Aye, Google… I’m rather disappointed at them these days I must say. It was a really exciting project in the beginning when I joined their Google in Your Language project. Gosh, I thought, they actually promise “Google believes that fast and accurate searching has universal value. That’s why we are eager to offer our service in all the languages scattered upon the face of the earth.” – how unusually enlightened for a software company, sign me up. Which I did, along with hundreds of other volunteers, putting in hundreds of hours of our time … well, you all know how it works. They did give us a t-shirt at one point, mind. In hindsight, the fact they did that rather than given each one of us, say, a dozen shiny Google shares should have set off some warning bells but hindsight is a great thing.
Initially, all languages were pretty much on a par but soon, inequality started creeping in. While other languages (the big ones) were getting jazzed up search interfaces, smaller languages like Gaelic weren’t. And I also began to realise that Google did not enable all translation projects (they come as separate sub-projects) for all languages, per default or on request. Things like Gmail or GoogleDocs. Ah, requests… that kinda implies communication, doesn’t it? We did have the google.public.translators group but as you might guess, admins were thin on the ground. Many questions and issue were left unanswered so while other projects got fancy with plural formatting and translation memories and suchlike, Google stuck to the if-it’s-not-in-English-we-don’t-want-to-know approach. Initially, I decided that, the company being a startup, this was down to limited resources and that change would come. Change did come to the coffers of Google but not to the localization teams.
More and more English kept creeping in, to the extent that I began to wonder how many people were still using the localized interfaces when they offer perhaps 10% of the overall functionality of Google. Yet, I kept telling myself it would get better. Hm.
I got briefly excited over Google Chrome.. very briefly mind. I foolishly assumed that something as important as this would automatically be made available to all teams. Nope. I emailed those precious few people at Google whose emails I had. No answer. Not to that particular question, but perhaps asking two questions in the same email is too demanding. So I start hitting the web in search of answers. I did get some, but everyone gave me a different one… some said that localizing Chromium would result in a localized Google Chrome, others contradicted that. No one over on the Linux side really seemed to know, answers again ranging from yes through maybe to no way. I’m still waiting for a definitive answer. A project to “move the web forward” indeed.
I’ve even written a very nice if somewhat disappointed letter to Google. That was back in January. Meanwhile, google.public.translators keeps coming and going on and offline and the newest post is from 2008. I posted earlier this year, asking where everyone was. Mysteriously, the post has disappeared. I deduce that admins are watching, but not communicating.
All in all, I’m feeling very bitter I must say. More so than over the OpenOffice thing. I still keep the User Interface for Gaelic up to 100% but in all honesty, if someone comes up with a good open source search engine, I’ll decamp. Google has been successful not only due to its fancy algorithms but also due to the many volunteers who made the interface available in their languages. If Google had only ever catered for the English-speaking world, then I doubt they’d be as successful today. It feels like ingratitude of the worst kind.
Was I foolish to put faith into something that was so clearly aiming for a commercial stranglehold on the web? Perhaps. Perhaps they’ll come good still, though I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I shall steer people towards OperaMail if they want online mail in Gaelic and put my hopes in the LibreOffice Cloud project.