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muhuk's blog

Nature, to Be Commanded, Must Be Obeyed

April 16, 2010

Why Not To Localize Community Support

If you are reading this, you know English. I would like to pose a question before we go any further; would you prefer community support in your native language over what international community offers?1

By community support, I mean free software support provided by the user community. Every successful project has some form of communication; mailing lists, forums, IRC, wikis, etc. And the preferred language is almost always English. Simply because you can reach more people. People who can use your code. Who can test it, file bugs, send patches, etc. It is the logical thing to do. But in the spirit of freedom, I think nobody should be forced to use a certain (natural or programming) language for something they have created.

Real Communities

I think having local communities is a great idea. I don’t know, because we don’t have any in Türkiye2. So I am just guessing they should be cultivating and fun at the same time. We do have many local pseudo-communities though. There is some activity, people come and go, some of them stay much longer than the others. But they never progress towards a community. I think this is because they make the fundamental mistake of localizing community support. They translate documentation intended for highly technical people and create new channels that no advanced user will bother to participate. In short, they attempt to sidestep the language barrier.

If want to be a programmer you need to know English. It is not optional. It is not a requirement of being a good programmer. You are at most an excellent script kiddie without proper English skills. Obviously, knowing perfect English doesn’t make you a great programmer instantly. It will increase the resources you can access dramatically, though. And most importantly it will give you the chance to know more about what you don’t know. Stay in your little world to play with your mates who know just as little as you do and you will never improve.

A Foolish Endeavour

Some people, who spend time with these pseudo-communities, know English well enough. They are probably acting with good intentions when they provide support in their native language. But they are actually wasting their time. Having been solved one specific problem doesn’t make the other person a better programmer. On the contrary they are giving local users another reason to avoid solving the real issue. The function of a community should be supporting each member’s continuous improvement. That doesn’t necessarily mean solving their technical problems for them3.

What is wrong with asking questions in a native language if on a local channel or face to face with local people? Nothing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It would be silly to speak another language there. But if you really want to improve, you can tap into a greater source of information. It is your choice. Pseudo-communities will only take you so far. Because they are only generating more newbies, and not supporting newbies become experienced users. Do they produce anything but empty talk?

Why should a local community produce anything? What should the product be? I will probably write another post about this soon. But feel free to post your ideas and critics in the comments.

1: Obviously, it only makes sense if your native language is not English.

2: I would very much like to be proven wrong on this one. If you know any, please write a comment and don’t forget to include a website and date of the last meeting.

3: Also note that there is a difference between helping someone solve a problem and solving the problem. Spoonfeeding does more harm than good.

If you have any questions, suggestions or corrections feel free to drop me a line.