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mini writeup: Orkut "looking for" I18N/L18N issue

From: Dan Brickley <danbri@danbri.org>
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 2009 14:01:36 +0200
Message-ID: <4A8BE9A0.6030808@danbri.org>
To: "public-xg-socialweb@w3.org" <public-xg-socialweb@w3.org>

per # [CONTINUES] ACTION: danbri to write up orkut/i18n/"looking for" 
issue ...

Here's a quick writeup. I will try find my old email files with more 
detail on this:

Short version: be careful in Social Network site UI if you use ambiguous 
phrases like "Looking For" that in practice have a dating/sex reading, 
but the UI doesn't make that clear. The subtlety may be lost on users 
unless the UI is carefully translated to their preferred languages. And 
it may have serious real-world consequences if they mis-represent 
themselves as having characteristics that are controversial in their 

Some years ago (2004-5), Google's Orkut social network became very 
popular in Iran. It has since been heavily blocked at the ISP there, but 
for a while was widely used. At the time (and afaik until today) there 
wasn't a Farsi/Persian UI available for Iranian Orkut users, so they had 
to manage as best they could with other languages. I don't know what the 
options were, or how multilingual the interface was back then, but 
English was the default. So, 1000s of Iranians were filling out user 
profiles on Orkut, where the meaning of each field wasn't always clear.

Browsing around, I noticed a very large proportion of Iranian users had 
filled out their profile indicating they were lesbian/gay or bi-sexual. 
Noticably more than users from other countries. A Google staffer ran 
some stats and confirmed that this was indeed the case.

My reading of this situation was that many users were mistaken and had 
mis-represented themselves. My Google contact - after some consultation 
- suggested instead that the site had somehow become a hub of 
lesbian/gay community, and that the profiles were accurate.

I wish I had the old mails handy, to be clearer about this specific 
case. I think the UI had a profile field that (implicitly) related to 
dating, something like:

"Looking For: [ men / men and women / women / ... ]"

... though I forget the exact options, the ordering and the default.

My reading was that many of Orkut's Iranian users had missed the dating 
aspect of this field. Hard to prove either way, but I still think it's 
worth writing this up. I think there's a best practice to be articulated 
here. Declaring yourself (accidentally) to be looking to date "men and 
women" can be seriously embarrassing (or worse, illegal) in some 
countries. And this is of course irregardless of whether there's 
anything wrong with being gay/bi/whatever (which there isn't).

hope this is useful,


Received on Wednesday, 19 August 2009 12:02:19 UTC

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