On the sidelines of the GNOME.Asia 2011 at Bangalore, an article in The Hindu “This one’s no gnome” was published. When Srinivasa Ragavan tweeted about it, I mentioned about the ill-formed comment
The paragraph of interest is here:
Excited to be in India, he concedes that community interest here is still on the lower side. Setting this straight is particularly important when it comes to GNOME localisation. “Localisation is a huge challenge here, mainly because there are so many languages, and also because of the way the alphabet font is linked. This is where Free software is critical, because smaller the user base, lesser the chances proprietary firms will take this up.” We count on enthusiastic developers, who are proud of their language and want to preserve it in the digital realm, Mr. Cameron adds. In fact, he points out there are “big business opportunities”, domestic and international, for those who commit themselves to such projects.
Brian mentions about community interest in localization being less. On the face of it, this appears to be a conclusion derived from looking at number of participants in the language communities. The way I’ve learnt to look at localization is to try and see the communities and the efforts which sustain. Localization is a steady and incremental process. The communities which take the time and make the effort to reach and maintain their place in and around the “supported” percentage for the individual Indic languages are the ones doing great work.
With each release of GNOME there is an obvious increase in the number of strings up for translation. I don’t have the exact statistics to support this fact but I guess a trend-line generated from the total number of strings available in each release super-imposed over the trend-line for the ‘supported percentage’ figure would see an increase with each release. I’m sure someone actually has this data. This basically means that within a short period of ~4 months (factor in the code freeze and string freeze etc), which may or may not also overlap with other project releases, the localization teams end up completing their existing release work, review pending modules and polish up translation consistency ensuring that with each release of the desktop there is a step towards making it more user-friendly.
That’s why localization is a big challenge. Not because of the number of languages and certainly not because of the “way the alphabet font is linked”. For what it is worth, the latter bit is more in the realms of internationalization and there are efforts at multiple levels to ensure that the remaining few outstanding issues get fixed.
This brings us to a small gripe I’ve had about a lot of Free and Open Source Software projects who take their L10n communities and participants for granted. I’ve rarely seen a project board reach out and talk with the participants to figure out what can be done to make things better. For example, would a community doing L10n do more awesome work if they were funded for a 2 day translation sprint ? Do the language communities have specific requirements on the translation and content infrastructure or, the translation workflow ? Have these issues been brought up in Technical Board meetings ? GNOME isn’t the only one which repeatedly fails to do this transparently, but it is among the highly visible FOSS projects which seems to assume that it is an obligation of its volunteer contributors to keep the statistics ticking.