They're Staying Away in Droves: A Tale of Two Translation Interfaces

In 2005, I wrote a book on managing open source projects, [30] much of which is about exactly what this chapter is about: setting up tools to make teams more effective.

A while after the book was published, and its full contents placed online, volunteers started showing up to translate it into other languages. Naturally, I was extremely pleased by this, and wanted to help them as much as possible, so I set up some technical infrastructure to enable the translators to collaborate. Each target language generally had more than one volunteer working on it, and having the translators for a given language work together was simply common sense. In addition, certain aspects of the translation processes were common across all the languages, so it made sense even for translators of different languages to be able to see each other's work.

It all sounds good on paper, doesn't it? But what actually happened was a deep lesson in the consequences of failing to understand a team's tool needs.

What I Gave Them

The infrastructure I set up for the translators was basically an extension of what I had used myself to write the book: a collection of XML master files stored in a Subversion repository, written to the DocBook DTD, and converted to output formats using a collection of command-line programs driven by some Makefiles.

Let me try saying that in English:

I wrote the book in a format (XML) that, while a bit awkward to work in, is very ...

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