Archive for February, 2009

links for 2009-02-19

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Why Internationalize?

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Tower of Babel

Seth Godin‘s book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us looks like a good read, especially for marketers, crowd-herders, and entrepreneurs. Along with the book, he also started an invitation-only triiibal network on Ning, and got the folks to write an ebook called The Tribes Casebook (free download).

There’s a particular essay in there written by Dr. Saleh AlShebil titled When Technology Fails: A Language gets Born in an Online Tribe. Dr. AlShebil wrote about how an ASCII-based language (that he calls Araby) was born due to the lack of Arabic language input support on early instant messaging networks. These are transliterations of Arabic into Latin alphabets, not unlike l33t but grew out of different motivations.

Here’s what it looks like (source):

Sound Arabic letter ASCII Example
/ħ/ (a heavy /h/-type sound) ح 7 wa7ed (one)
/ʕ/ (a tightening of the throat resembling a light gargle) ع 3 ba3ad (after)
/t’/ (the emphatic version of /t/) ط 6 6arrash (he sent)
/s’/ (the emphatic version of /s/) ص 9 a9lan (actually)
/ʔ/ (glottal stop) ء 2 so2al (question)

So, واحد (one) sounds roughly like “wahed”, and you’d write it as “wa7ed”.

Quoting Dr. AlShebil (emphases added):

Arabic language alphabet is comprised of 28 letters. Some of these letters do not have an equivalent “sound” in English. So what did our online tribe do? They began looking for numbers and other keystrokes that can somehow resemble what the real Arabic letter “looks” like. Let me explain…

For instance, the Arabic letter “ﻉ” is pronounced as A’aa when used in a word and it got replaced with the number “3” since “3” looks like an inverted “ﻉ”. So the word Arabic which is written “Araby” (in Arabic sounding English) and begins with “ﻉ” was then written as “3raby.”

…This new form of tribal net lingo began to spread like wildfire. It would probably be a safe assumption to say that any Arab who is online today (especially the youth) is pretty familiar with it. Using it was not limited to chat and instant messaging but has also swelled to include any form of writing in online communities and even in mobile text messaging (sms). The Arabic net lingo virus caught on to Arabic websites that even wanted their domain names to sound or “look” Arabic.

As mentioned above, this is similar to l33t-speak, and also the lesser-known ギャル文字 (Gyaru-Moji).

Now, I dig subcultures like these, but don’t you think there’s something wrong with the emergence of a new lingo that could potentially erode a language like Arabic just because technology couldn’t support it?

Is this serious enough to erode the Arabic language? Maybe I’m exaggerating but one can imagine youths forgetting how to spell correctly in Arabic script because they’re so used to using “Araby”.

This is the case for why internationalization is important for the Internet (and technology in general.) More importantly, it is the prime motivation behind Internationalized Domain Names, which is in turn a primary contributor to the need for new TLDs.

Internationalization is not for vanity or luxury, it’s a necessity to preserve culture.

links for 2009-02-18

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Why be an OpenID Relying Party?

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Plaxo’s Joseph Smarr presented the following at the OpenID Design Summit at Facebook HQ yesterday:

This was a controlled experiment combining 3 technologies (2 of which from the Open Stack but hybridized) under the hood to create a streamlined signup experience that goes like this:

  1. Someone at Plaxo invites you to join by entering your Gmail address
  2. You get an invitation email from Plaxo
  3. You click on the link
  4. Plaxo knows that you’re a GMail user (and likely still signed in), so it presents you with the following screen:

    I believe that since Plaxo already has your Gmail address, it is already somehow encoded in here to save you from having to type it in, but I haven’t tried it so I’m not sure
  5. Clicking “Sign up with my Google Account” brings you over to Google with the following screen:
  6. Clicking “Continue Sign-in” tells Plaxo that you are indeed the holder of the Gmail address, at the same time authorizing Plaxo to import your address book from Google.
  7. That’s it! You’re signed up to Plaxo and your Gmail address book is available in Plaxo.

The result was a staggering 92% return rate (from the Google authorization confirmation screen above), of which 92% continued with the sign up and allowed Plaxo to import their contacts from their Google address book. The results were so impressive that Plaxo’s business folks stopped the tech folks from turning off the experiment!

Indeed these results are impressive by today’s standard of endless signup forms and social networking fatigue. I would whole-heartedly agree that through this clever experiment, Plaxo has met their goals of making it better for the user, the identity provider, as well as the relying site.

The technologies that made these possible were:

  • OpenID for proving who you are (to Plaxo that you do indeed own the GMail address.)
  • OAuth (implemented as an extension to OpenID) was used to grant Plaxo access to your contacts stored on Google; and
  • Google Contacts API for actually importing them into Plaxo (would be nice to see Portable Contacts being adopted by Google)

Individually, those technologies are good at what they’re designed to do but when combined with a simple hint such as “the user is a GMail account holder, and is probably still signed in to the service”, it could be very powerful.

Still, my biggest takeaway from the slides are:

  • 17% (of Plaxo signups) come from GMail account holders; and
  • 73% come from the top 4 (Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, and AOL)
  • all of them being OpenID Providers

This shows that you can already take advantage of the fact that a large percentage of users already own an OpenID, who may be more willing to sign up to your service than they otherwise wouldn’t have if faced with another tedious registration form.

While many (including myself) have criticized OpenID that there are more providers than relying parties, Plaxo has proven (with impressive numbers) that with a little ingenuity and optimization of UX, sites can reap the benefits of being an RP!

(Lack of) English Word Wrapping in Japan

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Here’s a pic of the information panel on a train a took in Tokyo while heading towards Shinjuku:

Notice how the words “suspension”, “service”, “trouble” (and the partially visible “Shinkansen”) were brutally split at arbitrary boundaries without any use of hyphen. While this is common practice for the Japanese language, it certainly makes it hard for English readers to scan the information being presented.

I can only vaguely remember early computing systems where editors didn’t do word wrapping (anybody care to refresh my memory?)

HTML.vim — Save Some Keystrokes (and Your Wrists)

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

To save my wrists from chronic RSI, I finally switched to using HTML.vim, and I must say that rocks! Having to type less means it forces me to be a more conscious typist, pausing to think what I really need to achieve rather than doing lots of pointless characters that gets the backspace treatment within seconds of appearing anyway.

It does take some getting used to but trust me it’s a wise investment.

The following settings (in .vimrc) works well for me:


:let g:html_tag_case = 'lowercase'
:let g:do_xhtml_mappings = 'yes'

Plus the ability to quickly insert a customized blank HTML template is just godsend!

I’ve procrastinated way too long, but if you’re like me and use Vim to edit HTML a lot, you should definitely check it out!

Emoji Encoding Conversion between Carriers

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

I remember reading about Apple supporting emoji on the iPhone OS 2.2. Now that I’ve upgraded, I decided to try it out but for could never find it after hunting through the keyboard preferences. Googling showed that these cute little emoticons are only available for Softbank users. Thankfully, Steven Troughton-Smith has figured out that by editing a file on your iPhone backup, the “emoji” option suddenly shows up under Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> International Keyboards -> Japanese!

Now that I have the ability to enter these emoji on my iPhone, I figure I’d try it out by sending an email to myself. Alas, all I get is a list of of boxes. Time to look at the message content (relevant fields):

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