d have done it. Chosen an extant platform. Added three or four existing plugins. Adapted another two. Created a design. Employed a translator. Published. Done.

No, we shouldn’t be so flippant. There is value in the site, and the development costs are realistic given the approach that was chosen. That’s precisely the issue really, the approach that was chosen. If the decision-makers had been told that there was significant advantage in leveraging existing services, applications and websites, including improved search engine exposure, greater access to existing international audiences and, more particularly, large and ongoing budget savings in terms of content and application development, perhaps the gripes of the many who have commented on the size of the budget used to publish the site would have been obviated.

Why didn’t BnG develop partnerships with the big beasts of the internet? The likes of Facebook, Bebo, Google, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia – why not get their extant services to do the heavy-lifting, leaving only issues of language in-house? Why not take advantage of the architectures already in place? It’s done all the time. And imagine the impact on the Gaelic language if it became available on all those platforms, freely and universally? It takes a linguist only a couple of hours to create the necessary translations to convert platforms such as WordPress into native-speaking applications … Two hours! Why did they have to spend a quarter of a million? Such a waste.

The photograph above, of the new Gaelic and English road signs in Scotland, is reprodiuced here under the Creative Commons licence.

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44 Responses to MyGaelic.com – why did they spend a quarter of a million?

  1. Thanks for the heads-up on this–I’ve also managed to get my first name as my username!

    This is probably more my problem than the site’s, but at home I have a computer that’s almost as old as the footprints of Chaluim Chille. On there, the AJAX components of the site, particularly that semi-transparent language selector div that’s stuck at the top of the page, make the site very slow to use. It’d be nice to have a simpler version for older computers.

    I’d agree that sign-up was easy enough, although it did have one of those dreaded “email confirmations”. And the focus of the default map, on the North and West of Scotland, was slightly disconcerting on a site that’s supposed to be raising the profile of the language outside its traditional heartland. Although I’d readily concede that 150 miles south of the border, I’m hardly in the core target audience for a Gaelic social networking website. The “simple Gaelic” is a nice touch, meaning I’m not forced to use the site in English because my Gaelic level isn’t good enough for the normal written language yet. It’s a feature that the Ning platform wouldn’t have been able to accommodate.

    The biggest issue is: what do I do now? As an outsider looking in, I’m faced with a page telling me I’ve got no friends (!), a few links to some interesting but fairly shallow information, and not very much else. At this stage in the site’s development, it might be worth opening up the list of users and having a bit of open discussion going on to create some initial content and start to build up the social graph, rather than forcing people to search for friends they don’t know yet.

    All in all, a good effort, but part of me just can’t see it reaching that critical mass of users needed to start the snowball effect.

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    • I suspect opening up the list of users will have all sorts of privacy implications BnG and the developers don’t want to engage with – although had they said, “Everyone signing up for the beta will be able to see everyone else”, it might have worked quite well. On Facebook when you sign up you get links to your online email accounts, like hotmal or gmail. This is really what I meant about the possible synergies which BnG have missed. To get critical mass myGaelic needs integrations like this to become a natural, desirable hub for the Gaelic-speakers. That “What Do I Do Now?” question is the website’s killer … Let’s hope they release a news section soon.

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  2. It seems to be a nice enough design, functionality is OK, but, as the excellent first post says, for 250K? Gordon Bennett! As the first post hints at, perhaps the cost is not surprising, given the way they did it: a bit like paying Gordon Ramsay and a team of 25 chefs to support him to come up and boil you an egg.

    If it was an outstandingly attractive site, with amazing content and a super new innovative user group features, content facilities etc, then, yes, but I just can’t help feeling very underwhelmed by it all.

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  3. It’s interesting to note that they’ve got themselves a sponsored competition on Real Radio, a very well listened-to pop music station covering the central belt. Perhaps a chunk of the £250,000 is being spent on marketing. But might it not have been prudent to get the site out of beta before plugging it on one of Scotland’s biggest radio stations?

