Localizing Content: The Nightmare

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We all know the famous philosophy of reverse mentoring by Jack Welsh the then CEO of General Electric. The introduction of computers in the early 1980s rendered his managerial staff incompetent due to poor computing skills; they had to turn to the much younger hippy generation for lessons. It didn’t go all that bad, within three years the management competence with computers improved significantly that got Jack Welsh so excited and he wrote a book about it that featured as a best seller. It was his idea to reverse mentor his managers, so would we reverse mentor all big corporations that think they got all our problems figured out? Probably not, their ego won’t allows them, the bigger the company, the bigger the ego and the less the innovation (precise reason why Kodak went under, but that a story for another day). So what does this have to do with information?

Google still believes I have to read and write my e-mails in Swahili because I’m Kenyan. Well, I don’t desire writing an e-mail to my client in Swahili as much as I socialize in it, the same applies to the working Kenyan. Let me take this opportunity and reverse mentor the Google Kenya development team, the idea of localizing content doesn’t necessarily mean putting it into the local language, its all about making it relevant. Interacting with Google products in Swahili is a nightmare, by the way who decided that server in Swahili is sava? Or peeps over there just Google Translate words. Even folks down at the coast with a fancy accent wouldn’t understand that either, so lets stick to relevance. By the time someone understand what a server is, they would be probably be competent in English and there would be no need for a translation that would confuse them all together, as my university lecturer would put it “it is abusing the intelligence of reader/user”.

Wikipedia too embarked on a project to translate Wikipedia entries into Swahili. Well, lets just say the end product was something not worth reading. They missed the point that Swahili doesn’t have enough vocabulary to cover the English terminologies and translators were left to their own devices when translating. My take is Swahili has not matured enough to be used as a technical language, we may make fun and joke in Swahili but when it comes to serious business, we switch to English. While localizing your product, putting in it in Swahili isn’t enough, in fact it might end up as a flop. Listen to what the ordinary people say and think, then capture their minds. Ever wondered how American products get localized in Britain? Do they simply add a .co.uk domain or change the spelling of certain words. Certainly not, they study the UK market and come up with a variation in design of their products, the language and domain is just a by-product of the whole process.

I guess the folks at Open Data Initiative should have localized the data by translating it to local dialects (Luo, Kisii, Meru, Kikuyu e.t.c). The uptake of the service is already poor with people who are well educated; taking it down to a lesser educated populous by simply translating it would not cut it. The task of localizing content should involve a behavioral economist who studies behaviors in relation to economic decisions. Example, if you don’t speak English there

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