Delightful!  Last week I came home from the gathering of my trip, the 37th Internationalisation and Unicode Conference. My tutorial on Building multilingual websites in Drupal 7 and Joomla! 3 again went well. And I found inspiration, new knowledge, and old friends there.

Those of you looking for my slides and handouts, they are at the preceding link. You are welcome to share them, per their Creative Commons license. I’d appreciate credit when you share them. And I’d appreciate your feedback on this blog’s comments.

Search for #iuc37 on Twitter  to find some of the “second screen” chorus, commenting on the conference’s action.

The keynote speech was one of the best fits the Unicode program committee has come up with in a long time. Alolita Sharma, Director of Engineering for Internationalization and Localization at Wikipedia, sounded from the get-go like she was one of us. In her talk, Enabling the Next Billion Multilingual Users for Wikipedia, she struck an exquisite balance between impressing us with the tremendous multilingual content Wikipedia is enabling, praising us in the internationalisation tribe for what we’ve accomplished so far, and challenging us with what remains to be done. It is staggering to think that, huge and linguistically diverse though Wikipedia is today, it has only tapped a fraction of the human population. What we see there is just the beginning. And in order to open doors to that next billion contributors, they are implementing a complete language support stack of fonts, keyboards, input methods, text editing, and text formatting, all within the web platform. Having blown our minds, Alolita didn’t sail off back to her day job. Instead, she stuck around.  She was in sessions throughout the conference, asking great questions, and responding to the challenges she had set.

For me, the most exciting outcome of the conference came in a coffee-break conversation, as these things usually do. A question by one of my tutorial attendees (“How good is the support for internationalisation in Joomla?”), led me to wonder: suppose we had a best-practices list of internationalisation features of APIs. This would be patterns learned from our industry’s many attempts as such APIs, from System/360 to .Net to HTML. Question 1: if we had such a list, who would be eager to see it?  Question 2: who already has such a list, and are they willing to share it.

To my mind, such a list would be valuable in several ways. For anyone building or evaluating i18n support in an API, it would reduce the “unknown unknowns” — the things the evaluator doesn’t know, and is unaware they don’t know. It would be a vehicle for i18n specialists in a software development organisation to communicate best practices to other parts of the organisation. Properly handled, it could be a tool for what the Japanese call gaiatsu, or outside pressure, to encourage the organisation to support i18n better. It would make evaluating APIs and planning internationalisation projects easier and more comprehensive.  It begs the production of a second best practices list, of i18n features at the UI level of applications on a platform, and the production of a suite of sample apps exercising the  i18n APIs and demonstrating the i18n UI features.

The great thing about the Unicode conference is that many of the people who might be customers of such a list, or contributors, or organisational sponsors of a project to gather the list, were right there at the conference. I filled my mealtimes and coffee breaks chasing those key people down, and getting their opinion of the idea. Response was largely positive. I might take this on as a project for the coming year. Or maybe it will not prove worthwhile. But I’ll bet that evaluating the interest in such a project will be itself interesting.

If the project gets legs, and delivers some results, it might make a great talk for IUC38 in 2014!