    Speaking of which, I’d love the site to branch out into audio. Down here, I have limited access to the spoken language. I can go online and pick up Radio nan Gaidheal, but I find the vocab used quite difficult and the station itself a little insular. A weekly podcast of fifteen minutes or so, produced in simple Gaelic with the occasional English explanation would go down a treat. It could even be sent out for use on the numerous community radio stations around Scotland–a freebie Gaelic learners’ programme for the stations and much-needed publicity for mygaelic.com.

    They’ve made some effort at interoperability; there’s an option to load your contacts from Gmail, but not from other, more widely-used sites. The one they most desperately need is Facebook, but I’m not sure if their policies allow the exporting of friends data. (Although I personally find Facebook insufferable, it’s where the critical mass of people is.)

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  4. Can’t find any friends naidheachair? :-) Just type a vowel into the friends search box, a few folk pop up as potential friends. You can see names, pictures and, perhaps a bit silly for a social site, the e-mails of each member. Perhaps there should be a bit more security for the price. Oh yeah the price – perhaps we should have a Board of Inquiry and not a Bord na Gaidhlig.
    Shame the Bord decided to turn their back on the existing Gaelic social networks, I’m sure everyone would have helped for free.
    There is infact a facebook group campaigning for Scots and Gaelic to be available on that social network. They are willing to do it all for free as the Welsh and Irish volunteer groups did to get their languages on the interface choice. Here’s a link to that group, it’s great to see Scots language activists working with their Gaelic counterparts.
    Here’s the group
    http://en-gb.facebook.com/group.php?gid=41619519957
    What a tragic missed opportunity for Bord na Gaidhlig, they could have done it all for free and taken the goodwill of another element of Scotland’s linguistic tapestry along with them.
    Their foolishness in spending the like of £250,000 is curious to say the least.

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  5. As one of the developers of the mygaelic.com site, I appreciate the time you’ve spent to look through the site, and I’m glad to see that it was a generally positive experience for you. There are a few points I’d like to clarify though.

    I’m not in a position to comment on the budget for the site; I’d suggest you contact B na G if you’ve any queries about that. If I could though, I’d like to address some of your technical queries.

    Firstly with regard to the multilingual nature of the site – we’ve spent a long time developing the site from the ground-up to be completely multilingual. As evidenced by the site’s good ranking in Google already, I think you could say we’ve “nailed this” – having built the site from the ground up in a completely language-neutral way, with separate language versions of each and every site element and piece of content, we can be pretty sure that the search engines will get meaningful, indexible info from the site.

    Yes, the depth of content on the site isn’t as deep as we’d all like, but it only launched this morning and is being added to all the time. This is probably a good time to point out that the site accepts content items from all of its users, so you can submit any content for inclusion that you like.

    After moderator approval, it’ll appear on the site under the user submitted content areas. So if there’s something there that you don’t see that you’d like to, please feel free to add to it.

    I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree with you on your rather specific point about rich text editors. We’re well aware of javascript text editors but I’m a bit of a web standards nut and a clean markup fanatic; IMHO, TinyMCE and its ilk produce horrendous markup, particularly when put into the hands of non-technical users. We made the decision early on not to allow arbitrary HTML in user submitted content, with the aim of keeping the content cleanly marked up, with the attendant benefits of search engine visibility, accessibility etc that I’m sure you’re aware of. Having said all of that, users can markup their content in a simplified markup language called “markdown” which enables basic text formatting, images, links etc to be added to the text. In areas of the site where large amounts of text are to be added (ie in users writings) there is a rich text editor available that produces clean markdown text with a wysiwyg preview. We just don’t show it on every text entry field to keep things clean and simple.

    I’d also have disagree with your view of what it takes to build a modern multilingual website. The site has been under very active development by a team of highly skilled, pragmatic web developers for about a year. Given our experience and pragmatism, I can assure you that if we could have made the site in a couple of hours in wordpress, we would have.

    I’m glad you like aspects of the site; it’s already gathered nearly 150 users in its first few hours of life, and we’ve had lots of very positive comments. We appreciate constructive criticism of the site, as we’re all keen to see it succeed and do the best it can. We hope you continue to use the site and we really would appreciate constructive comments and suggestions as the site continues to develop.

