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Just Shoot Me

Bala, 28, Gordon Gekko in the making, pseudo-intellectual, cynic, bibliophile, obsessive compulsive ranter...

Tamil Internet Conference - Day 1

June 24, 2010

I just got back from the Tamil Internet conference (part of the Classical Tamil Conference 2010). Man what an experience. I had a blast of a time there.

I was part of the Tamil Wikipedia / Free Open Source Software team manning a big stall there. Thanks to good lobbying/awareness creation by the Tamil Wikipedians and Tamil blogging community, we had been allocated one of the biggest stalls in the venue (bigger than those given for CTS, TCS, HCL, Dina thanthi etc). Ours was the only volunteer run stall and it was a great experience. I am a relatively new entrant to Tamil Wikipedia (though more experienced in English Wikipedia). But living in Coimbatore and working out of home is an advantage while volunteering at an event in Coimbatore. Thus when Ta.Wiki asked for volunteers i signed up. We had a few basic goals - a) Make people aware that they can use Tamil in the web 2) Teach them how to obtain and use Tamil typing software 3) Introduce Tamil Wikipedia and teach them how to use/contribute to it. The FOSS (Free and open source software) group was there to introduce open source software like Ubuntu.

There were a lot of hiccups like they forgot to give us our IDs, the internet going on and off, the inauguration getting delayed etc. But the crowd response made it all worthwhile. To be short : Tamils want to use Tamil in the internet. All the matriculation school/english education mania hasnt reduced people's need for Tamil language content and tools. You should see their faces light up when you mention Tamil can be used in the web. All sorts of people - vernacular media professionals, retirees who chat with their children, college students who want to SMS in Tamil, Govt school teachers who are about to be given computers, Policemen who want to write in Tamil - everyone wants to know how they can use Tamil in the web. A large part of the crowd was the sight seeing, freebee seeking type who was just in for the spectacle. But a large part also seemed genuinely interested to learn how to use Tamil software. The Govt is giving away one lakh CDs full of Tamil software free and there was a long queue for getting that CD (probably a lot of them will get trashed, but even if half of them get used, you can say this conference was a success).

Another thing i noticed is the relief on people's faces when they realise we are not selling something. When they hear i was there to teach them to use some software, most of them ask what the cost is. When they hear we are volunteers doing this for free, there is momentary disbelief followed by congratulations. I had a old man pump my hand saying i appreciate what you are doing. Another point i noticed is - many of the people who already are aware of online transliteration tools like Google and Quillpad, complain that it is very painful to use them. Dont know why. By four we were all worn out and had hoarse throats from all the shouting/explaining. The evening crowd was more of a sightseeing one just there to see what was going on. We wound up the stall an hour before official closing time and left - not much energy left in us to continue.

Today's experience has opened my eyes about the necessity of increasing vernacular content in the web. English remains an alien and uncomfortable language for many of us. I have a thousand qualms about wasting lots of tax payer money in what is essentially a sycophancy show for Karunanidhi. But good things do happen out of political grandstandings like these. While the CM does the whole Bread and Circuses routine, Tamil might actually gain something.

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posted by Bala, 9:42 PM

2 Comments:

interesting post. i also find google and quillpad hard to use, partially bc they overwrite as you type so it's hard to see what you need to change to get what you want, and partially bc their rules are so complex that somtimes i find myself struggling to guess what input would give me the output i want.

i use a very simple js page which transliterates in a consistent, mechanical way, which works better for me.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 1:54 PM  
//Another thing i noticed is the relief on people's faces when they realise we are not selling something. When they hear i was there to teach them to use some software, most of them ask what the cost is. When they hear we are volunteers doing this for free, there is momentary disbelief followed by congratulations. I had a old man pump my hand saying i appreciate what you are doing.//

Reading this made my day. At last our efforts were worth while and unique.

//Another point i noticed is - many of the people who already are aware of online transliteration tools like Google and Quillpad, complain that it is very painful to use them. Dont know why. //

Try them and you will know :)

//Today's experience has opened my eyes about the necessity of increasing vernacular content in the web. English remains an alien and uncomfortable language for many of us. //

Ya, people are hungry for knowledge in their own language. (not vernacular, not regional, not local but one's own mother tongue)

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