What I've Learned Being A Community Leader
It was the year 2006, the year that my concerns about data collection and profiling were born. I had previously accepted a closed beta invitation for Gmail but, as time went on, it became clear to me that Google scans your email for (targeted) advertisements. The ads shown to me were based on the emails I’d recently sent and it really made me think, “what about my right to privacy?”
At that time, privacy was only beginning to be talked about and there weren’t many solutions or alternative services catering to user privacy. I was very disappointed in the company that had the slogan, "be no evil” and so I did the only thing I could do to protect my privacy; I stopped using Gmail entirely and became suspicious of the ways companies used my data. Then, in 2010, I came across DuckDuckGo; a private alternative for searching the internet. I was thrilled! The philosophy behind DuckDuckGo's, "no tracking" policy was immediately clear to me and I told everyone about it. Being from the Netherlands, I contacted Gabriel Weinberg about registering a .NL domain so that everyone in Holland could use this search engine in Dutch.
My very first contribution to DuckDuckGo was that email/suggestion but it wasn't my last! I found out that DuckDuckGo has an open source community platform (https://duck.co/) where anyone can contribute to the search engine in a variety of ways. One way to contribute is by translating DuckDuckGo’s pages into other languages. Since I was passionate about making DuckDuckGo more accessible to people in the Netherlands, I decided to jump in and help out for the Dutch language.
Lesson 1 - Embrace the unknown.
Back then, translating DuckDuckGo was very different (and cumbersome). There was a lot of manual file uploading and github navigation via PO files.
This was the start of two real learning opportunities. I remember thinking, “what’s a PO file?” and, “what’s GitHub?” Without hesitation, I dove in head first! I registered accounts on GitHub and duck.co and worked with a friend to learn and translate! In the end, it was a lot of fun and this piece of history is still available on GitHub.
I kept translating DuckDuckGo and providing feedback for the staff and community. Now, the translation system is much better and people can translate with no real IT knowledge. One can simply visit https://duck.co/translate and begin submitting translations under their account. The work and feedback provided by myself and others in the community led to many positive changes in the translation system such that, now, most of the translation contributors are non-technical.
Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. When building a community, it’s important to understand this and seek feedback from everyone, not just your most active or model contributors. When participating in a community, it’s important to let your voice be heard! Speak up about the things you don't know and you'll surely be met with a positive reaction.
Lesson 2 - Anyone can lead, regardless of titles.In December 2012, an email was sent to members of the translation community asking for volunteers to oversee all translations in their respective languages. I was looking to be more actively involved so I asked if I could become a, “Translation Manager” (as they've come to be known). As a Translation Manager, I learned that people translate DuckDuckGo for a variety of reasons; for fun and to provide a better service in their languages being the most popular reasons. The job of a Translation Manager is not just to translate but also to monitor the translations, adjust or reject translations, and to resolve disputes among the community of translators. Additionally, Translation Managers work with the staff to better improve the translation system and community long-term. Even though I officially became a, “Translation Manager” I realized that I was helping in all those ways before their was an official title for it.
If you participate in a community (online or offline), look to build your own leadership opportunities. Even though there may not be a name for that role, it doesn’t mean you can’t create it!
Lesson 3 - Nobody wants to be a bad contributor.When I first started as a Translation Manager, I sometimes had difficulty telling others what they could improve on. Naturally, it was an uncomfortable feeling to point out flaws in other people’s work. After some time, though, I realized that my feedback was more than welcome because each member of our community is, in some way, trying to improve their translation skills and/or improve DuckDuckGo in their language.
People go out of their way to contribute. Not every contributor will be perfect, but they are all there because of a real motivation. Finding and optimizing for all the motivations in your community will ensure that nobody feels like they’re the weakest link.
Being able to talk out issues with other translators has broadened my horizons. It’s given me the confidence needed to give real, actionable feedback without fearing my words will incite panic or distrust. It’s an honor to meet new people in our community and be able to help them improve their own translation skills. I encourage everyone to be a leader in their community. Whether it’s online or offline, have fun, meet interesting people, and change something in the world around you!