Oh, Facebook, Facebook, thou little knowest the mischief thou hast done

The morning brought forth a micro-blog/dent from Karsten pointing out that Facebook Wants To Own Idea Of Crowdsourced Translations (read more on the link).

Embodiments of the invention provide techniques for translating text in a social network. In one embodiment translations of text phrases are received from members of the social network. These text phrases include content displayed in a social networking system, such as content from social networking objects. A particular member is provided with content including a text phrase in a first language, and the member requests translation into another language. Responsive to this request, a translation of the text phrase is selected from a set of available translations. The selection is based on actions by friends of the member in the social network, the actions being associated with the set of available translations. These actions can the viewing of or approval of translations by the friends, for example. The selected translation is then presented to the member requesting the translation.

Reading “The Art of Community”

I did reach a personal goal of bringing down the rate at which I was reading books. From around 4 books a week to 3 books a month – that’s a fair enough achievement. Among the ones I wrapped up recently, was The Art of Community (1st Edition) by Jono Bacon (linky)

I finally managed to add it to my Safari Bookshelf (for some odd reason I had to delete a book to free up a slot inspite of not being over quota) and, I did have high expectations from it, Jono has been active and visible in various communities and, I expected his enthusiasm to reflect in the writing. The book is a good one and, definitely worth a read. Interesting chapters are: Building Buzz, Measuring Community, Handling Conflict and, Hiring a Community Manager. A couple of observations about the book:

  • it draws on the shared experiences and, “stories” from various personalities and, projects making it somewhat of a “comfortable” book to read. You get to see that there are patterns to the problems across various communities and, tribes and, such patterns can be addressed
  • it isn’t “preachy” or, prescriptive or, even full of homilies. That’s a saving grace really. However, the deliberately chatty nature of the book sometimes becomes a bit too full. However, not mandating prescriptions to “fix” communities is a good thing to have in a book
  • It does have the usual attempts to define what a community manager does (including the by now cliche of “herding cats”). The end definition is somewhat more easy-on-the-ear (read the book for that :))
  • it doesn’t delve too much into the measurement aspects of the vitality of a community and, somewhat implies that the entire effort to build up and, sustain a community is somewhat of a “soft” skill issue. That, I’d say goes against the grain of the intent of the book – to demonstrate the easy of formation of communities and, the significant efforts to keep them sustained. And, although the anecdote about the 5-A-Day is insightful, on the whole, it doesn’t break new ground in statistical assessment or, deriving sense out of the number crunching
  • I’d have liked to read about examples from upstream projects like GNOME, KDE and, Mozilla. Because of the size and, nimbleness of their releases, the community experiences would have far more anecdotes about processes, tools and workflows. The book does justice in talking about the importance of having open and transparent processes, however, it doesn’t delve too deeply into the catastrophic failures that can happen if the vital emotions of Belief, Respect, Accountability and Trust are thrown to the winds. There have been ample cases in the world of Open Source where one or, all of the foundations have crumbled and, havoc ensued. Dispassionate discussion about them helps bring out the case for the need to have a vigilant community.
  • I recently read Cultivating Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, William M. Snyder (linky) and, expected The Art of Community to demonstrate the validity of legitimate peripheral participation in the Ubuntu community. There aren’t too many examples of those.

In short, although the books falls a bit short of my expectations, it is a good read and, a book to have on the shelf. It does not lend itself towards creating neat little check-boxes like, say, a Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project by Karl Fogel (linky). Or, it isn’t aimed for companies who want to build a community around their products/services as is documented by Dave Neary in his blog.

On a related side note, the other books which I read and, would recommend are: 97 Things Every Project Manager Should Know, 1st Edition by Barbee Davis (linky) and, 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know, 1st Edition by Richard Monson-Haefel (linky). Both are extremely nice read especially because they have a diverse range of inputs which make it topical. There’s a need for a 97 Things Every Community Manager Should Know as well ;)

Lastly, it would be delicious if the Safari folks allowed the bookshelf to be treated like an actual library bookshelf – check-in and, check-out books at will as opposed to waiting for a specific number of days to be able to remove the books. Oh well ! you can’t have it all I guess.

