Software Needs for a Language Documentation Project

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.
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The SIL archive and its two sided markets

I have been thinking about the language data marketplace (exchange if one prefers), and the role of archives in a world where minority language speakers are also internet users and digital file consumers. In particular I have been thinking about SIL’s Language and Culture Archive and the economic model called a two sided market. So, SIL as “Partners in Language Development” seems to be well situated for analysis using the two sided market analysis (matching linguist and professionals with language development skills, and persons with language development skills with interested parties in developing their language). On the surface, it seems that the SIL archive would also benefit from being the center of exchange between these same two groups. This is the subject of one of my slides for an upcoming presentation, therefore I sketched out the interactions various SIL staff might have with the archive to see if I could diagram the social interactions around language data in SIL’s two sided market. To my surprise, the two sided nature of access to data in the archive is not supported, thereby blocking a data-centric archiving service. It makes me wonder what the perceived value of the archive really is, and if the perceived value is low, then why bother? What is the return on investment (ROI) for users on either side of the market?

I tried to summarize the relationships between the various clients of the archive in the following image.

Media and relationships among different roles in SIL projects.

Media and relationships among different roles in SIL projects.

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