Wednesday, June 02, 2010

#MediaWiki - #SignWriting road map

It is a distinct honour and pleasure to have Steve Slevinski as a guest blogger. To appreciate why I consider it an honour, Valerie Sutton who read it in advance wrote: "This is an outstanding clarification and history and roadmap for SignWriting software in general."

Solving a desktop issue on the server

SignWriting is a universal script for all sign languages. SignWriting is covered by open standards. The second version of the International SignWriting Alphabet was recently completed. Called the ISWA 2010, the alphabet is ready for a 10 year freeze.

I'm currently working on the third major revision of the character
encoding model called Binary SignWriting. This revision is needed for improved searching. After this revision, the data model will be ready for a 10 year freeze as well.

The SignWriting script itself has not changed in many years. We still
write the same way with the same symbols. Fine tuning the alphabet and data model, while an inconvenience for programmers, has not effected the writers. All of our data has been and will continue to be automatically converted to the latest standards.

Now that we are approaching a stable standard, we are ready to consider a Unicode proposal. Thanks to the work of Michael Everson, 1024 code points have already been reserved for SignWriting in the Supplementary Multilingual Plane. With the third revision of Binary SignWriting, we can encode SignWriting with 1280 code points, requiring 5 rows compared to the 4 rows already set aside.

Inclusion in Unicode is very exciting, but it will take years to work
through the approval process. Ultimately, SignWriting will be solved
with the desktop. Server applications will simply store characters in
the database and use characters in the HTML pages. The desktop will receive the characters and generate the appropriate SignWriting font.

People have listed the shortcomings of the SignWriting MediaWiki Plugin. Every one of these issues do not exist for a script encoded in Unicode with a desktop font engine. Once SignWriting is encoded and a desktop font is available, the need for a SignWriting MediaWiki extension will largely go away. SignWriting will just be another script. Every feature of MediaWiki will work the same as for other scripts: page titles, interwiki linking, meaningful diffs, that are written vertically...

The future is bright, but we're not going to wait and just sit still. We
have writers to help and others to inform. The current method for
SignWriting is to store the characters in the database and send images to the desktop. We are using the server to solve a desktop problem.

The implementation of the open standards is called the SignWriting Image Server. This is a general purpose server package for creating and viewing SignWriting.

The current SignWriting MediaWiki Plugin is a simple cover to the
SignWriting Image Server. For the main body of the page, SignWriting data is replaced with equivalent images. This replacement happens at a superficial level and can break linking and some other features. Digging deeper into the parser and user interface, it is possible to solve any issue, but this requires time, effort, and expertise.

The official SignWriting Wiki will serve as an incubator to mature the plugin as we develop our tools and our writers. Next week, I will be updating the plugin to use the third revision of Binary SignWriting. Detailed instructions and video demonstrations are planned for the near future. A plugin update is planned for late 2010, early 2011.

Regards,
Stephen E Slevinski Jr.
slevin@signpuddle.net
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