Today, communities of interest that cut across traditional lines of demarcation are popping up around the world. Enthusiasm for technology and the global reach of the internet is leading the way. While Apple appears to be the most relevant example, it is not just Apple products that are crossing cultural and language barriers. For example, people all over the world are increasingly enthusiastic about their Android phones, as mobile phones are how most of the world accesses the internet.

Recently, I stumbled upon the XDA Developer site, where over 4.2 million registered users go to get help modifying their Android phones. A lot of the site was over my head. However, I noticed that perhaps as many as 25% of the requests for help seemed to come from outside the US and/or from people who did not speak English as their first language. Most were able to make their help requests clear on the site, even in English that read much like Pig Latin.

Having majored in sociology when I was in college, I started to think about the kind of experience people from India or the Middle East would have on this and other sites like it. The information they need to root their Android phone and download a custom ROM is there. Unfortunately, the details are written in a form of English that makes it very hard for someone who doesn’t speak English at a relatively high-level to understand. This is too bad, because this site is one of many communities that attracts a global audience.

Increasingly, I think community managers should see their role not just as moderating content, but also as looking to aid understanding across cultural lines. The single best way to do this is to identify posts that are receiving the most visitors within a community and translate them into simple English. In addition to using simple English, cleaning up the formatting and the grammatical errors, and forcing consistency in terminology would go a long way towards encouraging understanding for all.

The hallmarks of simple English include the following:

  • Clarity
  • Brevity
  • Avoidance of unnecessary technical language

Simple English is not like pornography. The line between pornography and art can be a bit … well blurry … causing a judge to say that he can’t define what pornography is, but “he knows it when he sees it.” You can decide to author content in simple English. And, with a little training and help, you can encourage your community to create content that meets the simple English standard.

Here at Content Rules, we are one of a handful of companies in the field that has a practice area focused on simple English. We offer on-site, customized training to community managers and other content-development professionals on how to create content in simple English using modern editing tools such as Acrolinx IQ. Our software and processes help our customers set up guidelines, standards, and a corporate lexicon.

In fact, we are currently working with Translators without Borders on a pro-bono basis to take 85 complex Wikipedia medical articles and turn them into simple English. In addition to being posted to the Simple Wikipedia site, the simplified articles will better support the translation of the content into over 50 languages. In this way, we have joined the worldwide fight to combat malaria and cholera, two leading killers of children in Africa and other third-world countries.

The benefits of developing your core community site in “simple English” are these:

  • Reduced support costs. To the extent that non-native speakers (both abroad and in the US) can understand user-generated content that makes up your community, your company will reduce its overall support costs.
  • Reduced translation costs. Starting with simple English will almost always give you content that is quicker and easier to translate than the alternative.
  • Reduced content development costs. Well-written user-generated content can be used instead of content generated by your company, cutting the cost and the time it takes to create the content you need to support your community and/or products.

Are you a community manager? Do you need help developing some core content in simple English? If so, drop me a line.

Val Swisher
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