Friday, January 01, 2016

PanAfrican Localisation Resource Wiki is back

This past September, I began the process of bringing back the Pan African Localisation Resource Wiki,* the second, or really third transition since its inception over ten years ago as part of the PanAfrican Localisation project.

The PanAfriL10n wiki - then as now - was intended to bring into one place information of use to localizers in Africa, and also to others working on projects in the intersection of African languages and ICT (information and communication technology).


The wiki is currently hosted on the Bisharat site, on a provisional basis, to facilitate upgrading and updating. As such it actually is back to where it was started before being moved to the PAL project's then new site, That domain was transferred to the African Network for Localisation* (ANLoc) in 2008, with the wiki getting a make-over in the transition. It was managed as part of the ANLoc project until its website went offline in November 2013.

The wiki now has another new look, mainly a functional one matching a "skin" that works well with the latest version of the PmWiki software. More importantly I'm trying to build in some more functionality into the interface, and doing some updating. The updating of course will require a wider effort  - which is part of the reason to publicize it here.

Reasons for reviving the PanAfriL10n wiki

The main motivations for making this effort are that on the one hand, the wiki already had a lot of information about African languages and localization, and on the other, there is demand for such information (I personally get questions).

Beyond just recreating and updating an online reference, there are four dyamics I see in developing such a resource:
  1. Moving from a "localization resource" to "knowledge base" for localization and language technology in Africa. This concerns a specialized wiki that was begun with a focus on information useful to supporting localization in Africa, but which can also address more broadly the intersection of ICT and African languages in ways that anticipate changing technical and sociolinguistic environments.
  2. Combining matrices of knowledge. The wiki has always included information in several categories - languages, countries, technology, writing systems, and organizations and initiatives. In that, it's not different in kind from a number of more prominent resources, but arguably it differs in degree (for instance inclusion of organizations and localization topics along with country/language/script information). However, bringing ICT for development (ICT4D) information into a localization resource, and including specialized software like GIS into its treatment of software localization are examples of associating different specializations in the same information space.
  3. Preserving history. It is important to retain information and lessons from past efforts, like early versions of software localized in African languages, or organizations that did some good work but no longer exist. The history, as part of the ongoing story of localization in Africa, is something that shouldn't be lost, and which may be important for understanding current trends and potentialities.
  4. Localization ecology as both an organizing principle and a scope of potential utility. In African Languages in a Digital Age, I introduced the concept of "localization ecology" as a  way of understanding the interaction of factors in the environment for localization. I see this as a framework for development of the wiki (for example, one factor in localization ecology - economics - is almost totally absent from current content). It also can point to potential audiences of this evolving knowledge base (for example, localized software and language technology for education in Africa).

The task of bringing together material related to localisation in a linguistically diverse continent where many languages have short (if any) written tradition and tend to be disfavored in national policies is vast. The original concept 10+ years ago was to develop a database, but that proved impractical given not only the size of the task, but also the quality of data (for instance, where an orthography was not well established), and the nature of the technical and sociolinguistic environments alluded to above. Also the linguistic terrain is complex, with for instance the number of languages and distinction among them depending on the criteria used and needs addressed.

The wiki approach that was retained allows for more flexible grouping and linking of data that appears in different forms. One challenge has been how to structure that data - relatively simple in the case of standard organization of say pages on languages or pages on countries, but more complicated when dealing with questions like choice of languages to prioritize, or how to divide and group different kinds of organizations with varying national, regional, and/or international scope.

The main challenges, however, which are being faced these days even by Wikipedia, are how to maintain a community of contributors and how to assure the means to sustain the effort over the long term.

* The project names used the British spelling "localisation," which has been retained. Otherwise in the text of this blog I use the American spelling "localization."

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