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 →
As linguistics and language documentation interface with digital humanities there has been a lot of effort to time-align texts and audio/video materials. At one level this is rather trivial to do and has the backing of comercial media processes like subtitles in movies. However, at another level this task is often done in XML for every project (digital corpus curation) slightly differently. At the macro-scale the argument is that if the annotation of the audio is in XML and someone wants to do something else with it, then they can just convert the XML to whatever schema they desire. This is true.
However, one antidotal point that I have not heard in discussion of time aligned texts is specifications for Audio Dominant Text vs. Text Dominant Audio. This may not initially seem very important, so let me explain what I mean. Continue reading →
In the open source development world there is a lot of emphases on developing software to solve specific problems, there is much less emphasis on solving those problems well. That is, solving those problems so the most people are serviced, or so that users of software have the flexibility they need (there is also often a lack of commitment to User Experience Design but this is a shameless side plug). And there is often a real lack of collaboration around competing solutions. This is evident in the software which is created for use by linguists (usually also coded by linguists for solving the linguists’ challenges) but this is also evidenced in a different sphere of programing in the WordPress eco-system. In the WordPress eco-system there is a plethora of plugins which are abandoned. WordPress is GPL’d and so these plugins are GPL’d too. However, the repository – the human visual interface to the repository – allows for coders to grab code, and modify it for their ends, but it doesn’t allow for merging once the plugin has been “updated”. (It is true that not all changes are “updates”, sometimes people need one-off solutions.) But the net result is that early 1/3rd of all plugins for wordpress are abandoned. Their developer has been paid and has now ended their relationship with the commissioning client, or the WordPress eco-system no-longer requires the service options provided by that plugin. Matt Jones created an info-graphic to illustrate this point and to bring awareness to the problem. My comments below are my reply to him, with some minor corrections . Continue reading →
I have been working with SIL team members to help create a better experience on SIL.org. So, I am constantly looking at how people on different web projects talk about user experience making a difference. Today I was visiting the Noun Project. There were some things I didn’t like about the website, so, I tried to give them some feedback. I found out that my ideas had already been suggested and that they were under review by the management and implementation team. A+ to the management team of the Noun Project – not for being perfect, but for communicating through imperfection and being concerned enough with users to add a feedback loop and for listening to user suggestions. The Noun Project has the edge on being Wikipedia for icons. However, it is the project and organizational commitment to User Experience and User Interaction which will make them succeed. As I look at what they are doing, I noticed this quote by their co-founder:
I find working on The Noun Project inspiring because I know what we’re doing is making a difference. I constantly get emails from teachers, designers, architects…and it’s never about how much they just “like” the service. People who use The Noun Project fall in love with it, and that’s when you know you’ve built something worthwhile. – Sofya, Cofounder
At the end of the day, I want people to fall in love with the things I help build.
I was having some difficulties with iTunes 10.7 so I opted to update to iTunes 11, now I want to roll back. My opinion is that the UI (and to an extent the UX) sucks, sorry Jonathan Ive. – Yet at the same time I realize that as artists when we have come to a new “enlightened” state about one of our designes solving more relevant problems we have to wipe away the old version and reach out for the new potentials. But in this case I think bringing over the design elements from iOS is a bit overkill. It does not respect the device and the mood created by the device (bring touchscreen to the Mac and I might reconsider).
They are willing to listen to the ideas of young, fresh people.
They are willing to work with temporary staff.
They are willing to mentor.
They are willing trust (things like project goals and budding technologies).
Each of these things listed above are social issues. They are social issues within the context of the corporate environment. Additionally, the company has to be contentious of them to the point that they implement HR processes to allow these sorts of things to happen. In this respect these four things have to be something that is fought for (in order to maintain them as part of the corporate culture). I currently look at the NGO I work for and wonder, What it would take to have harness the power of Interns? We don’t currently have the corporate culture to facilitate interns, but why is that? Is our walled garden so well constructed with bricks from the baby-boomer generation that we forget the power which comes when we can run with young people? For businesses, even for NGOs, if we don’t fight for relevance within the social networks of the up-coming generation then we will marginalize our significance.
In 2008 I was contacted by a professor who wanted to be able to share various linguistics exercises with fellow professors. He asked for a website to be build so that if a professor were to translate the directions of these exercises that they could in turn put these translated versions back into the “set of exercises”. Continue reading →
If I put my email address "out there" on the web that spammers will get it and start sending me spam messages.
Well, that is a valid concern. There are scripts and crawlers which go around and look for email addresses. (And lets suppose that they also do not check for a robots.txt file.) These generally work by focusing on the syntax of the email addresses using Regular Expressions or finding the mailto: term in the HTML code. There are some things which can be done to prevent this from happening.
The best way is to use contact forms.
The third best way is to use HTML characters for your email addresses.
One way that I severely dislike is to spell out the email address or phone number like (you see a lot of this on sites like craigslist and after a few spam text messages one understands why it is done): seven-one-seven or hugh dot paterson at.