"Decolonizing Cyberspace"

January 23, 2006

I had the pleasure of spending this weekend with Ndesanjo Macha (English Blog/Kiswahili Blog/Profile at Global Voices) in Greensboro, N.C., about an hour from my house in the woods near Pittsboro. We're working together on a Kiswahili translation of WordPress, the excellent open source platform for this website.

We are fortunate to have the aid of the great invisible WordPress translator's community, which has collaboratively published at least a couple (1 2) of essential how-to's. Also there is of course the PoEdit team (mostly programmer Vaclav Slavik, I think), which makes the software that edits the software. Do you guys sell T-shirts, or what?

1 Geek + 1 Native Speaker = Native-Language Software for Millions.

Any techno- or translation-minded folks please email chris at nonprofitdesign dot org. Help translate your favorite Open Source software into a new language.

I'm hoping we'll be finished with it pretty soon, and we'll be promoting it to the 30-80 million estimated Kiswahili-speakers in the world. (Mostly in Kenya, Tanz. and Uganda: here's a wikipedia article about Swahili.)

In the meanwhile, I've transferred him to a shiny Wordpress 2.0 blog. It's embargoed for now, but his new domain will resolve in a few days. He's excited about WordPress because Google's Blogger, while being terrifically easy to use — is so limited a platform that it hurts to use. (Seriously, Google: you don't have categories, for god's sake. That's so 2005. The workaround hacks are hideous. ) And Blogger certainly does not have the same blogger-developer community.

Ndesanjo has been using Blogger with great success in Tanzania for some time now, and he says that he sees new Tanzanian bloggers every day. (However, he sent me a link to a new Tanzanian blog portal. I signed up and found an extremely small user base‚ writing in English.) But most of the Tanzanian bloggers stick to good-ole Blogger and have had to hack their templates a bit to get key phrases into Swahili.

Yikes. Who wants to try to figure out a content management system template on a dial up connection? With no documentation? No thanks. That's where we come in with the translation.

Ndesanjo recently described the Swahili blogosphere in this way:

is nearly impossible to translate most of the poems and convey the same message. Most of the time these poet bloggers are challenging each other with creative use of complex and deep Swahili, which is an established tradition in Swahili poetry.

So keep your aggregators tuned for developments on that front. You can read Ndesanjo's regular summaries of the Swahili blogosphere at Global Voices.