Palestinian geeks and RTL bugs

In the last few months i opened a bunch of MediaWiki bugs related to writing from right-to-left. If you click on the non-stricken-out numbers there, you’ll see my name at a few pages. Unfortunately i’m not yet much of a MediaWiki developer, but i’m quietly learning it at home.

This flood of right-to-left bugs was noticed. Mark Hershberger, Wikimedia’s bugmeister, wrote a blog post inviting developers who know RTL languages to fix the bugs. In the recent MediaWiki Hackathon 2011 in Berlin, which i attended as a member of the MediaWiki Language committee, i had the pleasure to meet Mark and many other MediaWiki developers in person – they taught me MediaWiki hacking tricks and i taught them the basics of RTL language handling in computers.

MediaWiki Hackathon 2011 participants, Berlin
MediaWiki Hackathon 2011 participants, Berlin. Photo: Tobias Schumann, CC-BY-SA-3.0-DE. Click to enlarge.

After the hackathon Mark’s blog post was made available for translation in, the software localization hub for MediaWiki, Wikipedia-related projects and other Free Software. It makes sense to translate it, especially to RTL languages. I translated it to Hebrew. It was also translated to Macedonian and Bulgarian; to Bosnian and two types of Serbian; to French, Danish and German; to Latin, Albanian, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese.

Do you notice any right-to-left languages except Hebrew here? No, me neither. After i poked a few people, parts of it were translated to Persian, Urdu and Khowar, a language of Pakistan. And not a single line of it was translated into Arabic yet.

And i just don’t get it. It is a fact that there are Arab Free Software hackers on both sides of Jordan, as well as in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and other countries. Judging by the tweets with the #palgeeks hashtag in Twitter, there are more startups in Ramallah than in Herzliya. There are Arab Wikipedia editors in Israel and the West Bank, not to mention the rest of the Arab world. There are a lot of translations of software messages into Arabic in the same website, But not of this blog post, which could bring more fixes to RTL bugs, which would in turn benefit all the people writing and reading in the Arabic alphabet – that’s hundreds of millions of people.

You could say: Why bother translating it from English into Arabic? After all, someone who has the skill to fix bugs in PHP code, probably knows English. But the fact is that translating it into Hebrew was worth the few minutes i put into it, because it caused the Israeli MediaWiki developer Rotem Liss to fix one RTL bug. (Thank you, Rotem.) Just think what it may do if it is translated to Arabic, which is spoken by many, many more people.

So, dear #palgeeks and Arabic-speaking geeks in other countries! If any of you are reading this, please invest a few minutes to do the following:

  1. Go to
  2. If you don’t have an account: Create one by clicking “ادخل / أنشئ حسابا” or “Log in / create account” at the top. Then follow the instructions on the screen to request Translator permission.
  3. Go to Mark Hershberger’s post translation page.
  4. Start translating into Arabic.
  5. Copy the result to your own blog, publish it on Twitter, invite other Arab hackers to fix RTL bugs in MediaWiki.

Oh, and you are also cordially invited to Wikimania in Haifa and to the Hackathon that will take place for two days before it, starting on the 2nd of August. It’s not about politics; it’s about improving Wikipedia’s support for your language. And you’ll also get to meet Wikipedians from all around the world, which is even more fun in real life than it sounds. Really. (If you need assistance with getting into Israel, please contact me privately.)

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