Motivation is not always the keyword

A recent article published in a leading daily here in India touched quite a few raw nerves. Besides talking about the presence of the Gujarati and Punjabi localized versions of Firefox in its latest version, the article somewhat prominently highlights the absence of quite a few other languages due to “a lack of motivation”. Needless to say, there was quite a flutter amongst the volunteer-driven localization communities, who were quick to exchange notes on various mailing lists. So much so, that Chris Hofmann had to come forward with his apologies. Given all the hullaballoo, even I wanted to add my 2 paisa to the entire episode, in my own way.

First up, its important to understand how the Firefox Localization process works. It is rather different from most other localization projects and can pose quite a challenge even for old-hats. I shall try to summarize it, in the best way I can.

During the process of Firefox localization, two variants of localized components would surface:

  • A Language Pack: – This is essentially the translations of the user interface messages and can be downloaded as an add-on. In essence, it is like an additional appendage for the Firefox version that one is running.
  • An Official Build: These would be the translations+extra components (like the translations for the various default pages displayed by Firefox), which would be shipped as part and parcel of a Firefox release. ie. (using a similar analogy as earlier), it is like an arm that is part of the body since birth.

    Each language shipped with Firefox, goes from the “Language Pack” stage to the “Official Build” stage in a phased manner. Unlike other translation projects (e.g. Gnome, Fedora), a new language is not included for the offical development version rightaway. Rather, one has to first work on the previously released stable version (so for Firefox 3, one needs to get the Firefox 2 source), complete all the translation and other tidbits, and only then would a language be accepted as official or as its called “productized”.

    This is where most of the fun starts. The tidbits include quite a few default pages for Firefox (Complete List is here). The pages are in English and provide the templates for the localized versions. Yet, while translating one has to ensure that the local effects are maintained. For eg. The FireFox First-Run page. Notice the links to “Hype Machine” and “Yelp“. Now try figuring out the Indian equivalent for each of them. Yelp could be mapped to burrp.com. But after hunting all over the place for something similar to Hype Machine, finally it was decided to go with an internet Radio station instead. Enter RadioVeRVe. Same goes for search plugins etc. These bits and pieces of the productization part is tracked and submitted through various bugs, which are handled by different Mozilla Developers. I have been working on the Bengali India productization for quite sometime now. Bug id – 398992. As mentioned earlier its a Firefox 2 productization bug and there has been quite a bit of back-and-forth action on the bugs. There is a bug for Firefox 3 as well, but it would only come into effect once the Firefox 2 productization is complete. Bug id – 415575. So it might be a while before all the nitty gritties are worked out and issues finally ironed out. Since Rajesh and I have been closely working with each other, it is quite understandable why the newspaper article came as a mighty blow to him.

    However, what I do find disturbing is the nonchalance on the part of the mainstream media before making such blanket comments. Little knowledge is always a bad thing. Especially in matters like community driven projects, which are to this day an unfamiliar or at best a hazy idea for most people watching things from outside the perimeter of the action. Perhaps it might have helped, if credentials of the commentator could have been judged prior to the interview, so that the messaging would have been drafted in a comprehensible format of the audience. Damage control measures are not always a way out. As are not single points of coordination and failures.

    The Indian community of Localization volunteers are probably one of the most closely knit group of people. With a common culture and geographic proximity that bonds us at a personal level, friendships have been forged, experiences shared and help is always at hand. More than anything, its personal for us. Very very personal and its about time people understand it.

    The Complete process of making an Official Firefox Build.

  • 4 thoughts on “Motivation is not always the keyword

    1. Anonymous

      A guess this is a good place to most more apologies and to talk about the recent press coverage.

      > what I do find disturbing is the nonchalance on the part of the mainstream media before making such blanket comments.

      I agree, but as more open source get the kind of press attention that Firefox gets more people will be exposed to this kind of small twisting of words and side-by-side commentary and quoting that we have been battling for the last several years on the Mozilla project. Take this for example.

