Mobile applications are not panacea

Eric Bailey writing on his blog:

Tech language translation is a little different than literary translation. In literary translation, a good translator will do their best to honor the voice and tone of the original author. Tech translation is more the practice of creating as close a 1:1 word replacement as possible between the language the content is written in and the language you wish to update it to.

In tech, localization means making sure the words and concepts in the language the content was originally written in make sense to the person who will be reading in the language you wish to update it to. Localized content requires you to be both linguistically and, importantly, culturally fluent with the community you’re trying to serve.

This context is important to understand. As more people “emerge” out of the “dark scenarios”, the Anglo-centric web presents its own unique (and formidable) difficulties in “accessibility”. It is specifically true for the communities who don’t speak English as their first language. I was part of a Twitter discussion (I wandered unknowingly) and realized how ill-informed the constituents were around mobile applications. It is difficult (if not impossible) to make an application and then “launch” it for the “natives”. There is a whole science of user-interface and a constant struggle to fight for the “app-real-estate” on the cramped mobile phones. Phone ownership is extremely fragmented with varying levels of “updates”. If you extrapolate this to the population, it can get pricey to account for all possible scenarios.

The author writes:

The more complicated the language you’re translating and the more jargon and abstract concepts you use, the more an automated solution won’t be able to provide a comparable experience. Because of this, some people may prefer to muddle along in English—potentially with the assistance of a bilingual speaker—for fear that a vital concept may be perverted or lost.

Multilingual households are commonplace, especially households with intergenerational language differences. In addition, there is correlation between lower income households and an increased chance of shared devices.

These are important takeaways, especially as there is an increasing clamour towards telemedicine. These redundancies must be kept in mind before framing specific policies around. I call it the “lowest common denominator”.

The notion of supporting as many languages as possible generates warm, fuzzy feelings of inclusion. However, the fact is that your organization is going to have to make strategic decisions about how many languages it can support, and of those which are the most important.

Who’s going to pay?

Tweetstorms about inclusion always appear virtuous on Twitter. They miss the obvious – who will ultimately pay for the upkeep, updates, and backend systems.

I wasn’t aware of the legal scenario:

This is a massive oversimplification, but legal sign-off occurs when concept A uses language A to communicate meaning. If you use localized language B to communicate concept A, it may differ from the very narrow and rigid legal definition of how the concept works. This means the content may have to be rewritten to make it compliant.

Mobile applications isn’t panacea for solving healthcare problems, especially when you have a significant population to serve. Twitter discussions serve nothing because you end losing the context and nuances around issues.

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