A tool to better understand China

Rousseau called it “l’esprit de l’escalier” – staircase wit – finding your bon mot, the one that would set everyone laughing, just a few hours too late. It happens to all of us. It’s happened to me just recently.

Two days ago, I did a skype interview with a French IT guru, Jean-Michel Billaut, about the Marco Polo Project. We set off on the wrong foot: our first interview, scheduled at the end of May, had been cut short by cause of bad internet (when is NBN coming again?) So this time, I went to Hub Melbourne, where they have a decent connection (thank you Rick Chen @pozible.com). At 7pm, Melbourne time, for an 11am, French time interview.

And I wasn’t happy with it. For some reason, my French was confused (am I forgetting my mother tongue), and Jean-Michel kept asking me questions that somehow set me off balance – what’s our business model, how to find a French translation on the site, or whether Melbourne was better than Sydney. I did not manage to give back precisely pitched, clear and sharp answers that viewers would carry on in their head, like a mantra. Well, there’ll be more interviews.

The good thing is, retrospective frustration has shaken my brain a bit, and I’ve now coined a nice expression to describe Marco Polo Project. It is a tool to better understand China.

By using our platform, our users can improve their understanding of the Chinese language, and improve their understanding of the Chinese context. This defines it clearly. And entails a clear user base – people who want to better understand China. Popular as “China” has become, that’s far from everyone. More and more people want to benefit from or protect themselves from China – but few want to actually understand it. The former won’t care for us, and we won’t care much for them either. but I hope the latter will come to us, and tell us how to better develop our platform, so we can better serve them over time.

One thing to note in this definition is the comparative – our website will help users better understand China – that is, if they know something about it already. We’re not a website for language beginners, neither do we provide a broad stroke cultural overview. People will come to us to refine their knowledge, by reading original voices, or practicing translation skills that are, already, somewhat developed.

In other words, we won’t be “the China portal”, and our audience will be limited – but what we can hope for is to become a solid reference for people interested in that niche – and, I guess, it’s a niche, but a growing one.

2 thoughts on “A tool to better understand China

  1. I enjoyed the interview, although Billaut looked very grumpy most of the time and is clearly more business and technology oriented. I’m not sure he understood what makes the site worthwhile, and I’m not sure you could have really interested him. His own site allows people to subtitle his videos… for 600 euros per language! (when TED and Google, eg., get their videos subtitled for free via Amara…). Another difficulty is that, as you say, few people are interested in China except for business or politics. Anyway, bon courage and thanks for developing such a nice tool.

    • Hey, thanks for the nice message! It’s great to receive encouragements once in a while.
      This interview was actually really good for me – it made me think about the business model more in-depth, and really convinced me that this website had value, yet would probably not make money – and that was not a problem. I never thought that getting rich was that much of a pursuit anyway.
      If you liked our platform, please pass word around – who knows, if the community grows big enough, maybe we get some sponsorships, and pay a programmer to properly develop the site.

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