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  6. Hello all. My name is Arthur Cormack and I am the Interim Chair of Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

    I have been reading all the comments about mygaelic, with great interest, over the past few weeks and now that it is launched, I’d like to let you know about the budget which has caused some concern.

    mygaelic is not just the website that you see now. Further, the website is not yet fully developed and there are lots of things to be added, so it is a work in progress. Some of the things you have suggested in your review will be a feature of the site in the near future.

    mygaelic is a brand and one which is going to be used to promote the Gaelic language widely over the next few months, the idea being to draw people to the website, to help them discover more about the Gaelic in them. All of us use Gaelic, and I mean all of us who say ‘smashing’ when something’s good (‘s math sin! in Gaelic); ‘twig’ when we suddenly understand something (from ‘tuig’ in Gaelic); ‘galore’ when we are talking about something that is plentiful (‘gu leòr’ in Gaelic) are using Gaelic without being aware of the origins of those words. There are countless other examples. Many people will have had Gaelic-speaking ancestors, and probably not that far back. Many people will have a partner who may have had Gaelic-speaking parents. mygaelic is all about engaging with Gaelic for whatever reason.

    mygaelic should not be viewed as a website. The website is part of a much larger, sustained marketing campaign, the total budget for which is £250k. There will be marketing activity in The Sun, on Real Radio and in local newspapers like the Oban Times, West Highland Free Press, Stornoway Gazette etc. We hope, through time, to have a tie-in with BBC Alba, and discussions have already begun about this.

    I hope this clears up some of the erroneous stories that have circulated about Bòrd na Gàidhlig having spent £250k on a website, which would never have happened. mygaelic is a great website and is, in my view, unique. I haven’t seen another site that offers different levels of Gaelic and which, at the touch of a button, you can turn entirely into Gaelic, including the skin.

    The point about developing partnerships with the ‘big beasts’ is well made. Google already offers a Gaelic option on its search engine. Bòrd na Gàidhlig worked with Microsoft to develop Vista in Gaelic and we have also funded a Gaelic spellchecker for Word. More could certainly be done, and will be, but we haven’t made a bad start and are aware of further possibilities.

    I would be happy to answer any questions any of you have.

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  7. Ok then, go the whole way and give a cost breakdown, it would stop any further speculation.

    1) How much on the website?
    2) How much on advertising?
    3) How much for yearly maintenance in the future?

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  8. Hello innocentbystander.

    The website element of the project is around £150k for the design, copy content and build including project management from project commencement to launch date and includes a year of content management and ongoing site development. A team at An Còmhlan Cruthachail in Glasgow, a team at Reefnet in Stornoway, and the writer Alasdair Campbell have all been working on the project for well over a year. In fact it is nearly two years since the contract was tendered and awarded, but the initial months were taken up with some thorough market research. It should also be remembered that the content is available in English, Easy Gaelic and Gaelic so the copy writing was quite intensive and the level of Gaelic for the Easy Gaelic section had to be tested out on people.

    mygaelic.com will be advertised via Real Radio and The Scottish Sun. The activity with Real Radio is very much promotional driven and a unique campaign has been developed whereby a Gaelic phrase is played each week from Monday to Thursday. Listeners then look for clues on mygaelic.com and text their answers to Real Radio on a Friday. Prizes are then awarded. Ads will also appear in the West Highland Free Press, The Oban Times, Stornoway Gazette and the Inverness Courier communicating the content of mygaelic.com and encouraging individuals and groups to submit ‘What’s on’ information. The ongoing publicity campaign is £100k.

    After a year it is expected that a member of Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s staff will be responsible for the ongoing content management.

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  9. Tapadh leat Art,

    In that refreshing spirit of openness would you like to tell us if the Bord has any plans to publish the minutes of all its meetings. If this had happened from the start you wouldn’t be coming along to this site to explain things, the Gaelic community would have had all the information from the beginning and could have made representations to the members of the Board if they thought things were going in the wrong direction.

    Please put all the minutes up on-line, it would certainly bring you a few more members into mygaelic.com if nothing else.

