Minority languages Social networking User Testing

Shooting yourself in the foot, Goidelic style

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 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. 🙄 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.

7 replies on “Shooting yourself in the foot, Goidelic style”

In the faint hope that a developer might chance across it, read it and think about what they’re doing to languages-other-than-English next time they whip out a line of code? I’ve had a couple of thoughtful follow-ups – I’m realistic about the impact I might possibly have but even one new believer would make the world a better place 🙂
As Gaelic-speaking IT developers are really rare and on the whole much more aware of language issues, English it is.

I have been on Abairleat in Chrome and all the problems you mention are a problem in Chrome. A small group of us are having a fit trying to figure it out. Maybe we should wait until they work it all out. In theory, it sounds good. But for instance, I lead a study group and wouldn’t mind creating a class (I’m not strictly a teacher and I’m not fluent or even close) but the functionality isn’t there. They talk about it as if it’s a done deal, but when you try, it says “coming soon.” Also, their help information, limited as it is, talks a lot, but doesn’t actually help. It comes off as more sales pitch than help.

Interesting. I hadn’t tried Chrome to be honest, my view is if someone can’t be bothered to at least briefly test on all the 3 main browsers, then there’s a serious flaw in their thinking about the end user…
You’re right, the info they give isn’t helpful. Makes me so angry, it’s so easy to turn off users in small languages so you don’t ever serve up something half-baked without explaining in really big letters that it’s half-baked, why and when it’ll be right.
I’m just totally baffled… I don’t understand how they could have put that live. Best of intentions but…

To be honest, I don’t remember where I heard about Abair Leat first – but I think it was on the Irish national news.

They were obviously making a splash of it.

They’re using the social platform. I don’t know what Contain is like in itself – their marketing site seems to suggest it’s an established platform.

But the Abair Leat site only made me angry. I love the idea of an Irish language platform (although I agree it’s very hard to hit that critical mass, especially after the first rush of traffic is over with).

Best of luck to them, but I have only wasted time trying to fix password issues, trying to turn off email notifications, and I couldn’t understand what the % tool was trying to tell me.

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