Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Language and the Global Internet

One of my favorite topics. An article in the NYT by Daniel Sorid, Writing the Web’s Future in Numerous Languages (note the URL, that's amusing), begins,

The next chapter of the World Wide Web will not be written in English alone. Asia already has twice as many Internet users as North America, and by 2012 it will have three times as many. Already, more than half of the search queries on Google come from outside the United States.

Ouch! Conflating language and geography! A lot of people outside of North America or the US use English. The UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa. The article then discusses an Indian software entrepreneur.
Mr. Ram Prakash said Western technology companies have misunderstood the linguistic landscape of India, where English is spoken proficiently by only about a tenth of the population and even many college-educated Indians prefer the contours of their native tongues for everyday speech.

That 1/10th was probably a good initial target market. The Internet is not always about everyday speech. For forms like instant message, blog postings, and social sites, yes, but not most news or business sites. The article mostly dances around the problems with India having 22 languages (22 according the the article).
Even among the largely English-speaking base of around 50 million Web users in India today, nearly three-quarters prefer to read in a local language, according to a survey by JuxtConsult, an Indian market research company. Many cannot find the content they are seeking. “There is a huge shortage of local language content,” said Sanjay Tiwari, the chief executive of JuxtConsult.

50 million seems like a good base from which you can build out. If content is king, then the users are the king-makers. It's very easy to be in the business world and to forget that most of the content out there is actually created by users. Back in the pre-dot-com days and the days of BBSes, almost all content was user-generated. The point is that the web is an excellent platform for people to create content, especially in local languages. Create! Why aren't they, then?

The article continually glosses over the differences between geography and language. India is discussed as one market, but if we are to look at markets defined by language, then "India" is useless as a category. 22 languages, and (according to the article) 420 million Hindi speakers, there simply is no "Indian language".

If there are 50 million web users in India, and for simplicity let's say 25 languages, then on average that will be 2 million per language. But, AFAIK, Hindi is the main language in terms of numbers of speakers, so, taking the average is a useless approach. Wikipedia does have a page about the (official) languages in India and numbers of speakers. There is another Wikipedia page about languages in India, which says there are 29 languages with more than 1 million speakers and 122 with more than 10,000 speakers. The Internet may be cool for a variety of reasons, but it is not the end-all, be-all. Food, housing, jobs, and health care are a bit more important. Communication can help with these, but the Internet is not the only way to communicate, although it makes it easier.

And the article seemed so promising.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Xmas Cards!

Although I sadly do not send out cards (I always want to though, and every year I say "next year!" but am always too busy), this year I thought I'd comment that I got three cards that were Snapfish designs and one that was "Made on a Mac" (probably in iPhoto). Nice! (I also got one that was a real, actual photo pasted to a card - also nice!)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Disruptive Technology and Global Networks

Connect three parts of a NYTimes article Arab women as flight attendants (Some Arab Women Find Freedom in the Skies).

Most coveted are long-haul routes to places like Toronto and Sydney, Australia...

They watch bootlegged DVDs — “Desperate Housewives,” “Sex and the City” — bought on layovers in Bangladesh and Indonesia.

As the networks of Arab expatriates in the gulf countries become stronger and as cellphones and expanding Internet access make overseas communication more affordable...

Classic globalization technologies: global physical connectivity (long-haul routes), global cultural connectivity (the bootleg DVD network), and global communication connectivity (the Internet and cheaper cell phones). By allowing new social roles, they are disrupting old ones.
Flight attendants have become the public face of the new mobility for some young Arab women...

This disrupts older, traditional family patterns.
For many families, allowing a daughter to work, much less to travel overseas unaccompanied, may call her virtue into question and threaten her marriage prospects.

These technologies will be seen as a threat by those who strongly value traditional norms. I feel compelled to add how women in Saudi Arabia aren't even allowed to drive, which is horribly repressive (and takes away half of the market for auto sales), but it doesn't follow from the technology aspects here. It does fully relate, however, to women's allowed roles in the Middle East. Do recall that there are dozens of different cultural traditions there (cultural, religious, historical, geographical...), don't think of it as one cultural hegemonic bloc.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Three Interface Notes

Those of you familiar with the NYC subway (the MTA) will recall the hideous, screeching beep that sounds when a train is approaching. This awful sound is not down on the platform, where one can see the train approach, but is up in the turnstile area. It's quite loud, so you can usually hear it as you are coming down the initial set of stairs to enter the station. However, the MTA is quite adamant about you not running. Don't run! There are posted placards to this effect. Of course if they don't want us to run, why do they have a sound that tells us, you'd better start running if you want to catch the next train? You can hear the sound right at the point where you need to run to catch the train. Amazing.

My TW cable box and remote have a bit of an issue. Ok ok, I have the issue. Let us say you want to change the channel, and you want the number to increase, or go up as it were. You push the + button, which is part of the +/- button, and the + is on the top half of the +/- button (so, on the upper part of it). You then go "up" in terms of channel. However (you saw this coming), if you are in the guide, up is not up anymore. Up is suddenly down. The problem is that in the guide the higher-numbered channels are listed below the lower-numbered channels. So, you don't click the up arrow button to increase the channel numbers in the guide (you don't use the +/- button here), you click the down arrow button to increase the channel numbers. Sometimes up is increase channel number, other times it is decrease channel number. Granted + is not totally equivalent to up in mathematical terms, but using a cable remote is not math, it is usability. +, up, and increase are all functionally equivalent and they should act similarly. They don't need to be exactly the same, but here they are complete opposites.