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  10. ‘S e do bheatha, innocentbystander

    I am all for openness. I agree and yes, we do plan to have the minutes of all our minutes on the Bòrd website, as opposed to the mygaelic one. This is part of a number of developments and improvements within the Bòrd, and while I cannot say for certain when they will be on the site, we fully intend that they will be.

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  11. I should have said, innocentbystander, that the Bòrd is happy to have enquiries from anyone and they will be dealt with in a spirit of openness. I didn’t feel that I had to come to this forum to answer questions, but I chose to do so to clear up some misconceptions about mygaelic. People could choose to pick up the phone and ask people at the Bòrd for information from time to time.

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  12. Arthur, I’ve been reading your answers to Innocentbystander with interest, and I have to say that the strength and passion from which you are speaking from stands the project in great stead, as well as your evident desire to be as open as possible (the same should be said for northlochs as well). I do wonder whether rather than noting that people could choose to pick up the phone, a more pro-active take-it-to-the-people strategy might’ve been employed? The Chair’s blog perhaps? You have to know we like blogs at ForArgyll. ;-)

    Anyway, many of the areas of strategic critique have, I feel, been answered in your comments. I was particularly relieved to see the breakdown of costs and intimations of the ongoing programme for the site’s development – given the start-up budget and the at-first-glance limited audience for the offering there might be concern over the ongoing sustainability of the project. Now I did say, at first glance. You’ve got some 58,652 gaelic speakers in 2001 and I’m presuming this figure is still falling. MyGaelic is well placed to reverse this. Except …

    Except I can’t help but see it as a walled garden at the moment (this is back to our final point in the review about talking with the big beasts). Notwithstanding your impressive interaction with Microsoft and Google, no matter how good the site is — and it is really good (I’ve been fooling about with it and northlochs is right, you’ve nailed so much!) — until the site thoroughly and intimately integrates with all the network-based services folk use on a day-to-day basis right now and in the future, that wall will remain inpenetrable: Mygaelic.com should seamlessly slide into the online connective tissue of the lives of gaelic-speakers, -learners and -dabblers, and I am not sure it will until you can tweet from your account, log on via your mobile, import your Flickr feed and use Open ID (to take some fairly random interactions) at the click of a button. I am afraid at the moment mygaelic.com’s ‘walledness’ is much too evident, many of the things you can do on the site are very much contained by the site: more of this functional, networked porosity would be of immeasurable benefit to the project in my opinion, both to broadening the site’s appeal and to giving potential users more routes into its core purpose.

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  13. Charles: A Chair’s blog might be an idea but I’m only an Interim Chair!

    As for your other comments, I will draw them to the attention of the web developers, of whom northlochs would appear to be one.

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  14. A bit of free publicity for them in The Herald today – 14th Feb. You have to hand it to them – their news manipulation is top drawer: successfully getting into the papers today with a story about how the site attracts learners from ‘Kazakstan’ and elsewhere.

    While not quite stating so implicitly, they are almost trying to suggest that mygaelic.com is responsible for taking these ‘new learners’ to Gaelic. Certainly thats what people who are not familiar with Gaelic learning circles will think.

    What they don’t know is that many of these people in the far off countries – Kazakstan and elsewhere – have been involved in learning Gaelic for a while – and would look at any new site related to Gaelic, whatever its nature.

    Clever marketing from them, without a doubt.

    Already they are heralding the site a ‘success’ and its only a few weeks in!

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  15. northloch says “I’m a bit of a web standards nut and a clean markup fanatic” yet the site home page fails W3C standards validation with 53 errors:

    http://validator.w3.org/check?verbose=1&uri=http%3A%2F%2Fmygaelic.com%2F

    It also fails the most basic web accessibility checks – look for the ‘no’ in the right hand column – fails at level 1 and 2:

    http://www.cynthiasays.com/mynewtester/cynthia.exe?rptmode=2&url1=http%3A%2F%2Fmygaelic.com%2F

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  16. We’re still following this story, and darrellw comments are very pertinent to the whole discussion over the rich text editor and TinyMCE.

    But I think there’s a bigger story here which will take a little more time to shake out: I’ve just been back to the site having entered the search term “mygaelic” on twitter. Interestingly only four tweets. 2 negative, 1 recommending and another referencing a poem just published on mygaelic. I say just, but I mean 17 days ago. The poem, “Gargunnock” is still fourth or fifth in the ‘user-generated’ content.

