Two times since the launch of the new SIL.org website colleagues of mine have contacted me about the new requirement on SIL.org to log-in before downloading content from the SIL Language and Culture Archive. Both know that I relate to the website implementation team. I feel as if they expect me to be able to speak into this situation (as if I even have this sort of power) - I only work with the team in a loose affiliation (from a different sub-group within SIL), I don't make design decisions, social impact decisions, or negotiate the politics of content distribution.
However, I think there are some real concerns by web-users users about being required to log-in prior to downloading, and some real considerations which are not being realized by web-users.
In this post I take a look at some of the software needs of a language documentation team. One of my ongoing concerns of linguistic software development teams (like SIL International's Palaso or LSDev, or MPI's archive software group, or a host of other niche software products adapted from main stream open-source projects) is the approach they take in communicating how to use the various elements of their software together to create useful workflows for linguists participating in field research on minority languages. Many of these software development teams do not take the approach that potential software users coming to their website want to be oriented to how these software solutions work together to solve specific problems in the language documentation problem space. Now, it is true that every language documentation program is different and will have different goals and outputs, but many of these goals are the same across projects. New users to software want to know top level organizational assumptions made by software developers. That is, they want to evaluate how software will work in a given scenario (problem space) and to understand and make informed decisions based on the eco-system that the software will lead them into. This is not too unlike users asking which is better Android or iPhone, and then deciding what works not just with a given device but where they will buy their music, their digital books, and how they will get those digital assets to a new device, when the phone they are about to buy no-longer serves them. These digital consequences are not in the mind of every consumer... but they are nonetheless real consequences. Continue reading →