Tools of the translation trade

I begin with a caveat – I am a dilettante translator and hence the tools of my trade (these are the tools I have used in the past or, use daily) or, the steps I follow might not reflect reality or, how the “real folks” do translation. I depend to a large extent on folks doing translation-localization bits for my language and, build heavily on their works.

KBabel

I used it only infrequently when it was around in Fedora (it is still available in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5) but once I did get over the somewhat klunky interface, it was a joy to work with. Seriously rugged and, well formed into the ways of doing translations, KBabel was the tool of choice. However, it was replaced by Lokalize (more on that later) and so, I moved on to Lokalize.

Lokalize

This has so much promise and yet, there is so much left to be desired in terms of stability. For example, a recent quirk that I noticed is that in some cases, translating the files using Lokalize and, then viewing it using a text editor shows the translated strings. However, loading them in KBabel or, another tool shows the lines as empty. The Kbabel -> Lokalize transformation within KDE could have perhaps done with a bit of structured requirements definition and, testing (I am unaware as to whether such things were actually done and, would be glad to read up any existing content on that). Then there’s this quirk for the files in the recent GNOME release – copying across the content when it is in the form Address leaves the copied form as empty space. The alternative is to input the tags again. Which is a cumbersome process. There are a number of issues reported against the Lokalize releases which actually gives me enough hope, because more issues mean more consumers and hence a need to have a stable and functional application.

Virtaal

I have used it very infrequently. The one reason for that is that it takes some time to get used to the application/tool itself. I guess sometimes too much sparseness in UI is a factor in shying away from the tool. The singular good point which merits a mention is the “Help” or, documentation in Virtaal – it is very well done and, actually demonstrates how best to use the application for day to day usage in translation. This looks to be a promising tool and, with the other parts like translation memory, terminology creator etc tagged on, it will have the makings of a strong toolchain

Pootle

I had been initially reluctant to use a web-based tool to do translations. This however might have been a factor of the early days of Pootle. With the recent Pootle releases, having a web-based translation tool is a good plus. However, it isn’t without its queer flaws – for example, it doesn’t allow one to browse to a specific phrase to translate (or, in other words, in a 290 line file, if you last left it at 175, the choices are either to traverse from the start in bunches of 10 or, 7 or, traverse from the end till one reaches the 176th line), the instances of Pootle that I have used don’t use any translation memory or, terminology add-ons to provide suggestions.

I have this evolving feeling that having a robust web-based tool would provide a better way of handling translations and, help manage content. That is perhaps one of the reasons I have high expectations from the upcoming Pootle releases and, of course, Lotte.

Irrespective of the tools, some specific things that I’d see being handled include the following. I hope that someone who develops tools to help get translations done takes some time out to talk with the folks doing it daily to understand the areas which can do with significant improvements.

  • the ability to provide a base glossary of words (for a specific language) and, the system allowing it to be consumed during translation so as to provide a semblance of consistency
  • the ability to take as input a set of base glossaries across languages (for example, a couple of Indic languages do check how other Indic languages have handled the translation) and, the system allowing the translator/reviewer to exercise the option of choosing any of the glossaries to consult
  • provide robust translation suggestions facilitating re-use and, increasing consistency
  • a higher level of handling terminology than what is present now
  • a stronger set of spell checking plumbing
  • store and display the translation history of a file
  • the ability to browse to a specific string/line which helps a lot when doing review sprints or, just doing translation sprints

Update: Updated the first line to ensure that it isn’t implied that these are the only tools anyone interested in translation can use. These are tools I have used or, use daily.

Update: Updated the “wish-list” to reflect the needs across tools as opposed to the implied part about they being requested only in Pootle

Lost in translation ?

From a recent mail on the Foundation list, here’s an interesting quote:

Collaboration among advisory board members: Now that we have a sys admin team in place would like to find ways that we can collaborate better. Mentioned an article by J5 that talked about that RH, Novell and others are less involved because of the maintenance burden.They spend time on money on things like translations. No process to get them upstream and so they do it all over again next year.

It is the last line that I find a bit off-key and, out of context.

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