From today you’ll be able to use Google in the second of New Zealand’s official languages.
Just go to the translations page on the web’s most used search page, and in the middle of the list, which goes from Afrikaans to Zulu, the Maori option will come up.
Allowing users to put different language skins on its interface is just one of the reasons Google has become the most used search engine.
Google’s ubiquity was one of the reasons Rotorua couple Nikolasa and Potaua Biasiny-Tule undertook the translation project.
They weren’t the first to have the idea of Maori Google, but it took off when they posted a call for support on their tangatawhenua.com site in May last year.
It caught the attention of some of the team which had been creating Maori interfaces to Microsoft Office and Windows 2003.
That meant there was going to be a level of consistency about the projects, which was also helped by Te Taura Whiri I Te Reo Maori, the Maori language commission, coming on board in November.
“It’s such a specialised area; the language is constantly evolving so it’s important to put together the right people,” Nikolasa Biasiny-Tule says.
Biasiny-Tule, who is of Puerto Rican and Dutch origin, has used the internet to run distance-learning programmes for Waikato University’s school of Maori and Pacific development.
She is also working on a doctorate on digital cultures in academic environments.
Once people registered as translators, they were directed to a page with a list of all the messages that needed to be translated.
An online forum helped co-ordinate the work.
Other key people included translators Wiha Te Raki Hawea Stevens and Wareko Te Angina; Dr Te Taka Keegan, a lecturer with Waikato’s computer science department; and New York-based New Zealander Dr Craig Nevill-Manning, who is director of Google engineering.
Biasiny-Tule explains that the language tool will benefit kura kaupapa and wananga which are trying to maintain a Maori immersion environment.
“We want them to be able to use technology freely and with confidence,” she says.
“If we can inspire our own children to see how the IT industry and the internet is relevant to their lives and culture, we will have done what we want to do.”
While the search page is in te reo, the results will come in whatever language they are found.
David Griswold from Google’s global communications and public affairs team says Google in Your Language was started in 2001 as part of an effort to make services available in as many languages as possible.
“Google is always looking for ways to improve and broaden people’s access to information,” Griswold says.
“We want everyone, no matter where they are or what language they speak, to be able to connect with information, with their community, and with the global community online.”
While there is already some Maori language content on the web, those responsible for putting it up need to make it findable.
That means initially registering a site with the major search engines, so they can index them.
Search engines like Google, Yahoo and Ask.com have programs called “spiders” which crawl the web, creating indexes of pages.
They do this by following the links from pages which are already in their databases.
A key Google innovation was its PageRank algorithm, which determines the popularity of a web page through the number of other pages linked to it.
Many Maori interest pages may be in the invisible web, buried in academic databases which aren’t visible to the spiders, or in non-HTML formats, although many of these can now be found.
Asking computer-savvy rangatahi to produce the marae website may not be such a great idea, if their Flash-generated animation makes the spiders turn away.
There are other search engines out there, which anyone wanting their pages can’t ignore.
Each engine will have a surprisingly high number of unique pages indexed as a function of their different technologies and methodologies.
There are also commercial imperatives which keep competitors in the game.
Many are selling their engines to be a white label search function on corporate websites.
There are other firms emerging, such as JumpTap, which specialise in searching from mobile devices – which is the way an increasing number of users are currently accessing the internet.