Swahili^H^H^H^Hllowing our lumps?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/03/14 09:16 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/03/14/8196603.aspx

Please read disclaimer; content of Michael Kaplan's blog not approved by Microsoft! In this case in particular, these are my opinions as someone not working on the project, and not those of anyone connected with the project itself....

You may have read Microsoft is giving people some LIP again, my announcement of the release of the Swahili (Kiswahili) LIP release for Windows XP.

And you may have also read the op-ed piece from the other day written by Beatrice Gachenge for Business Daily entitled Kenya: Why Microsoft Swahili Version Failed (see it also here on allafrica.com).

Just two years from the release to "failure"; breath-taking, and not really in a good way....

Two reasons for the "failure" are explored, both of which can give one serious pause for thought.

The first reason suggested is poor marketing efforts. A project (and a product) like this relies heavily on the efforts to make sure people know it is there, and the article talks about many of the missed opportunities, and as feedback goes this one has direct actionables that can be considered not only in the future but even with the present as people assess what to do with products now....

The second reason suggested is a lot more insidious as it really attacks the approach tasken in the project, and takes the position that the heavy reliance on

hurt the product's fundamental approachability for users.

Now not every LIP was put together the same way -- in many, the efforts on items like Community Glossaries were much more strongly felt and the academic/government connections were not as strong when it came to content.

So the issues here and their applicability to other Language Interface Packs will vary.

But in a problem space where the influencers and company executives and experts have such different opinions asbout t he LIP project, perhaps even as many as there are different people talking, all the way from "why aren't the translations completely community based?" to "why don't we completely rely on educational and governmental resources?" and every conceivable combination in between, the impact of these things can be quite broad. Even for LIPs that do not have the same kinds of associated problems in their markets....

This does not speak against linguists as linguists, but it can be looked at as speaking a little bit against linguists as localizers, since the skillsets and what makes people great in these two very different jobs are not entirely overlapping skills.

It almost goes without saying that no one who has worked with any government bureaucracy like a Department of Moor Vehicles is likely to consider people in the government as the best source, either! Sponsorship? Great! But content? Hmmm....

In a way, it can be taken as a firm statement that the job of the localizer is as important as it ever was, if not moreso -- something that can also speak against complete "community" reliance rather on making sure competent people who understand the source and target markets and can translate between them are present in sufficient numbers to do what it may well turn out to be that no educational or governmental entity, what no group of people can actually accomplish successfully on their own.

But in any case I doubt that what came before will remain unchanged when people work to plan on what comes next.

Which is a good thing, I think. A company like Microsoft has to be able to learn from experiences like this to maximize its effectiveness, to be able to do better....


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