    Put this together with the news item a while back of mygaelic achieving 1,000 users, and the fact that the active registrants of a website are usually 1% of the total — OK, OK, so social networking sites are much higher — say, 15%, and we’re still not getting the type of traffic the investment would need to have been predicated on. The mygaelic staff will be twiddling their thumbs, no?

    Finally, I went across to “Forum na Gaelig” and did a quick check on their total users (perhaps we should also be talking about transparency for mygaelic.com): they have 150 or so users and were last active on Thursday.

    There doesn’t seem to be a large online Gaelic community does there? Maybe someone somewhere should have suggested a very low cost guerilla strategy? One that would have been more suitable to the numbers of online Gaelic speakers.

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  17. The ‘online Gaelic community’ numbers are undoubtedly much higher than all this suggests, as so much of the Gaelic community, learners, native-speakers and those involved professionally with Gaelic, are regular online users in any case and do bits and pieces of their everyday online activity in Gaelic – research, news-reading/listening, music, social and professional emails, sites like Facebook, Bebo, Unilang etc with Gaelic sections or just using Gaelic in the general section. In the case of the dedicated Gaelic sites (and there are many, some local, some national, some international, or institution-related ones, or Radio nan Gàidheal or BBC Alba sites, etc etc), not all users will be on all the available sites, as they will have limited time and distinct preferences (re layout, topics, other-user profiles etc) as is the case with all specialist or social sites. So you cannot assume a huge overlap even among the users referred to above.

    I am not impressed by mygaelic for the reasons already given, especially user accessibilty and lack of transparency, and have had no replies to my own queries there for months. It has not fulfilled its promises so far. The Fòram na G. and Abair Thusa do all of that much better, and were set up and are run by volunteers, virtually for free. They are highly interactive and informative, and updated constantly, which cannot be said of mygaelic.

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  18. I have to agree with most of what Bel Ros has said. Apart from the sites she mentions there are a lot of gaelic activists using facebook groups to communicate, For example the facebook group ‘Support bilingual signs’ has over 700 members and is extremely active.
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=54276726475

    Whatever the future for mygaelic.com I doubt it will ever be much use as a social network. Once again you have to compare the cost of mygaelic.com with what you get for free from volunteers.

    I gather Bòrd na Gàidhlig are considering a new paper/magazine (perhaps an on-line venture?) to replace An Gàidheal Ur which went under in controversial circumstances earlier in the year. Perhaps there is still a chance here not to make the same mistake again?

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  19. Just some more statistics for Fòram na Gàidhlig FYI: we average 12 posts per day since its current incarnation, which was set up in September 2007.

    Only the users who posted at least once show up in the statistics in order to help weed out spammers. We actually have 235 registered users, of which 139 have posted.

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  20. Bel Ros / Gràisg: Take the point about the Gaelic online community — Facebook is a great indicator as by definition the folk who use it are activated … but I think my point stands: how can BnG justify spending a quarter of a million on a project which is serving such a small populus. Think how much better that money could have been spent giving internet access to Gaelic speakers who don’t have it and training them to use the free-to-air services like Fòram na Gàidhlig? Maybe even help these free sites expand their service … build on community effort rather than foist something on a community who are getting on with it anyway?

    GunChleoc: These are good figures to have to hand when we look at where mygaelic.com have pitched themselves. I doubt, mygaelic.com is doing that much better (and probably worse) despite the publicity that their evidently well-oiled and well-funded PR machine generates. The more I look at the situation the more I think we are on the money with our analysis that BnG could have more simply and cheaply implemented open source software to fulfill their requirement. Indeed had they used http://buddypress.org they’d have benefitted from a precipitiously steep development curve which is seeing the platform take off across the world. Plus, the funds they used to develop the gaelic version would have had a double impact when the translation was published into the open source environment.

