Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top to bottom

The scripts used by the languages that have a #Wikipedia are written either in a right to left or in a left to right direction, the Arabic script for instance is "rtl" and the Latin script is "ltr". Supporting all these scripts is difficult enough. There has been a constant demand for improvements that make editing in languages like Arabic, Hebrew or Urdu easier.

Mongolian is one language that turns things on its head; it is written top down. Even though it is a living language, it is hard to find documents on the Internet. It is hard because at this time only Internet Explorer supports the Mongolian script in its production versions and applications like MediaWiki do not support it at all.

When Mongolian is to be completely supported by browsers, there are several issues;

  • the shapes of the Mongolian script need to be supported by Harfbuzz and other shaping engines. 
  • supporting versions of the shaping engines need to be included in the browser people use
  • it still needs to be shown in the top down direction
Mongolian is not the only script that is written in a top down direction. SignWriting is another one. SignWriting is used by sign languages, there are several hundreds of these languages  and SignWriting is the only script that can be used realistically for day to day use.

There are several requests for Wikipedias that need SignWriting support. All these requests are waiting because of missing technical infrastructure or other issues
  • SignWriting characters are not yet defined in Unicode
  • there is a freely licensed font based on Unicode specifications but it is not stable by definition
  • browsers do not support top down; for now top down needs support in the application
All this can hardly be considered "low hanging fruit" and as there is so much that needs doing. Supporting top down languages in general and Mongolian and SignWriting in specific is something to wish for. It is technology that needs champions that make it a reality.

Friday, December 23, 2011

#SOPA threatens the relevancy of the #USA

The laws of the United States are more and more determined by special interest groups. The SOPA is a law that is intended to stop "piracy" in such a way that big companies effectively get "legal" means in the United States to suppress websites wherever in the world.

Such bullying tactics will result and are resulting in a backlash.

It is important to understand something about how the Internet works; every website can be found on the Internet because an IP-number is connected to a domain name. DNS or dynamic name service connects the two. DNS servers provide this service and typically these servers are best located near to the client who makes use of DNS. However, there is no reason not to use DNS from servers located outside the United States. Such functionality is readied for use in Firefox.

When a domain is registered with a company in the United States like Go Daddy, it is possible to stop the service of a domain with the support of a domain registrar. However, for organisations outside of the USA registrars like Go Daddy will be reconsidered as a trusted service provider particularly when they not only can be compelled to stop providing domain support but also, like in the case of Go Daddy actively support SOPA.

The problem with big companies is that they already have a track record of threatening legal procedures trusting that their opponent does not have the money and / or the presence to enter proceedings in an US American court of law. The consequence is that there already is no equality under the law. With SOPA even more power to abuse the system is handed to the special interests of big companies.

When the dominant position of the USA on the Internet is abused in this way, the process of limiting the power of the USA on the global Internet will increase. Proposals for laws like SOPA are a wake up call to the world. It may lead to the end of the free and global Internet we love so much,

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Workable code is not always deployable code

The #Wikimedia #Localisation team cranks out code, workable code - every sprint. At the end of the sprint, for us a sprint lasts a fortnight, all the completed "stories" are tested against their acceptance criteria and when the tests are good, they are signed off and marked as completed.

With this jargon out of the way, it is possible to consider features.

The Translate extension needs an additional feature to help translation administrators manage their work. Pages that have been marked for translation have a life-cycle; at the start they are marked for translation but at a later stage there is no longer a need for translation. Such a status change has an impact on what translators are to see.

There are many stories that make up the Translate status feature, for instance:
  • you can watch the list
  • you can change the status on a text
  • the list is different depending on the role of a user and the status of a text
A sprint is run in a fixed amount of time. In a sprint there often are stories for multiple products. When the stories do not provide enough functionality for a feature, additional stories will make it in the next sprint. When you read this carefully, you may appreciate that "enough functionality" is not the same as "feature complete". The point is very much that with Agile we get feedback as soon as possible.

When you are interested in the stories in our current sprint, have a look in Mingle (user: guest - password: guest).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

#Microsoft wants to upgrade your #Internet-explorer

It has been a common practice for many browsers to upgrade itself to later versions. This practice not only brings the latest functionality to the end users, it also limits the versions web developers have to test their software for. Among web developers Internet Explorer 6 has a particularly bad reputation; a disproportionate amount of time is spend on making software work and often the result is not pretty.

The Microsoft announcement that they will upgrade Internet Explorer is therefore welcome news. Many more people will be moved towards a more modern and a safer browser. It will marginalise the use of obsolete even dangerous technology even further.

IE-6 was introduced when Windows-XP was young. The end of the line as far as Internet Explorer on XP is concerned is IE-8. This does not provide people with the best and more reliable browsing experience but it is definitely a step up.

Seeing people moved from IE-6 is wonderful. People can help themselves even more by upgrading to an alternative browser like Chrome or Firefox. It will improve their appreciation of what the modern web can provide.

Wiki loves Art Nouveau

#Wikipedia documents in many languages the buildings that are of such a significance that they are officially recognised as "monuments". All these articles need illustrations and Wiki loves Monuments is the photo competition that rallied people from all over Europe to take pictures of the buildings and its details.

Once all this pictures were in, Europeana selected some to create its first user generated exhibition online called: Wiki loves Art Nouveau. The exhibitions shows of European Art Nouveau in four themes: exteriors, interiors, details and author's pick.