      About selection criteria and locale customization of the browser…

      In the article the reporter writes:

      “…Speaking about the absence of Hindi, and more surprisingly the presence of Gujarati and Punjabi versions, Chris Hofmann, a Mozilla spokesperson said that there were no selection criteria for the languages for Firefox. “All of our localisation efforts are purely volunteer-driven. Volunteer translate the software into their native languages,” Hoffman said.”

      In the first part of the sentence the reporter sets you up for the fact that I’m doing all the talking, but then the reporter interjects their observation:

      “that there were no selection criteria for the languages for Firefox.”

      There is no way on earth that I’d ever say anything like that. There definitely are selection criteria, completeness levels, and quality bars that localizations have to meet to get on the mozilla.com download page. In this blog post runab outlines a lot of the extra work that is needed to try and provide the best internet browsing experience tuned to each locale. Selection of locale specific search engine plugins, RSS feeds and services is a key part of trying to give that kind of good experience and I’ve been a big proponent of trying to make sure that we don’t just have en-US selections in the UI of the locale versions. That doesn’t serve the best interest of the user, but it does create some tough work for the localization teams. Some teams love this ability to customize the browser to their locale, and some find this extra work tiresome. Where we can find people that want to get involved with the research to find the top search engines and services we definitely want to try and add them as contributors to the localization teams to help distribute the work load.

      Anyway, after the reporter injects their observation they follow it up with a direct quote.

      “All of our localization efforts are purely volunteer-driven. Volunteer translate the software into their native languages,” Hoffman[sp] said.”

      Yes, that last part in quotes is a direct quote from me, but now its all sandwiched together making it sound like it all comes from me.

      Then lets look at the next section. This is the one that has really struck some raw nerves with me and others.

      It’s not that Mozilla hasn’t given Hindi a chance. [from the repoter]

      In fact, if you visit the addons.mozilla.org website, you will find language packs for Hindi and Tamil. [from a link we provided to the reporter to say that Hindi and Tamil are in development and are coming as full localization installers in a future release.]

      However, these packs need to be developed by ‘motivated’ individuals into the respective Firefox languages. [also from the reporter]

      As I mentioned in the newsgroup post the language used by the reporter was very unfortunate. The language used is pretty cheeky, and leaves the door open to a lot of questions. At face value the statement is true.

      language packs and full localized builds packs *do* need developed by ‘motivated’ individuals.

      I would assert that they *are* being developed by highly motivated individuals like runab and rajesh, and teams in India and around the world that have a passion for bringing a great internet experience to people in their region. If you have been around me at all you have heard me say that at many times, and in many places

      Reply
    2. Anonymous

      continued…

      adding to that [long] comment I just made…

      So what can we do now?

      runab suggests “Perhaps it might have helped, if credentials of the commentator could have been judged prior to the interview, so that the messaging would have been drafted in a comprehensible format of the audience.”

      If we try and limit the press response and outreach to just people that know and understand how open source communities work we will limit ourselves to a pretty small population of press in India and worldwide. With Firefox, Mozilla is trying to reach deeper into the mainstream with the software, and then try to follow up and educate on the values and community effort that goes into the creating something that people in the mainstream love to use. This is a difficult approach and one that differs with the way linux is promoted a lot of the time. It has benefits and it has costs. There are a lot of positive things in that article. People heard that Firefox 3 is here and that there is a huge outpouring in interest and passion for a better browser experience that it provides. They also hear there is a community of people in India and around the world that help to build the browser. All those are good messages that we can build on with this reporter and others in the mainstream press.

      We are following up with this reporter to try and provide more education, and to make them aware of some of the loose language they used and the impact it had on some really hardworking people.

      -chofmann

      Reply
    3. sankarshan

      The stance of ensuring that a feature can be demonstrated in the local language is something that is nice. At least for bn_IN however this has turned into a show-stopper. That is what it appears to me.

      L10n teams are not mandated to motivate or encourage content providers to dish out content in Unicode compliant format. So, taking an informed decision and moving forward with productization is a way forward. In case of Firefox (particularly Bug#398992) I don’t see that happening.

      The other aspect of course is the fact that to be an official build in ‘n’ release, one has to begin working at ‘n-1’. This is somewhat different from what other projects do. For example, in Fedora one can get on to the wagon of an upcoming release and attempt to complete as much as possible.

      Reply

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