An app for web localization research

This morning, while reading the Globe and Mail, I came across an article reviewing a Firefox application that could be useful to localization researchers.

One of the difficulties in localization research is the unstable nature of the object being studied: when researchers study a print source text, it generally stays the same. True, some printed texts, like Don Quixote, do not have one definitive source text edition, and others, such as annual reports, are updated on a regular basis; however, the websites of large corporations and global brands pose a particular problem because they rarely stay the same for long, and previous versions are sometimes lost to the public.

For instance, when I was researching my last paper comparing how global and local brands depict Canada on their websites, I found spelling errors in the French version of the Pampers advertisements. When I went back to check on those errors a month later, they had been corrected. Microsoft had an ad I considered discussing, but when I went back the next day to take a better look at it, it had been replaced by something else. Granted, I could have downloaded the websites to my computer or to a server so that I could examine them at my leisure without worrying about when they might be updated, but that requires a great deal time and disk space (since many of the websites I studied contained sizeable graphics and video files). Moreover, I would always wonder whether I should delete the archives or not… after all, who know when I might need to refer back to a site, or even compare the previous version with the new one?

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine allows Internet users to browse through archived versions of various websites. Simply enter a URL, and you’ll be taken to a page that lists all available versions in chronological order. A new application for Firefox, which can be downloaded here improves on the Wayback Machine: it consults the Internet Archive database on your behalf and indicates in the lower-right-hand corner of your browser whether an archived version of the site you’re currently browsing is available, and if so, how many snapshots can be found. By moving the scroll bar, you can select the date of the archive you’d like to view. This means that you don’t have to go directly to the Internet Archive site every time you’d like to find out whether a older version of a particular website is available.

The only drawback is that the WaybackFox application is still in the experimental stage. It’s quite slow, for one thing: I waited over three minutes for a 2005 version of the Globe and Mail homepage to load. And it has some bugs: some of the images are just broken files, and as the Globe and Mail reviewer pointed out, the dates on the scroll bar don’t always match the archived versions that actually load up. However, I see a lot of potential for this tool for localization researchers. For one thing, even in its current pre-alpha release, the WaybackFox application allows researchers to quickly determine whether an archived version of a site exists, how many versions are available, and how far back the archives stretch. This information alone allows someone to decide whether to include a particular website in a longitudinal study of how localization habits have changed over time. As the application is improved, I hope it would help researchers compare how the localized versions of a website have changed over time, and then to compare these results with the changes on other sites to determine whether certain localization trends can be identified and whether such trends are particular to certain locales, brands, industries, etc.