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Overview - About Iwips
IN RECENT YEARS, the term “Digital Divide” has become a charged buzzword within the usability and accessibility communities. It refers to an increasing disparity in access to personal computing and the Internet between a privileged few and a much larger disadvantaged group.
Digital Divide is written especially large when taken outside the bounds of the affluent Northern Hemisphere cultures, to the world at large – where a majority of people have never even made a telephone call. Making computerized products and services accessible to everyone, regardless of culture, would go a long way toward reducing the harmful effects of the Divide.
That accessibility, through localisation of computerized products and systems, is the overriding concern of IWIPS, the International Workshop on Internationalisation of Products and Systems. IWIPS has sought for four years to bring together people from industry, academia and government to melt a range of very diverse disciplines. The primary goal is to improve understanding of why and how culture should be made an intrinsic part of product and systems design -- thereby decreasing the divide between the haves and have-nots.
For, after all, to have something and not be able to use it efficiently, effectively, and comfortably because of cultural malapropisms is tantamount to not having it at all.

The Practical Side of Localisation

The community of people localising products and systems (and those at the leading edge of research in this area) is small, but growing. Increasingly, industry, academia and government realise the importance of adapting everything from computer interfaces to industrial packaging and family planning advice to the cultures (read “expectations”) of intended users.
This growing list of organisations concerned about localisation realise that making products and systems accessible to people regardless of their culture is not altruism. An item exported from its culture of origin to another is inherently what New Zealanders call an “introduced species” – something inherently alien and potentially harmful. The same technology felt to be useful and beneficial in one culture may very well be considered irritating and even destructive in another. Things considered irritating or destructive do not sell well and result in inefficiencies, lower productivity, and disuse.

Defining Terms

Localisation, note, is not the same as globalisation. In globalisation, a product or system may be exported with little change from its culture of origin. People in other cultures must learn its idiosyncrasies before using it. Internationalisation, on the other hand, implies that unique aspects of the culture of origin have been removed, partly to avoid offence to users in other “target” cultures and partly to facilitate customisation of the base product or system for or in those cultures. That customisation is what is implied by the term localisation, as used at IWIPS.

IWIPS: Past, Present and Future

IWIPS is an intimate event, where rarely more than 100 practitioners and researchers from several continents gather each July to share lessons learned and to network. In years past, IWIPS has been held in New York State, Maryland, UK and Austin/Texas. This year, it convenes from the 17th to 19th of July in Berlin, Germany (www.iwips2003.org). In 2004, it will be held in Vancouver, Canada.

D.L. Day, V.P., Product & Systems Internationalisation, Inc. (d.day@acm.org)
Organized by Products & Systems Internationalisation, Inc. (www.iwips.org)
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Last update: 24 July 2003
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