Maletsabisa Molapo

people design technology | africa women leadership

Tag: Open Source

Developing for Internationalization

I have mentioned internationalization briefly in previous posts, but  have learned more about the different aspects to it in the last few weeks. In software engineering, internationalization involves designing software in such a manner that it can be easily localizable  to work in different cultural and language environments.  Localization is the process of actually translating the messages, labels, and other interface elements of an application into another language/format.

So how then do we develop localizable software?   In the Article Internationalizing GNOME Applications, internationalization is defined as the phase in an application’s development where the developers incorporate the pieces needed to assist the translators and to subsequently display any message using the translated version for the appropriate locale.

Through our developers’ surveys, we seek to understand current processes used in software development to achieve internationalization, and will then develop guidelines based on lessons we’ll learn from the developers who do focus on internationalization in their software design.

An interesting aspect that we seek to understand from developers is: what is the focus of internationalization? Is language the only aspect of a tool that needs to be changed to make the tool more appropriate to the target audience? How(if at all) do developers prepare software to be transformed to accommodate culturally and politically dependent aspects of a tool’s design(such as icons, sounds, colours, data representation, etc.)?

If you have further thoughts on issues of software internationalization and cultural considerations in design, please take this survey or drop a comment below.


Before Documentation: Involve Users Early, Maybe?

We come across many claims about how FOSS tools were created with ease of use in mind, and how documentation and user support are provided. But are documentation and post-launch user support enough for ensuring usability and promoting global adoption of FOSS products? Many studies in HCI and product management have shown the importance of involving potential users early in the process of developing new products. How, then, given the dynamics of the FOSS community can this be ensured? Part of our research work will be to develop guidelines on how to include more HCI methods (like early user participation) in the development cycles of FOSS projects.

On the question of cultural differences(especially with circumvention tools), researching the users’ background/culture helps developers build more culturally/contextually appropriate tools. We will seek to understand what challenges are faced in the attempt to involve users in the design process, and based on that recommend ways in which these challenges can be overcome to promote the process of engaging the user population in design.

If you are a developer/designer/project manager/or other form of contributor in open source, please help us in this work by taking this survey here.

Thank you!

Usability Guidelines for Open Source Projects

For our User Experience-at-large project, we are working on producing a guidelines document on how human-centered design techniques can be best incorporated into the development of Open Source software, to improve the usability of open source tools.

In Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) products’ development, more focus tends to be on building features, more than on usability and international appropriateness. With this code/feature-centered culture of development, user experience is normally compromised, and this is increasingly becoming a matter of concern as more and more users of FOSS products are non-technical and originate from very diverse parts of the world.  In this project, we are researching the FOSS product development process more closely, and from this we will write up guidelines that can be followed in future projects to bring more user centered practices into the process of designing and developing FOSS products.

The question of user-centered design extends to the fact that most FOSS products are developed for global consumption – for people of different cultures, contexts, and needs. Our guidelines document will also seek to answer the question of how, then, can open source tools be developed to cater for internationalization and diversity?  Recommendations will be made after our discussions, surveys, and interviews with developers, designers, product managers, and users.

I have collected and read a lot of what has been written on the subject of usability in open source projects (academic and non-academic pieces). In our document, we will also include an aggregation of the lessons presented in this existing literature and present them in an actionable fashion for the FOSS development community. The goal is to make this set of guidelines more reachable to the FOSS community, and we are designing means of content presentation that will make the guidelines easy to use and follow, while we are also looking at how to best publish the document in the right circles – getting it to the right people.

The GNOME Usability project produced a similarly focused set of guidelines, user interface guidelines to help design and develop tools that are easy to use and consistent with the GNOME desktop.  The target audience of the document we are working on is the developers and designers who contribute to FOSS projects, with focus on developers of internet surveillance and censorship circumvention tools (free and open internet tools), the kind that OpenITP particularly works on.

Over the next few weeks, I will be conducting interviews and surveys with developers, designers, product managers, and users of circumvention tools. In the next post I will discuss the key issues we wish to elicit in the surveys and interviews and present the lessons that we have already learned from existing documentation on usability in open source projects.

Till then!


GNOME Outreach Program for Women

In October this year, I attended the 2012 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) conference, where my interest in free and open source software was re-ignited; as well as the desire to contribute to the open source community. About a month after GHC, I learned of the GNOME Outreach Program for Women(OPW), an internship program organised by GNOME to bring women around the world to participate in open source projects coordinated by different Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) organisations (see OPW Program Details).

On Dec 12th, I received news that I had been selected as one of the interns in this prestigious program(yay!). I will start my internship on January 2nd, 2013, with OpenITP under the mentorship of Georgia Bullen; working on User Experience (UX) Design for free software anti-censorship/anti-surveillance projects [we are looking at Tor and GPG tools].  I look forward to learning from and being inspired by Georgia and everyone at OpenITP that I will interact with during my internship, and of course the chance to get involved in the FOSS community.

I will be updating the happenings of this internship on this blog…