Userbase I18n And You

KDE UserBase needs you! UserBase is the wiki-driven site for user-related content, in case you have been living under a rock for the last year or so. So far, I am the technical contact for this site. I upgrade the software (which is Mediawiki) and add plugins and write some of the templates in accordance with the Team from the KDE Community working group, who has helped a lot to build up the contents of the site.

This worked as far as Mediawiki delivered all the features that we required. However there is one thing where no Wiki really works well, and Mediawiki, even though genereally best suited for our tasks, is particulary bad: Internationalization, or i18n for short. Some people are really dying to get localized versions going, so I really want to pursue this.

Whatever we pick as a solution should enable the follwing goals:

  • Up-to-date translation for a given language
  • A warning if the content is not up to date

Assets we have (depending on the activity of the translation team):

  • a lot of man power all the time
  • almost no man power most of the time

and we need to be realistic in assuming that “almost no man power most of the time” is true for a lot of languages, at least that’s what other wikis suffer from.

So far, there are two approaches to go about translations with a wiki:

1. Tie international sites to the original english content.
2. Have individual content for each language.

So far, UserBase implements Option 1, while lots of other Wiki sites, such as the OpenSUSE site or Wikipedia itself go for option number 2. The big disadvantage I see in number 2 is that, as long as most of the people that drive the development communicate in English, the English wiki will always be more up-to-date. If you look at projects like Wikipedia and OpenSUSE you will find that the most up-to-date versions are in fact the primary language (i.e. English), and while the others may have individual concepts, they usually lag behind severely.

This is why I am proposing to solve this in a more centralized fashion: One master article, lots of translations. That gives us two choices again, this time of more technical nature:

1. Set up an individual wiki per language

THis needs maintenance of even more Mediawiki installations, and I won’t be able to do this all on own. Problem is that we are particulary short on voluntary admins. It also means complete content disjointness, although Mediawiki sometimes helps with Interwiki links.

2. One Wiki for all languages.

This is probably the best approach to go about it, at least that’s my conclusion.

So far, we use URLs like

I would prefer an installation where we add one virtual host per language, all sharing a central wiki installation. Then
we could have something like this

This would link [[Adjusting plasma]], but without requiring a separate login or multiple setups for the contributors and thus conviniently link all language versions. To make that easier, we could add a “start translation” button that does this automatically.

As for the problem of aging translations, we could have a metric that kicks in after every edit and indicates how outdated the translation is, compared to the master page. If the translation contains more recent content, we could have that wrapped in special flags so other people knowing both languages get notified to “backport” the changes in the original version.

Which means one thing: We need someone with PHP and possibly also Mediawiki expirience to help us out with more functionality. Ideally, something that can be merged into Mediawiki proper.

I know that this is a fairly complex problem. I tried to outline it very briefly, but probably there are many open issues. Feel free to comment on them. Also, feel free to argument why one wiki is stupid and we should have multiple ones, while still solving the problems I pointed out above. Also, any other kind of ideas, preferably combined with some code or active contribution is very welcome.

If anyone from the Mediawiki community is reading this, I would appreciate a comment, too.

4 Comments on “Userbase I18n And You

  1. Hi,

    This concept of mullti language Wiki is very good. In Kadu Instant Messanger we would also like to have one master article, lots of translations on our MediaWiki.

    Please keep us posted when you will resolve those issues. I’m really interested.

  2. I don’t have a solution for the problem, but at least that blog post got me to write a german userbase page for Amarok (OK, mostly I just translated the english stuff)