these 'blog' things
Thursday, March 16 2006
setting: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
In the late morning, during class, I attended a presentation held in the Celas Maya movie room. It was about the buildings and history of Quetzaltenango, the city everyone calls Xela. But I remember only two things from this presentation. The first was that its audio/visual component had been assembled in Power Point, but it was being displayed on an underpowered computer that kept showcasing the many unnecessary things Microsoft Office products do repeatedly "in the background." One of these things is "Protecting the presentation," whatever that means. Such an activity makes absolutely no sense when the thing you're looking at is burned into a CD, but no matter. Every ten minutes Powerpoint began automatically protecting that presentation, throwing up an hourglass cursor and refusing to accept any input for the next five minutes. Eventually the presentation had to be abandoned, though I volunteered to try to correct the problem, something I might have been able to do had the menus not all been in Spanish.
The other thing that made this presentation something of a farce was the translation that was taking place. A knowledgeable Xelan was telling us all these things about Quetzaltenango in Spanish, and this student, a woman from New Zealand, was translating it into English. But she wasn't fooling anyone; hell, with my limited knowledge of Spanish I found myself getting about twice as much information from the original Spanish as I was getting from her interpretation in English. Another indication of the poor quality of the translation was that the original Spanish would go on for fifteen minutes and contain many paragraphs and asides, and then when the woman from New Zealand gave the English version it was only about ten seconds long and wouldn't be much more than a sentence fragment! Later Gretchen and I learned from other students that this New Zealand woman is something of a know-it-all at the school, always volunteering for translation duties like a teacher's pet volunteering to dust the erasers. And just because she's so assertive, she often lands the gig, even though her translations are generally useless. But you know how it is, no one ever wants to tell the empress that she has no clothes.
Speaking of landing gigs, today Gretchen noticed a sign posted in the Celas Maya computer lab soliciting help for the Celas Maya website. In exchange for "web designer" help, the sign said, a "web designer" could get free classes! Gretchen was very excited, assuming the task would be a small one and could maybe pay for our next week at the school. So she dragged me to the Celas Maya office and, after a little awkward communication in two different languages, I had the job. I let Gretchen handle the business end of things, a field for which she has abundant natural talent. In exchange for my web work, she negotiated free tuition at the school and free room and board for next week for both of us.
My first work on the site was strictly consultative, explaining the marketing necessary to achieve high placement in Google search results. At this point in in the history of the internet you'd think that a basic understanding of the algorithms underlying Google would have found its way into common sense, but this is far from the case. There are still "marketing experts" living among the trilobites in the Altavista Era, imagining something can be achieved through careful edits of META tags. No, I always have to explain, that doesn't work any more. These days, if you want to rank high on a search engine that people actually use, you have to get people to link to your site. To get that to happen requires old fashioned marketing. I told the Celas Maya people that one of the best things they can do is to encourage students with websites to link to the Celas Maya site from their sites. Evidently the weblog revolution has yet to sweep Guatemala, because when I used the term "blog" I drew nothing but blank expressions. And then when I explained what a blog was, their questions went something like, "Why would anyone ever do that?" "I don't know," I lied, "but these 'blog' things are very popular back in Los Estados Unidos these days."
Throughout the rest of the day, my laugh line was that I was doing the opposite of what most Guatemalans want to do: I had snuck from the United States into Guatemala to work!
Students in the street outside the dreary house where Gretchen and I stay in Xela.
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