    BTW. We’re talking at the moment about implementing a buddypress installation on top of this site, and we’d necessarily be looking at creating a gaelic version — we have a top secret test installation which is looking very fruity tho’ still only in English …

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  21. Charles, not sure who you are, and who ‘we’ is. The writer of the original article? So the test buddypress would be for a ForArgyll add-on? If not, please clarify.

    The article published here more recently about Mygaelic is extremely complimentary:

    http://forargyll.com/2009/05/newsletter-no-3-from-mygaeliccom/#comment-2805

    Too much so, in my opinion.

    I agree with anyone who says the money could have been spent better in furthering Gaelic in other ways, and some of your suggestions are fine, though I am not sure how receptive the target group would be to ‘training in how to use F na G’, for example. But grass-roots schemes and building up a free / cheaper internet presence would be good starting points.

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  22. Bel Ros: Writer of the article and Internet Services Director for the site ;-) And yes that means BuddyPress is being tested for use on this site.

    As for our article on mygaelic’s recent newsletter, I think ‘extremely’ is over-egging it slightly don’t you? We’re not exactly foaming at the mouth with admiration.

    Personally I think the note that the newsletter celebrates “24,000 visits it has now had from 80 countries worldwide” says more about the site than anything else. For the last three months ForArgyll has averaged over 1,000 unique visits a day ( http://developing.forargyll.com ) – 24K since mygaelic’s launch, including press, is small beer.

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  23. Ceart gu leòr, thanks, Charles. Maybe not ‘extremely’, then, but ‘surprisingly uncritical’, given the analytical approach of the original article and your opinions expressed on here, in the discussion section. ;-)
    I’m actually curious to know who (and how many) are still reading these comments under a months-old article, interesting though it is for all of us who are taking part?

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  24. What I wanted to say is that I am still reading this – linked to it from Foram na Gaidhlig.

    I first came across Gaelic after travelling/living in Scotland for a few years as a backpacker. At that time I felt my interest in Gaelic was not taken seriously by the hardcore clasarch/camanachd playing locals and after getting caught up one summer in a nasty battle between the Fios and SYHA (insert smiley lol) I figured an Aussie learning the language was a (bag)pipe dream.

    However, back in Australia I discoverd there was an ONLINE Gaelic community with learners from everywhere. I started learning ‘BBC Gaelic’ and visiting sites such as Taic, as well as joining a local self-help class (too far away to visit regularly). I also spent a small fortune on An Cursa Inntrigidh. SMO’s course was good, but insanely expensive in Aussie dollars and the real benefits seem only to come via a visit to Skye for in-person workshops – a journey beyond my means.

    The most valuable resource by far has been Foram na Gaidhlig, except they don’t have a course attached to the forum, or tutors taking skype calls and checking assessment each week (although there is a wee bit of this). In my opinion, as a struggling distance learner, what the online Gaelic community needs is something that blends the content of the BBC and Taic with the community of the Forum – preferrably FREE to allow access to anyone (indeed many people have been flabbergasted to hear that I have paid to learn Gaelic, saying that it should be the other way around!)

    As far as mygaelic.com goes, I am not sure it is bringing anything NEW to the table, and I am curious to know whether the creators even realised FnG existed before constructing their new site, and if so, why were resources not put into making it more useful to learners, rather than creating a new site?

    I hope it is not because FnG is not explicitly linked to any one Scottish organisation and therefore ‘out of the control’ of the higher powers of Gaeldom, because in my mind the best thing about mygaelic.com is that the Scottish Gaelic community finally appear to be acknowledging the international Gaelic community. I hope things become more tangible, such as allocating points for migrants who speak Gaelic, or extending the current Gaelic teacher recruitment drive to include overseas teachers.

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  25. @saoghalbeag Good questions. You’d have to think they did know about all the free-to-air community efforts before they did this, and because they prob’ly did, then one suspects it is about cleaning up the message, making it more focussed and also sexier for funding in the long term. This sort of packaging doesn’t work for websites at this level because, as we have argued above, there aren’t the sheer numbers to use the facility internationally, let alone nationally. And this is because there hasn’t been enough work creating the audience beforehand.

