We've come a very long way with internationalization in a very short amount of time. This is a process that will continue to evolve well into 2016. Before I go into details about our plans with individual sites, I'd like to describe the process a bit.
- We (through a proposal or through company goals) identify a language where Stack Overflow positively needs to exist. Primarily, this is due to native speakers of that language being unlikely to also speak English to the degree of proficiency required for them to comfortably participate on an English site.
- We ensure that we can meet any technical challenges that the language presents. Japanese has no spaces or plurals, for instance.
- We seek a community manager with a strong developer background. We need someone that can not only speak the language, but also know how to speak to programmers. If you're going to talk to programmers about the way they run their site, you really need some programming chops.
- When we're able to find and hire the right individual, we go forward with translating the site, launching a private beta, and getting it ready for the public.
Just in the weeks that I've taken over the project, we've nearly switched from using third-party translation services to completely crowd-sourced translations. We're happy to pay top dollar for translations, but we found that the communities produce better translations than 'professionals', since they know how our software works and have the context needed to do it right. We'd rather ask you to do it from scratch than ask you to fix someone else's mistakes.
My point is, we're getting better at this, we're getting faster at this and we're continuing to refine the way in which we do things. But there are also, unfortunately, technical challenges that we simply can't overcome in any sense of time that coincides with what seems a reasonable amount of time to ask people to wait:
We will not be able to support sites other than Stack Overflow in other languages for the foreseeable future. This is a people issue mostly, as in we don't have enough of them, but there are technical challenges as well.
We will not be able to support right-to-left languages any time in the foreseeable future, if ever. We would like to, but there's currently no clear path as to how we could.
We will not be able to support sites in language where English Proficiency is at or above average for native speakers of that language. It's not that we wouldn't like to launch these sites, I believe they would be of very high quality - it's that the resources are more sorely needed for other languages.
If I haven't made it clear in what I stated above, the reasons that we can't proceed with all of the current proposals boil down to being about us, not you. We would love to launch every one of these proposals, but we need to focus on those that we can put all of our resources behind to make sure they're making the Internet (in that language) a better place.
In the coming week, I'm going to be letting the people behind all pending proposals know if we're going to be able to go forward with them, and to the degree possible, what to expect. Many will unfortunately need to be closed because we simply can't give them the support that they deserve, and it's unfair to continue to elevate people's expectations by leaving them open.
I wish we had known everything that I just shared with you a year, or even two years ago - we didn't have a good plan for localization and it's our fault for not having one. The best I can do now is be as open, communicative, transparent and available as possible, which is what you can expect going forward.