I seem to be posting a lot about Google these days but then they ARE turning into the digital equivalent of Nestlé.
I’ve been pondering this post for a while and how to approach it without making it sound like I believe in area 52. So I’ll just say what happened and let you come to your own conclusions mostly.
Back when Google still ran the Google in Your Language project, I tried hard to get into Gmail and what was rumoured to be a browser but failed, though they were keen to push the now canned Picasa. <eyeroll> Then of course they canned the whole Google in Your Language thing. When I eventually found out that Google Chrome is technically nothing else than a rebranded version of an Open Source browser called Chromium, I thought ‘great, should be able to get a leg into the door that way’. Think again. So I looked around and was already confused because there did not appear to be a clear distinction between Chromium and Chrome. The two main candidates were Launchpad and Google Code. So January 2011 I decide to file an issue on Google Code, thinking that even if it’s the wrong place, they should be able to point me in the right direction. The answer came pretty quick. Even though the project is called Chromium, they (quote) don’t accept third party translations for chrome. And nobody seems to know where the translations come from or how you become an official translator. A vague reference that I maybe should try Ubuntu.
I gave it some time. Lots of time in fact. I picked up the thread again early in 2013. Now the semi-serious suggestion was to fork Chromium and do my translation on the fork. Very funny. Needless to say, I was getting rather disgusted at the whole affair and decided to give up on Chrome/Chromium.
When I noticed that an Irish translator on Launchpad had asked a similar question about Chromium and saw the answer was they, as far as they know, push the translations upstream to Chromium from Launchpad, I decided I might as well have a go. As someone had suggested, at least I’ll get Chromium on Linux.
Fast forward to October 2014 and I’m almost done with the translation on Launchpad so I figure I better file a bug early because it will likely take forever. Bug filed, enthusiastic response from some admin on Launchpad. Great, I think to myself, should be plain sailing from here on. Spoke too soon. End of January 2015, the translation long completed, I query to silence and only get more silence. More worryingly, someone points me at a post on Ubuntu about Chromium on Launchpad being, well, dead.
Having asked the question in a Chromium IRC chat room, I decided to have another go on Google Code, new bug, new luck maybe? Someone in the room did sound supportive. That was January 28, 2015. To date, nothing has happened apart from someone ‘assigning the bug to l10n PM for triage’.
I’m coming to the conclusion that Chromium has only the thinnest veneer of being open. Perhaps in the sense that I can get a hold of the source code and play around with it. But there is a distinct lack of openness and approachability about the whole thing. Perhaps that was the intention all along, to use the Open Source community to improve the source code but to give back as little as possible and to build as many layers of secrecy and to put as many obstacles in people’s path as possible. At least when it comes to localization.
At least Ubuntu is no longer pushing Chromium as the default browser. But that still leaves me with a whole pile of translation work which is not being used. Maybe I should check out some other Chromium-based browsers like Comodo Dragon or Yandex. Perhaps I’m being paranoid but I’m not keen on software coming from Russia being on my systems or recommending it to other people. Either way, I’m left with the same problem that we have with Firefox in a sense – it would mean having to wean people off pre-installed versions of Google Chrome or Internet Explorer.
Anyone got any good ideas? Cause I’m fresh out of…
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.