    I suspect there’s a further factor here which relates to the amount of community buy-in on the project (See the comments on traffic and the paltry 24K mygaelic.com trumpeted recently). The dichotomy between funded, more corporate projects and unfunded or partially-funded projects is most visible in a comparatively small field like Gaelic where it is easy to see how the online audience has been inadvertently polarised by the central organising body’s highly-funded, highly-marketed solution. The community-built websites using existing software are continuing to be successful at mygaelic’s expense because there is absolutely no attempt at trying to corral Gaelic speakers into one corner of the internet — by definition these community sites are integrated into the net and represent its vibrant informality.

    And at core there is a further reason that myGaelic will continue to suffer – With the site, BnG have entered an area of the internet which is essentially user-led, informal and socially-oriented — it is an organic space, and one which a body like BnG will struggle to respond to appropriately because, I would argue, its raison d’etre is specifically very formal and very focussed. And this is where I think you hit the nail on the head: BnG should be providing courses in gaelic online, for free and associated or linked to the pre-existing online Gaelic community rather than trying to create something new. Will it happen? I wouldn’t hold my breath. On the other hand the more people like you who decide to learn the language the more chance a critical momentum will be reached and a site like myGaelic will eventually really take off!

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  26. I recently came across research conducted into the Gaelic learning community in Nth America: http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/celtic/ekeltoi/volumes/vol1/1_1/newton_1_1.html and was interested to find others had experienced similar reactions (in Scotland) to their desire to learn Gaelic – see section 9 (for eg: They were polite, but thought I was crazy.). The second highest motivation for Gaelic learners in his survey was option (e) (“I would be able to speak to native Gaels in their own language”), yet the study shows that while (int’l) Gaelic learners often have regular contact with other learners, the majority rarely have contact with native/fluent speakers. I knew plenty of people in Scotland who had the Gaelic but who probably wouldn’t believe me if I told them there were people all over the world who just wanted to ‘talk’ to them.

    I think this is an untapped learning resource that the internet has now made ‘easy’. I wonder how the two come together – now the internet (Skype, msn, discussion forums) have made this relatively ‘easy’? Whether there are Gaelic speakers keen to devote their time for free, I don’t know, although live-mocha seems to work quite well on this principle. I know there is also evidence of this on FnG, but considering your suggestions that BnG develop a free learning program, this would fit in nicely with mygaelic.com

    @Charles: I think your use of the term ‘corral’ was apt – it feels like mygaelic.com could almost be an attempt to catalogue and sterilse the messy, organic online Gaelic community. This feeling was reflected in the research mentioned above, where participants commented that:
    In Scotland Gaelic seems to be presented in a formal way and in Cape Breton it is more about having fun. In Scotland there is a lot of competition around Gaelic such as what happens at the Mòd. That never occurs in Cape Breton.
    “The unfortunate thing is that many in the Gaelic learners’ family are far too scholarly – not a lot of fun.”

    I don’t want to be unfair though – it could just as easily be said that the site is BnG’s attempt to be less formal (with social networking and all that). And at any rate, any new development aimed at Gaelic learners is of interest to me so I have signed up and will make use of the site where I can to see how it takes off.

    (btw, ‘deciphering’ would be a better term than reading over at FnG as most comments were in Gaelic – a great learning tool as one automatically assumes threads a few pages long must be VERY interesting so it’s over to Faclair Gàidhlig air loidhne to try and find out what everyone is talking about!)

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  27. Chan eil agad a dhol gu mygaelic.com gus mygaelic fhaighinn a-nis/
    You don’t have to go to mygaelic.om to get mygaelic now

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=50133327997

    Lìon sòisealta a’ cleachdadh lìon sòisealta leis a leithi seo.
    A social network using a social network with the like of this.

    ‘Caillidh 125 duine an cosnadh thar cheithir bliadhna anns na h-eileanan. 125 – 200 jobs are to be lost in the Western Isle as the MoD make an attempt to cut costs.

    Dè do bheachd? What do you think?
    Innse dhuinn aig mygaelic.com. Tell us at mygaelic.com

    http://mygaelic.com/groups/view/99

    I would feel inclined to perhaps make a comment and link to a good article I read (in Gaelic) about that subject in the P&J but if I were to do it I’d be more inclined to make it out in the open in Facebook rather than inside the clumsy groups structure on mygaelic.

