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The Welsh Twitterati: Bringing Everyone Together

Categories: Digital Media, Feature, Interview, Introduction, Languages
In early February 2014, a new exclusively Welsh-language [1] news website was launched – Ffrwti.com [2]. They say (via Google Translate):
The Ffrwti'n website publishes a combination of the best material that is being shared on Twitter side-by-side with original articles to create one place to find out what is happening now on the web in the Welsh culture.
Ffrwti posts original articles and existing articles on tech, culture and language. They've recently written about such topics as Welsh-language singer [3] Meinir Gwilym, and a partnership  [4]between Bangor University [5]‘s Language Technology Centre and Wikimedia to promote the Welsh language online. 
The articles are published alongside aggregated Welsh-language tweets posted in real-time, which have been identified through an algorithm that draws information from Welsh twitter users. This means that the algorithm identifies who is speaking Welsh on Twitter, and builds up a database of users – totaling now around 15000.
The project began when founder Rohdri ap Dyfrig was contacted by CodeSyntax [6], a Spanish software company, to ask about prototyping a Welsh language tweet aggregator based on existing projects in Basque and Catalan languages – susatu [7] and umap [8].

Rohdri explains:

[The aggregator] works out who are the most interesting Welsh language Twitter users. This is done using factors like % of tweets in Welsh, how many people follow them and other factors. So we end up with the tweets of about 2,500 people being filtered constantly. These are ranked in terms of interestingness and their rank affects the Automated news section[…]

The FfrwtiBot automated news section uses the links in the tweets that are filtered to see which links are most popular / interesting. It counts things such as RTs, replies, and assigns points to a link based on the ranking of the people that have RTd etc.

We then have a threshold for publication – if the link gets enough points to reach this threshold – then it is published.
Rhodri ap Dyfig at a CodeSyntax training in Wales - published with permission

Rhodri ap Dyfig at a CodeSyntax training in Wales – published with permission

Indigenous Tweets [9] and Ffrwti estimate that there are approximately 15,000 users tweeting in Welsh – about 3% of the Welsh-apeaking population. Rhodri says:

[3%] may seem trivial compared to the importance of intergenerational transmission of the language, but as for any minority language, it's important that the language is normalised in as many situations as possible, especially ones in the field of technology. 

The website features events happening in real-time: a recent twitter event was the television broadcast of a popular annual Welsh song contest on February 28, 2014. According to Welsh broadcaster S4C [10]here were a total of 3600 tweets mentioning either #cig2014 [11] or “Can i Gymru” [12] from 1000 users. A Twitter user even created a Can i Gymru Bingo card [13], where you could tick off the cliches as they were reeled off by presenters. Rhodri said that in 2013,
… there were thousands of tweets in a few hours putting the hashtag in the UK Twitter trending topics, much to the confusion of people outside of Wales.
But it does show that Twitter has positive role to play in making minority languages more visible, and that the language is not just something we talk about but a vehicle for entertainment, pop and scathing online commentary!     
They hope to expand to other languages which have similar levels of minority-language users on Twitter:
we would love to build on this and see if there are other languages which could benefit from a website such as Ffrwti. The Irish language is certainly a possibility, and I'm sure there are other languages which could fit this model. We'd love people to get in touch if their language community is vibrant on Twitter and the Ffrwti model could be interesting for them.