And lastly, online shopping. The GUI worked pretty well with the desktop paradigm (files, folders, trash). But the web doesn't have a paradigm like that, even though it is visual. For online shopping, why don't they have us drag the image of what we want to the shopping cart? Seems obvious. Maybe someone has done it already, or maybe it's patented by a patent troll. I don't know if that would make online shopping easier, but it seems more natural.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

NYU ITP Winter Show

If you are in Manhattan today, go check out NYU's ITP winter show. I was prepared for something a little more techie, in part since I was a Media Lab wannabe in 1995, but, consider ITP to be where art meets computer tech. Lots of visual and geo-based apps, some fun basic ideas and some cool programming.

My favorite was powerAware, an ambient device that monitors your power consumption and you can even view a graph of your power consumption over time. One that creeped me out was Heartbeats Left, and now I know I only have 1.4 billion heartbeats left (according to averages, which say I won't make 80, I disagree). One that amused the most children and made them dance was Puzzle Groove. Something that amuses children and causes them to dance is all good in my book.

The two I used the most were Cosmic Hand Dance Actualization Machine (which does not actually win for longest craziest name as you will see) and Dra”Wii”ng Jackson Pollock, which uses a Wiimote so who can say no to that? And the Best OG Award goes to Studies in the Transverse Articulations of the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Complex (or, the Super Pelvotron 5000). Ms. Pac-Man FTW.

Apologies no photos, but you can trawl their website for some. And there is coverage on Gizmodo.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Interfaces, User Testing, and Blackberries

So, when I heard about the not so new anymore Blackberry touch (the Storm), I figured it would be a great thing even if they like everyone else were jumping on the iPhone bandwagon. The scroll-wheel Blackberry was good, the one with the little ball instead of the scroll-wheel was good... but no, bad assumption on my part. How could they have gotten it wrong, though, after two good products? Both Stephen Fry and David Pogue denigrate the thing into the ground.

Did they not user test?

Relatedly, it is rather sad to see Clay Shirkey's post over at boingboing about his delight at user testing and immediate improvements by Meetup. It's sad because this kind of thing should be common. It's not a new idea, and it is easy to implement these days and has been for a while. File under, could have told you that.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's All About The Narrative

I typically describe class (the teaching kind) as a narrative, across the macro level (the term, the major) and the micro level (each day). Games, I have also pointed out, need narrative (well, most do).

Nice to see Slate's N'Gai Croal of The Gaming Club make that assertion while discussing GoW2:

Was Epic's handling of Maria's fate a failure of craft or art? I say it's worth thinking hard about, especially when writing for a mainstream audience like yours in the Times and mine at Newsweek. Because when we avoid such questions, we're gulling our readers into believing that story and gameplay are mutually exclusive—or that games are just like other media.

Narrative! (A.k.a., story). Important to gameplay. Yup.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Welcome to the 21st Century, a place where two million people will watch a guy jam on a ukulele. Seriously. I know, I know, I sound ridiculous, but withhold your judgement until you've watched the clip. Watch the whole thing. If you do not think that is pretty amazing or moreso, then I never want to see your IP address in the server logs again. Oh, go, embed tag! (And, you should notice how cool the word "withhold" is, as it probably started as "with hold", slowly changed to "with-hold", and may one day be "withold" with one 'h' except for automatic spellcheckers may never change (meaning the dictionaries may be fairly fixed)).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

iPhone App - Remote

It's new, it's free, it's simple, it has the functionality you want. Did I mention it was free? And that the interface is intuitive? And that... oh I did mention all that. But, it's true, it's Remote, from Apple. Turns your iPhone (and your wifi-enabled iPod) into a remote control for your iTunes. This is awesome. I can stream my iTunes to my stereo in the front with Airport Express, and then control the music from the front room also! (Since my computer is in the back.)

Two years ago I insisted that the Zune had no place in the information future. I still say it doesn't. The iPhone and the iPod are still better, and more elegant. I am not the only one who thinks this.

Ok I am wrong, it is not new, it is new to me, which is very different from new. How did I miss it? However, I didn't need it (need?) until I got my Airport Express.

Color and Emotional Resonance

Although the NYT has a piece on the importance and power of touch, I want instead to direct you to this UM personal website, a collection of beautiful photos of Michigan and a ton of other places (like Ann Arbor!). The photographer points out how cameras don't really capture exactly what we see with the human eye, so indeed you do want to review and modify your digital photos but should not consider it modifying the record of reality since that isn't what you captured anyway.

The point being, besides I hope you have a good color monitor, that color is an immensely powerful factor for the human visual system.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Gizmodo Objects Gallery Opening

Currently at Reed Space there is an exhibit of very cool tech objects, courtesy of Gizmodo. Well worth a look if you are in NYC, even though it is a bit out of the way when it comes to the subway.

(Gizmodo event wrap-up.)

Oldest first. Portable typewriter, although based on its looks it could be a modern steampunk interpretation.

A very cool old AT&T protoype videophone. I have a copy of an advertisement with this in it, a man is using it to sell hats, and he's wearing a Mickey Mouse hat, so it looks like he is adjusting antennae on his head.

Apple prototypes -- similar style to the Apple IIc.

Homebrew portable Atari 2600!

TAM! I had never actually seen one before (just pictures), they are fairly rare.

Chumby! My iPhone does most of the same things, though, but I like the idea.

Laser etching! That little light in the photo? Laser! Awesome.