Daniel Sorid's the heretic we once wrote about (also, a former reporter for Reuters, now with the AP), who suggested tourists traveling to India skip the Taj. Currently, he's a Knight-Bagehot Fellow at Columbia Journalism, and he's written an article in The New York Times, about the development of online content and applications for non-English users. I've pasted some excerpts below, but first I asked him how he got the story.
Here's what he said:
From there, it became apparent that a shortage of quality content in non-English languages was holding back the growth of computing in many developing countries. India, which has as much linguistic diversity as Europe, is Google's home base for many of its global language programs, so it made for an ideal setting for a story of this kind. It helped that I speak some Hindi, and that I worked in India for Reuters and saw how friends would blend languages on their Orkut pages and in e-mails, and how support staff who hadn't studied in English-medium schools struggled to communicate in their native tongues.
Here's the beginning of Dan's NYT article, "Writing the Web's Future in Numerous Languages":
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.
The article zeroes in on an entrepreneur near Bangalore, Ram Prakash Hanumanthappa:
Mr. Ram Prakash learned English as a teenager, but he still prefers to express himself to friends and family members in his native Kannada. But using Kannada on the Web involves computer keyboard maps that even Mr. Ram Prakash finds challenging to learn.So in 2006 he developed Quillpad, an online service for typing in 10 South Asian languages. Users spell out words of local languages phonetically in Roman letters, and Quillpad’s predictive engine converts them into local-language script. Bloggers and authors rave about the service, which has attracted interest from the cellphone maker Nokia and the attention of Google Inc., which has since introduced its own transliteration tool.
According to the article, India's language diversity presents all sorts of problems for web developers. But it's also leading to innovation that can be applied outside of India:
Google’s search service has lagged behind the local competition in China, and that has made providing locally flavored services a priority for the company in India. Google’s initiatives in India are aimed at opening the country’s historically slow-growing personal computer market, and at developing expertise that Google will be able to apply to building services for emerging markets worldwide.
A Microsoft initiative, Project Bhasha, coordinates the efforts of Indian academics, local businesses and solo software developers to expand computing in regional languages. The project’s Web site, which counts thousands of registered members, refers to language as “one of the main contributors to the digital divide” in India.
The company is also seeing growing demand from Indian government agencies and companies creating online public services in local languages.
Read the rest of Daniel Sorid's piece here.