I’ve just been through a head-scratching exercise and before you suggest anti-dandruff shampoos, it was about access keys. Yes… or was it shortcut keys? Or a hotkey? Or a quick key? Which sums up part of the problem – there’s too damn many of them. Now the basic idea is solid – access keys are keyboard combinations which allow you to instruct your computer to carry out frequently used tasks without having to click through the menu. So far, so good. For examply, on Windows CTRL c has long been the command for copy and CTRL v for paste. Then there’s CTRL z for undo and… errr… yes, to be honest, that’s all I ever use and I use PCs a lot, more than I care to think.
I don’t know who invented the first access key but our friends the consumers-of-too-many-pizzas must have thought this was brilliant. If copy and paste access keys are good, surely there must be other useful ones… like for open, save, close, tools, help, save as, pluck a chicken, pick your nose… and soon the whole program was peppered with the damn things. Not only that one program of course … wherever it has started, it soon spread to the rest and like the thing about electric plugs, everyone used a different name and a different key combination without ever giving a thought to the end user. Was it CTRL j, ALT j, ALTGR j or ALT CTRL SHIFT j? Or ALT OPTION or hang on, that was my DoodleBug program on Windows, I’m now on a Mac in VLC. Should I use the Apple button or Fn?
I bet if you did some research, you’d find that a lot of people only ever use a minute fraction of the available access/shortcut/whatever keys. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that the smart everyday user knows less than half a dozen and that most know none at all. And certainly no one uses them to navigate 5 levels down to the Proxy Settings of their browser. Yes, there have been attempts to streamline them but that again ignored the basic question of “do we need them” or “how many do we need”? In any cases, the attempts have been as successful as moves to standardise electric plugs or convince China that the rule of law is a good thing.
So what does this have to do with localization and my headscratching? Well, unfortunately no one bother either to automate the process. Which means that when you localize software, you have to manually add them. Now if the localization process in general was smarter, then that might sort of work but remember that when localizing software, from Microsoft to LibreOffice, what you essentially get is a table with one language in one column and your translation in another. Certainly no visual context. And usually no info which tells you anything about the scope (as in, which of these appear next to each other). So you’re faced with something like this:
And it’s left to you to figure it out. In the above, your guess is as good as mine whether those all appear in the same menu or in two different ones (perhaps the first 3 in a Fry menu and the last in an Other menu). Oh, and did I mention that they don’t even agree on the symbol? In some, it’s &Fry (which gives the end user the line under the Fry), in others you have to to ~Fry and… oh, you get the idea.
So to a half-baked idea, we’ve added a haphazard localization process. Great. Oh, did I mention the guidelines? The ones which say you should put lines under letters with descenders (something dropping down like gjpqy)? Which is usually fine in English with its 26 letters. But Gaelic only has 18 guys, 16 if I have to cut out letters with descenders and even less if I’m instructed not to use thin letters (like ilf). Do I look like the Brahan Seer? I won’t even start on the difficulties that arise in locating said string when you see a wrong access key on screen in testing.
I did take the time to make sure that the most visible ones don’t overlap in programs like LibreOffice and Firefox. But several layers down, to be honest, I can’t be bothered. So I had to remind myself that the nice person who filed a bug on my behalf with a list of them for some several-layers-down-menu-about-frigging-proxies that they’re not responsible for the general mess that are access keys and not to bite their head off. In the end, I did post a condensed version of my reasoning – the fact they’re mostly pointless and as a result, that I don’t have the time and manpower to fix something which the translator shouldn’t have to fix in the first place.
Honestly, don’t people ever take a step back and think?