Changing the world, one word at a time

Published in Tectonic

Head of, Dwayne Bailey, called on civil society to help localise software, and push proprietary firms to do likewise, at the Sangonet “ICTs for Civil Society” conference in Johannesburg this week. recently completed translating 2.0 into South Africa’s eleven official languages – a major achievement that Bailey believes is prompting proprietary firms like Microsoft to look more closely at the needs of non-English speakers. “I do believe that helped stimulate the proprietary industry to start localising their software,” he says.

Localisation is not only about translation. “It embraces things like making sure software in South Africa uses date formats that are not silly… like American ones,” says Bailey. It can also include special currency formats and calendars. (Ethiopians, for instance, use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar.)

After hearing Microsoft national technology officer, Potlaki Maine, tell delegates that Redmond was training teachers in Africa, Bailey responded: “I pray that they will train teachers to use a tool and not a product.”

“When you write a document in a word processor, is it about the word-processing software or is it about actually writing a document that you can share?” he asks.

Although still involved in localising software, is focusing on creating tools that help the open source community translate other programs.

Pootle is a web-based translation tool that enables communities to work together to translate an application. Bailey has used it at “translate-athons”, where a number of translators rally to achieve a common goal. “We translated a web-browser in a weekend into Xhosa using this technique,” he says.

Bailey also used as a case study of how civil society can use open source software to achieve their aims.

“So David triumphed over Goliath with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down Goliath and killed him,” says Bailey, quoting from the Bible.

“Goliath is not who you think it is. As NGOs we’re often fighting formidable things, but actually Translate is an example of a small NGO actually achieving potentially massive change. And the reason why we’ve achieved that is through open source software.”