Language Survey

SIL International has a survey service which operates across the globe in different administrative SIL units. I wonder, if the future of survey is no-longer looking at where indigenous people are living and what language variations they may have, but rather looking at where these people are going. Consider just the migrants from Nigeria according to lucify.com 89,032 Nigerians have immigrated towards Europe in the last 4 years. That is a lot of people. Where do those people come from? what languages do they speak? What linguistic load is being put on European governmental services? What could SIL offer to these governmental agencies? How could various social organizations benefit from SIL's often long standing work in the regions that these immigrants are coming from?

European migration destinations from Nigeria. via lucky.com.

European migration destinations from Nigeria. via lucky.com.

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Client-Side Content Restrictions for Archives and Content Providers

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.

I want to reply to these concernes.

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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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Engagement Strategy

In my work with redesigning a NGO’s website, I have been recommending that the organization adopt and implement an engagement strategy. There are several challenges to this.

  1. There is the question: What is an engagement strategy which we are not doing now? Basically, what is the difference between engagement strategy and operations. – and certainly these are areas of organizations which need to have some symbiotic relationship.
  2. Another question has been: Why do we need an engagement strategy with our new website? – The new website is centrally managed, whereas operations are generally regionally managed.

So, the over simplistic answer is that if what a corporation presents themself as on their website is something which they are operationally not, then that presents certain discontinuities for persons viewing their operations and also viewing their website. This becomes evermore important as many potential clients for organizations first interact with that organization via the web. I first started blogging about engagement with regards to Language Development activities in a post titled: The Look of Language Development Websites.

However, engagement strategy goes beyond just presenting continuity. It gets into connecting potential clients with services offered or knowledge held by that organization. An engagement strategy for an NGO with a cause also speaks to how that NGO is going to target persons who are not aware of their cause and introduce them to the cause and provide options for those newly introduced persons to become part of a great solution for the problem just presented. This level of engagement is different than Public Relations, or brochure development (though both of these can be part of an engagement strategy).
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InField

I have been working on describing the FLEx software eco-system (for both a blog post and an info-graphic). In the process I googled "language documentation" workflow and was promptly directed to resources created for InField and aggregated via ctldc.org. An amazing set of resources. the ctldc.org website is well put together and the content from InField 2010 and 2008 is amazing - I which I could have been there. I am almost convinced that most SIL staff pursuing linguistic fieldwork should just go to InField... But it is true that InField seems to be targeted at someone who has had more than one semester of linguistics training.

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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The Power of Interns

Today I was reading about how an intern at FaceBook created their new Mobile ad interface. For those of you who watch the business news, FaceBook being able to monetize their mobile market has been a big concern for their investors. I think this really speaks to several things in the corporate culture at Facebook:

  1. They are willing to listen to the ideas of young, fresh people.
  2. They are willing to work with temporary staff.
  3. They are willing to mentor.
  4. 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.

Modular Courses for Linguistics

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