Code, Software & web applications, Standards

Web Standards Group meetup

A week and a bit ago I had the good fortune to attend the Web Standards Group meetup with guest speakers Richard Ishida and José Manuel Alonso, both from the W3C.

Over the jump are my notes from the session…

Richard Ishida

Richard showed some great examples of how internationalisation of an application is a much deeper and more complicated exercise than meets the eye. He demonstrated how, right down to the way you construct your error messages in code, internationalisation needs to be considered. Needless to say it was an eye-opening presentation for me.

Some of the key take-home points for me:

  • I need to spend some time checking out the W3C’s Internarionalisation site
  • Text expands to take up a larger amount of space when translating from English or Chinese to other languages – approximately 50% increase in size – so this must be considered in the visual design of the application
  • Icon text and other labels may expand by up to 3 times!
  • He demonstrated some examples of form labels aligned to the left of fields, and how this can be problematic. Yet another reason to follow best practice and avoiding in-field labels
  • He demonstrated a series of common CSS techniques that also aid with accommodating localised text
  • One stunning example was the translation of a field label into German, which resulted in 1 very, very long word. He recommended using the &00AD soft-hyphen for such words (and encouraged us to lobby Mozilla for support in Firefox)
  • He also pointed out that if you are offering language selection, you need to bear in mind that the selection UI needs to cater for those multiple-languages, and that options leading to such pages need to be in the target language(s) also. Considering iconography, and graphic-based links for language selection, is important.
  • Using UTF-8 encoding is critical if supporting multiple languages in a page

Probably the most striking example to my mind was of how something as simple as a system notification requires a lot of thought to support localisation – it’s not just a case of translating one word for the new language equivalent. It requires a lot of thought and planning. Definitely a lot of food for thought.

Update: Richard has posted a PDF of his slides (PDF 1.4 MB).

José Manuel Alonso

José talked on the topic of e-government. This was particularly of interest to me in the lead-up to the Web Directions South Government workshop I was running the following week. (José was sponsored by Web Directions for the night and he also spoke at the Government conference.)

He outlined a number of sites and examples of e-government, and re-iterated the importance of taking a user-centered approach to service design.

Some examples that he mentioned:

  • The Flickr/Library of Congress Commons project – he discussed how opening up the archive and making it more accessible has presented unique challenges and opportunities around crowd-sourcing
  • The LA Fire Department’s Web 2.0 experiments in information delivery

He also rattled off a bunch of other projects, including:

He also mentioned the W3C’s own Linking open data project and the Open Government Data Principles.

One comment from a member of the audience was that government agencies were afraid of making data available for fear it would be misconstrued or misrepresented by other parties or interest groups.

My thoughts are that once you have the data in the open, you can use that data to rebut and answer any misrepresentation, whereas if you don’t make the data available you lose that opportunity.

Overall it was a really interesting night, albeit with a slightly disappointing number of participants (given it was a Friday night this wasn’t all that surprising though). Thanks to Richard, José, the W3C and the Web Standards Group for putting on such a great night.