If you do not know Europeana yet, visit their website. They are the portal that brings more and more of the European cultural to the Internet. They are also instrumental in gently pushing European GLAM towards using free licenses.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The return of the LocalisationUpdate

The #MediaWiki localisation is a continuous process. A continuous process because MediaWiki development is a continuous process as well. For some languages everything is done, for others the localisation is very much a work in progress.

As a lot of work is involved in getting all the localisations done, making sure that people remain motivated is a challenge. The reasons for them to localise are:

  • it is the best usability improvement available for any language
  • localisation is a requirement when new projects are requested
Such arguments are a bit abstract. What does convince many people is making the latest localisations available on a daily basis to all wikis. This is what the LocalisationUpdate extension is there for. It is why almost every day the latest localisations done at are committed to SVN.

Something broke in the beginning of November but today the server admin log finally indicated: 
02:04 logmsgbot: LocalisationUpdate completed (1.18) at Tue Dec 20 02:07:54 UTC 2011
On many wikis it will be noticeable that a months worth of localisations became available. It will be good when the people who lost some of their motivation will give another try. They will see again how much difference their effort makes. Not only because their work goes rapidly into production but also because it is and remains the best usability improvement for their language.

The new #Android

The new "ice cream sandwich" release for the Android smart phones has one feature that makes many Android users in India with a previous release wish for an upgrade..

As you can see to the left, Android supports our WebFonts. Wikipedia articles can be read while other websites in for instance the Kannada language will show the infamous Unicode boxes.

Android is open source software and consequently it should be possible to figure out what it takes to make Webfonts work for the existing installed base. An alternative would be to add support by installing fonts locally on Android; this would be even better because all Indic languages websites become readable.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Addressing women properly

All the requests to deploy "Gender Namespaces" on all relevant wikis aka bug 28052 have been done. "Looks done to me" was the closing comment for this bug by Rob Lanphier.

It is good news because we now have gender support for those languages that asked for it. The question is if all languages that could benefit from a grammatical correct approach to women are now supported.

Answers to such questions are still very much a hit or miss affair. Our hope is that members of the language support teams answer this question for their language.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Indian grandmother

When you #google for "Indian grandmother", the first image you get is the one you see to the right. It is also a lovely answer to the question "what is in it for me" after it has been suggested that people contribute to Wikipedia.

This answer is actually used for real and can be read on the India mailing list. I am sure this Indian grandmother is happy with her Indian grandson.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Testing the #MediaWiki visual editor ... with #Russian

When you follow MediaWiki development, you will be eager to test the visual editor. A very alpha version of the software is available for testing and, at this time it allows you to enter a text in the Latin script.

That is to say; Amir found a way to enter text in Russian. He uses the Mozilla transliterator. He types Latin characters and Firefox transliterates it into Cyrillic. For Amir the transliterator is a must have feature.
Without it i couldn't write an email to my sisters, comment on Russian blogs or write in the Russian Wikipedia. (You can quote me)
I am happy to quote him and share with you how he sneakily tests the visual editor in Russian anyway. As you can see many more languages are supported in this way.

Yes, your bug reports are eagerly awaited ...

WebFonts update

The initial deployment of #MediaWiki WebFonts has resulted in a large number of reports of large and small issues. Many of them have been fixed they are bug 33025, 33034, 32775, 33096, 33024, 33040 and 33039.  Others have to do with the fonts themselves. During a thorough analysis; the reported issues were recreated in the various browsers and were discussed among the members of the Wikimedia Localisation team. A lot of hard work has followed to fix, review and deploy as a team.

The results have been deployed to the live Wikimedia wikis. A full report was posted to the I18n mailing list. A special word of thanks goes to Bala Yeyaraman and Srikanth L who have been awesome in testing and reporting bugs for several Indic languages.

Please continue testing and give us your feedback.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Traffic from #mobile devices for the languages of #India

Increasingly people find their #Wikipedia on the mobile phone. The surprise is, that traffic from mobile devices for the Indic languages is doing spectacularly well. A year ago such traffic did hardly exist and now the yearly growth rate for Hindi for instance is 10804%.

Given that most mobile phones do not support the scripts used by the languages of India, the question is very much what devices they are. It will be equally interesting to learn what difference the implementation of WebFonts later today will make for other mobile devices.

These statistics for mobile traffic from India are updated every day; it will be interesting to learn not only what languages will benefit but also what devices are capable of supporting Unicode content with web fonts. When I am to buy a mobile phone, the ability of supporting my mother tongue would feature prominently as a must have item.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

#Wikimedia #mobile has language support

The proof of the pudding is in the eating and for the localisers at, it is very much in seeing their work used in action. Brion send an e-mail happily announcing the first export from translatewiki.
Niklas has landed the first commit of localization data from into the repository. The app now picks up the language in Android's locale and shows localized menus in most of the UI.
It _should_ also default to the selected language for content on first launch.
There are a couple bugs yet:
* Changing locales while the app is running doesn't take effect 
* Chinese locales don't work 
We also have localizations for a number of languages that aren't necessarily in a default Android device's set of languages, such as Hebrew and various Indic languages. These *should* work on Android devices that have been customized with locales for those languages, but we'd appreciate testing!
-- brion
We will be very interested to learn if there are Android devices with customised locales for the Indic languages.