Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The language (prevention) committee???

I haven't been here for some days and had to follow up quite a bunch of e-mails and what do I find? People complain about the requirement to have a localized UI for a new language project, mainly talking about Wikipedia in a new language. We are also accused to use the policy request for our own neat reasons ... uhm ... which own neat reasons should we have if not making sure a new Wikipedia can have an easy life???.

Today most new wikipedias are really small projects with a quite restricted number of potential editors.

Now let us go back to the day the Neapolitan Wikipedia was requested ... I already had thought about a Wikipedia in Neapolitan, but had planned it for autumn 2006 to start, but everything went different: in Summer 2005 people in the discussion group napulitano@yahoogroups.com started to say things like "it would be great to have a Neapolitan wikipedia" and at a certain stage I simply decided to open the new language request and see if there was enough support for it. Within just very few days we reached the amount of votes needed and the Wikipedia was created fairly fast. The new project was there with a Neapolitan UI and me as temporary admin. From the 10 native speakers that supported the new project not all got active. In the end we were three stable editors.

Soon we found out that the Mediawiki software did not like a particularity of Neapolitan. In Neapolitan you have words that require a double quote, like d''o and the double quote from the Mediawiki software is understood like "write in italics". So we asked to solve this issue, but up to date we still have to use a workaround inserting # & 3 9 ; # & 3 9 ; (writing with spaces to make sure the blog does not convert to html). New users are sometimes driven away. The hurdle to be able to contribute on nap.wikipedia is high: people speak Neapolitan every day, but they never wrote it in their life. And when they then timidly start to contribute writing of course with errors since the only spelling they know is Italian and so they use Italian rules on Neapolitan pronunciation to write it down they find out that there are even issues in writing simple double quotes. Then again: some super Neapolitans who seem to know everything come to a collaborative project and complain about mistakes ... well whenever they are asked to contribute with their knowledge and to share it to make sure written Neapolitan has a chance to survive they vanish in the dark ... so what? Well, probably their Neapolitan is then not good enough and they are worrying about ... what??? ... and they probably feel big since they wrote an anonymous note ... well: probably you understand what I think about people who are not man/woman enough to say who they are and do facts instead of only complaining.

So: one request the language committee has is the creation of a certain amount of contents by a certain number of people in order to make sure issues related to languages can be dealt with before they arise on the new wikipedia. When they arise before the creation of the new wikipedia people will know how to ask and how to deal with things easier since they are on Incubator where they find a cross community and where there are plenty of people who can help and address them to the right contacts. Besides that: this requirements also helps to make sure that people really want to work on their language and it is not just a wish of that moment and that after two weeks they stop.

Another request is the localization of the User Interface. Well the User Interface of a Wikipedia can be edited only by an admin. The funny situation I had on the Neapolitan Wikipedia at the beginning was that I was the only temporary admin. A person with quite a lot of technical wiki skills, but lacking in Neapolitan language not being it my mother tongue. So the first bit of the localization was done like this:

* I translated a sentence
* sent the link to the Neapolitan discussion group
* got the corrections back via e-mail
* re-edited the sentence
* sent the link again to the discussion group for proof reading
* eventually had to edit again etc.


Now that was very time consuming and so only a small part was done since as soon as people became aware of nap.wikipedia they also started to vandalize the project ... well only the admin can delete spam, only the admin can do certain stuff. So everything slowed down on the localization end quite a bit.

Then other two admins and a bit later another one was elected and I got bureaucratship so I could nominate them admins. But still we are only four people who can deal with the UI localization - one of us only comes along when we call him - he really has not a minute of time and it is always difficult to get hold of him, a second one did not stay well and even now cannot edit every day. The only one being able to do a bit more is Eric and I would like to tell him: thank you, you are great!!!

Even if other people would like to help with the localization: they cannot help ... they would have to become an admin first.

On Betawiki the story is different: anybody gets edit rights for the various UI languages - thank you Nikerabbit for all the programming work you do - and there was one very special person who cared about the community around betawiki: Gangleri ... who knows where he is - we cannot reach him. Please, should you read this post: all of us would very much like to know that you are fine. Gangleri did such a great work ... well: Mediawiki should thank him ... he really worked all day for weeks or better months. Now Betawiki could be implemented on Incubator and people would have less problems with the localization, but it does not have priority. So for now we kindly ask people to do that job on Betawiki.

By working on Betawiki they do not only help their own Wikipedia, but also all Wikis that are potentially created in that language. That means: they do much more for their languauge than just doing it on the wikipedia bit by bit.

What I would like to say with this: please do understand that behind each request we made in the new language creation policy there are hours of work and considerations, many discussions on why a request makes sense and another one did not make sense (and therefore is not included n the policy).

We are here to help wikipedias to survive, to be able to build a reasonable and sustainable community around it, to encounter less problems possible when they have to live on their own. Many people underestimate the work it takes to build up a new wikipedia. Most new projects are less sourced language entities with not too many potential contributors. If we want to help them we need to consider our own experiences and we need to make sure they will not encounter the same problems that we had.

Wikipedias in less sourced languages with only a small number of potential editors: we want you among us and we want you to succeed and become brilliant projects.

There would be so much more to say ... but I hope that you, who are reading this, understand what we are about and will help us in our job.

Thank you!
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