The headline says it all really. We had a tip off that the site was finally released as a beta and so we decided to take a quick look. Holding our breath really because we SO wanted it to be worth the £250,000 that was paid for it.
The much-trailed site has alot to recommend it. It loads quickly, it has a modish contemporary feel, taking advantage of technologies like AJAX in useful and intuitive ways. The interface is bright, usable and above all is as competently realised as you would expect for the budget. All good.
We liked the switch over between English, Simple Gaelic and Gaelic at the top of the page. It is seamless, well thought-out and even when non-gaelic speakers/readers stray into Gaelic content, easy to untangle. Navigationally then, good. (There is a reservation here, and we’re not sure how it would play out, but there may be a problem with search engine indexing on the site. Unless they have really nailed this, they may end up confusing Google and the likes with code which carries all three languages – not something we’d recommend really, especially as without traffic the site will die and this potential error may choke it off at the source.)
The content is not as comprehensive as we would have expected though for the money – but then we do hear there’s a news service on the way. We found sections like Genealogy really disappointing. Not only is the content restricted to a single page, there are links to other sites right off the section head (Thought given to Page Rank anybody?). No contextual news, no deeper analyses. This is true of all the content areas. To be fair though this is a site in beta, and work is evidently still continuing. Maybe there’ll be more added to these content sections and soon.
Sign up is as good as we have seen on any platform for users. It’s secure and notably quick, although this may be a function of the number of folk who have registered so far … I was able to register my first name as my username, a sign, if we needed one, to show how widespread the site’s presence has been signalled perhaps? And once in, there is all you’d expect there to be in a networking platform: areas called ‘my page’, ‘my stuff’, ‘my groups’, ‘my friends’ and ‘my inbox’.
Now this is not to say that the developers, The Creative Cell and Reefnet, don’t use Open Source – they do, they used all sorts of Open Source technologies in mygaelic.com’s production, including CakePHP – it’s more to do with the fact that there are extant, fully developed applications which are fit-for-purpose very-nearly-out-of-the-box, and which with a tenth of the development costs could produce a site with equal or much better capabilities. We’d have done it. Chosen an extant platform. Added three or four existing plugins. Adapted another two. Created a design. Employed a translator. Published. Done.
No, we shouldn’t be so flippant. There is value in the site, and the development costs are realistic given the approach that was chosen. That’s precisely the issue really, the approach that was chosen. If the decision-makers had been told that there was significant advantage in leveraging existing services, applications and websites, including improved search engine exposure, greater access to existing international audiences and, more particularly, large and ongoing budget savings in terms of content and application development, perhaps the gripes of the many who have commented on the size of the budget used to publish the site would have been obviated.
Why didn’t BnG develop partnerships with the big beasts of the internet? The likes of Facebook, Bebo, Google, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia – why not get their extant services to do the heavy-lifting, leaving only issues of language in-house? Why not take advantage of the architectures already in place? It’s done all the time. And imagine the impact on the Gaelic language if it became available on all those platforms, freely and universally? It takes a linguist only a couple of hours to create the necessary translations to convert platforms such as WordPress into native-speaking applications … Two hours! Why did they have to spend a quarter of a million? Such a waste.
The photograph above, of the new Gaelic and English road signs in Scotland, is reprodiuced here under the Creative Commons licence.