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  28. It’s interesting to keep reading comments about mygaelic and other sites.

    When was Fòram na Gàidhlig set up? I don’t think it had been set up when the Bòrd embarked on developing mygaelic. There was very extensive research done by a company called Progressive in advance of the decision to commission the site (2006, I think) and there seemed to be a gap in the market for such a site.

    Perhaps in the time between the research being done and the site being developed, other sites got in first. But surely there is room for several networking sites? mygaelic was never set up with the intention of it being ‘controlled’ by Bòrd na Gàidhlig to punt our own points of view.

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  29. Hi Art,

    Fòram na Gàidhlig emerged towards the end of 2007 after the demise of the old forum on Save Gaelic.org. The foram on that site had been going a number of years but not with out a few problems.
    Savegaelic.org still exists but the membership of the forum and the webmaster went their seperate ways. Folk contacted each other through Tìr nam Blòg and other sites and the survivors started up again in one or two places but the user friendly Fòram na Gàidhlig caught on and since then Gun Chloc has added a few more functions to the site.

    2006-2009, three years is an eternity in web terms. To move forward in a rapidly developing e-Society environment the Bòrd will have consult more with the users of the new technology. Something that is perhaps hard for any government department but the thing is that the web is shifting the foundations of our society, challenging everything. As the bigger culture we all live in gets a huge shake and wake up call what place for Gaelic that has a precarious place within that bigger culture?
    No place on the talking machines in Marks and Spencer Inverness anyway :-(
    Will there be a place for top-down institutions in the future in the way that there was in the last millenium? Everyone is a potential organiser now, you don’t need a centralised institution to set everything up for you anymore. In web terms organic solutions do seem to work better.
    oidhche mhath a charaid

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  30. Worth noting that SaveGaelic’s forum was actually more active in 2005/2006 than FnG is now.

    @Art
    “But surely there is room for several networking sites?”
    Categorically no. This was something that was fairly extensively commented on in the early days of MySpace vs Bebo vs Facebook.

    The point of a social network is that all your friends are in one place. For those friends to be there, it has to be useful to them — so all their friends have to be in one place. And all their friends, etc etc ad nauseum. There was a time when different networks held prime position in different countries, but international travel’s getting cheaper so the boundaries blurred and Facebook is now a near monopoly in real terms.

    Anything taking place outside of Facebook will now be specialist stuff, and Gaelic is a minority language, not a specialist pursuit.

    I’m sorry to be so blunt, but to me MyGaelic monumentally missed the point. While BnG is (laudably) talking about making Gaelic more a part of everyday life, MyGaelic once again made the Gaelic language the self-conscious focus of Gaelic language policy, at every level. If people are expected to go to a special digital ghetto for Gaelic, it’s not part of everyday life.

    And the name just tops it off. If we can get more Gaelic initiatives that have the self-confidence to launch themselves in Gaelic and without the words “Gàidhlig” or “Gaidheal” in their names, then maybe we can stop feeling that Gaelic is a language for its own sake, and start thinking of it as just another everyday language.

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  31. Unlike mygaelic.com here’s news of something that didn’t get any financial support but has won recognition anyway.

    ‘CELTIC LEAGUE – PRESS INFORMATION

    AGM: RESOLUTIONS ADOPTED

    The following motions were adopted at the recent meeting of the Celtic League
    AGM in Kernow:

    Branches

    Alba Branch

    1 – The Celtic League congratulates William Robertson (Uilleam MacDhonnchaidh)
    and Michael Bauer (Micheal Bauer) on making Dwelly’s Gaelic Dictionary available
    online for the first time at http://www.dwelly.info We further note that they did this
    without subsidy or financial reward.

    (Background – Dwelly’s dictionary is the finest in existence. Edward Dwelly
    compiled, collated, illustrated, bound, printed, and sold the work by himself.
    Messrs Bauer and Robertson keyed in the entire tome without being given any
    subsidy whatsoever – which is a great tribute to them, and Dwelly himself. Other
    much less worthy Gaidhlig projects have received substantial funding.)’

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