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Archive for February, 2012

Shooting yourself in the foot, Goidelic style

28/02/2012 7 comments

Well, it would seem messing up is not the sole domain of monolingual English-speaking developers. Goidelic developers (that’s Irish, Scottish Gaelic or Manx) are just as bad it would seem.

I wasn’t going to write about the rather painful episode that was MyGaelic.com. In fairness (as far as I know) it actually didn’t start out as a plan for a Gaelic social networking site but a promotional campaign to encourage younger people to learning Gaelic. This soon acquired plans for a website, then a social networking element and before you knew, it was only a social networking site. Seems to me like a classic case of scope creep and PM failure. Unfortunately no-one appears to have asked the question, while the scope was creeping, what social networking is and what makes it tick. Things like “critical mass” for example. Or the question of why I’d shift from Facebook to MyGaelic, thus restricting myself only to my (much smaller) circle of Gaelic-speaking friends. The point about Facebook surely is that (almost) everyone IS on it…

Anyway. I had hope that we’d drawn the curtains over social networking sites in Gaelic/Irish (which, incidentally does not mean I don’t want Facebook to add Gaelic as an interface language, on the contrary, or I wouldn’t have participated in the addon which translates the Facebook menus into Gaelic). Apparently not. Someone posted on Fòram na Gàidhlig about this new Irish site called AbairLeat, in essence an Irish-language social networking site, and asking what it was like. So I have a bash, with a modicum of trepidation.

Ok, the bright side first. It looks visually attractive, if a little confusing at first but then maybe I’m just a Facebook victim! Sign up, do my profile… oops. First problem. To keep it in Irish, they’ve set up a tool that measures the % of Irish content you’re typing. Anything above 70% and you’re ok to post. For some reason, this tool took exception to the inflected form “chuid” and “hAlban” … Pass as to why. Even the phrase “Is é do bheatha” gets a score of 75%. Now the idiom may be more Gaelic than Irish but the words are all Irish. It does come up with suggestions – theoretically. Except the right-click to get to them interferes neatly with the spellchecker menu in Firefox. Then there’s the window for posting – it looks massive but the font you type in is about what, point 20? Which means you run out of space fast and it doesn’t wrap. Or shift over. And the % are still weird. Add to that various other navigation bugs. So I grind my teeth and log in via Internet Explorer. No difference really except that I don’t have a browser spellchecker interfering cause IE doesn’t have one for Irish. And please, I’m not doing some kind of deep-down bizarre user testing. I’m just having a snoop around.

Eventually I manage to (double) post about this problem and get a very friendly admin (+++). Guess what – they know it’s buggy and apparently, I should use Chrome. :roll: Great. There are two browsers available IN Irish. Firefox and IE. And they go and test in… Chrome. Nice one guys, full points.

Three lessons:

  1. Do some user testing with real users, whatever language you’re aiming at
  2. Switch browsers once in a while and don’t assume people will switch browsers just because of your site
  3. Don’t release a really buggy version in a small language. Speakers of small languages are hard-to-convince customers at the best of times and once you’ve alienated them from your site, they’re unlikely to return.

I wish them all the best – of course I want to become a bustling hub of Irish. But talk about shooting yourself and your language in the foot.

As if by magic…

27/02/2012 2 comments

We all know the feeling… software doing something that’s totally counter-intuitive, driving us mad in the process. Here, I can’t decide what’s worse, not doing user testing (or doing it badly, as in, leave it to IT people to test) or not listening to your users. Which of course applies to both open source and proprietary software.

Case in point, LibreOffice (the former OpenOffice). Yes, I’m the localizer for Gaelic there. Yes, I think it’s a really great project and really great software package and yes, I can’t see why schools and government are paying Microsoft money for their products which are getting more complicated by the day (yes, I hate the Ribbon). So what’s my bone? It’s the installation process for new users, oddly enough.

Now LibreOffice comes in over a hundred languages, including languages like Oromo, Tibetan and Ndebele who’d normally have a fight to get into propriety software. Fantastic. So what does an interested user do? Well, they go to the site, select their operating system (great, Windows, Linux and MacOS), select their language, download, install (puzzling a little over the install menu being in English but hey, maybe there’s a technical issue with that), write a letter to their granny in Oromo to tell them about this great thing they now have on their computer. Errr… let’s backtrack to step 2, selecting your language. I’m not sure what was being smoked in the room when the download and install process was designed but here’s what actually happens.

You actually download a fairly hefty file which contains the translated interfaces for all languages plus all spellcheckers and grammar proofing tools that teams have bundled with LibreOffice. Bit of a bugger if you’re on a slow connection folks… You then install and you reach a point where you have to select Typical or Custom installation. Now assuming a “normal” user who can’t program in C++ and writes regex to solve his breakfast sudoku, you choose Typical. You complete the process and open LibreOffice – in English. At this point, wtf comes to your lips in whatever (and possibly all) languages you are most fluent in. You start rooting around in the gubbins, pardon, the Options but yours isn’t there.

At this point you either persevere and eventually get the right answer or, in most cases, you give up cause who wants to bother with software that’s complicated when you’re installing it, never mind how simple it is when using it?? Now what is the right answer, your rightfully wondering? Duh, obviously you have to select Custom (never mind that to this point most people are under the impression they’ve just downloaded their own language), then go to Additional language packs and click to expand the menu, unselect 3 types of English and select your language, then move on and hey presto. Oh, did I mention that whichever path through this you pick, you still have the proofing tools for all languages installed, making it a real pain to find the one you’re actually using.

Yes, I’m shaking my head too. True, they may have inherited this from Oracle’s OpenOffice when they split (forked, as they’ll say). But we’re now several releases down the line and it’s still as insane as ever. Maybe someone like Microsoft can afford to piss off users but a recent splinter of an open source office suite which is trying to make it big?

Ok, so the current process allows you to select more than 1 language for your interface which then allows to to switch but for heaven’s sake guys, there are better ways of doing that… like downloading a new language pack from the web if you choose to add Welsh to your Zulu interface.

Projects like LibreOffice in my view can’t afford to let easy of use for the end user fall behind, even if developing something that shows the time in the Mayan Long Count just sounds like so much more fun than making sure the download and install process runs as smoothly as possible with a minimum of head-scratching cause somewhere down the line you’re either losing customers or someone has to provide a load of unnecessary support.

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