Advancing Mozilla’s mission through our work on localization standards

After the previous post highlighting what the Mozilla community and Localization Team achieved in 2023, it’s time to dive deeper on the work the team does in the area of localization technologies and standards.

A significant part of our work on localization at Mozilla happens within the space of Internet standards. We take seriously our commitments that stem from the Mozilla Manifesto:

We are committed to an internet that includes all the peoples of the earth — where a person’s demographic characteristics do not determine their online access, opportunities, or quality of experience.

To us, this means that it’s not enough to strive to improve the localization of our products, but that we need to improve the localizability of the Internet as a whole. We need to take the lessons we are learning from our work on Firefox, Thunderbird, websites, and all our other projects, and make them available to everyone, everywhere.

That’s a pretty lofty goal we’ve set ourselves, but to be fair it’s not just about altruism. With our work on Fluent and DOM Localization, we’re in a position where it would be far too easy to rest on our laurels, and to consider what we have “good enough”. To keep going forward and to keep improving the experiences of our developers and localizers, we need input from the outside that questions our premises and challenges us. One way for us to do that is to work on Internet standards, presenting our case to other experts in the field.

In 2023, a large part of our work on localization standards has been focused on Unicode MessageFormat 2 (aka “MF2”), an upcoming message formatting specification, as well as other specifications building on top of it. Work on this has been ongoing since late 2019, and Mozilla has been one of the core participants from the start. The base MF2 spec is now slated for an initial “technology preview” release as a part of the 2024 Spring’s Unicode CLDR release.

Compared to Fluent, MF2 corresponds to the syntax and formatting of a single message pattern. Separately, we’ve also been working on the syntax and representation of a resource format for messages (corresponding to Fluent’s FTL files), as well as championing JavaScript language proposals for formatting messages and parsing resources. Work on standardizing DOM localization (as in, being able to use just HTML to localize a website) is also getting started in W3C/WHATWG, but its development is contingent on all the preceding specifications reaching a more stable stage.

So, besides the long term goal of improving localization everywhere, what are the practical results of these efforts? The nature of this work is exploratory, so predicting results has not and will not be completely possible. One tangible benefit that we’ve been able to already identify and deploy is a reconsideration of how Fluent messages with internal selectors — like plurals — are presented to localizers: Rather than showing a message in pieces, we’ve adopted the MF2 approach of presenting a message with its selectors (possibly more than one) applying to the whole message. This duplicates some parts of the message, but it also makes it easier to read and to translate via machine translation, as well as ensuring that it is internally consistent across all languages.

Another byproduct of this work is MF2’s message data model: Unlike anything before it, it is capable of representing all messages in all languages in all formats. We are currently refactoring our tools and internal systems around this data model, allowing us to deduplicate file format-specific tooling, making it easier to add new features and support new syntaxes. In Pontoon, this approach already made it easier to introduce syntax highlighting and improve the editing experience for right-to-left scripts. To hear more, you can join us at FOSDEM next month, where we’ll be presenting on this in more detail!

At Mozilla, we do not presume to have all the answers, or to always be right. Instead, we try to share what we have, and to learn from others. With many points of view, we gain greater insights – and we help make the world a better place for all peoples of all demographic characteristics.

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