Submissions/Nothing Left but Always Right: The Twisted Road to RTL Support

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This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2015.

Submission no.
3008
Title of the submission

Nothing Left but Always Right: The Twisted Road to RTL Support

Type of submission (discussion, hot seat, panel, presentation, tutorial, workshop)

Presentation

Author of the submission

Moriel Schottlender

E-mail address

moriel@wikimedia.org

Username

mw:User:MSchottlender-WMF

Country of origin

Israel

Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)

Wikimedia Foundation

Personal homepage or blog

http://moriel.smarterthanthat.com

Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

When dealing with languages online, we have to remember that beyond the differences in scripts and letters and interesting diacritics, languages also differ in direction. English is written and read left to right, and Hebrew, Arabic, Urdu and others are right to left. This is a challenge on the web by itself, but the direction which you type in isn't the only thing that's affected by a language’s direction -- the entire page and its flow heavily depends on the direction of the language you are reading the page in.

In other words, it’s not just how you type -- it’s how you think.

The problems that RTL (right to left) users encounter run much deeper than typing in a different directionality on the screen; how do we think about software that can cater to people who are used to reading text right to left? How much do we need to account for? What technical challenges pop up and what do we on the Editing team do to solve them?

In broad terms, we can "simply" flip the page, mirror the entire UI and be done with it, but that, surprisingly, is not remotely good enough. Consider, for instance, three buttons: “Left”, “Center”, “Right.” To an LTR (left to right) speaker, the buttons make sense the way they are displayed. If we were to flip the page, the buttons would appear in the opposite direction: Right, Center, Left - which, unless you’re reading it with your back to the screen, is clearly wrong. Flipping the page is just not good enough.

There are also technical issues. Browsers behave differently, CSS rules override or conflict within sections in the page, whole layouts can be nested within one another, and, best (or worst) of all: some things never flip even if they should have. All of these have the potential of making any web developer disastrously dizzy.

So how do we support software that caters for both LTR and RTL users? Carefully. We work on inventing new solutions, take a lot of input from RTL users, reinvent our solutions, and, mostly, we try to do better than anything else out there.

Join me for a (mostly harmless) mind-bending adventure in right to left languages for the Web. I’ll share examples and adventures from right to left and back again, without getting you too dizzy.

!ereth uoy eeS

Track

Technology, Interface & Infrastructure

(The talk is in the technology track but is aimed to not be too technical.)

Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
30 minutes
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?

Yes

Slides or further information (optional)


Special requests


Interested attendees

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  1. Amir E. Aharoni (talk) 19:03, 2 March 2015 (UTC)
  2. guillom (talk) 00:03, 8 March 2015 (UTC)
  3. Santhosh.thottingal (talk) 07:15, 19 April 2015 (UTC)
  4. eranroz (talk) 08:14, 4 July 2015 (UTC)
  5. MRG90 (talk) 20:19, 18 July 2015 (UTC)