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Mailbag (2008)

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Two emails arrived within two days of each other. First, from "kibo," who gave the email address "":

Hi, it is really sad that the kamusi project has become so bad working! Sometimes it hardly works, giving out mathematic questions, and afterwards no results. You asking for donations but you are unable to keep this project in a good condition. This way you get people to talk nonsense like: "Typical East Africa: asking for money but at the end getting nothing done". Why you must show the world this symbol of Swahili underdevelopment?

The second email came from "Walli":

Dear Kamusi Team, Your project is amazing and truly a feather in Tanzania's cap. I have recently made an icon to show projects, products, people etc that are from Tanzania. I have designed a very nice emblem to indicate the 'Proudly Tanzanian - Fahari ya Tanzania'. I would like to send you a web ready PNG graphic that if you like you can publish on your website. Look forward to hearing from you soon.

Walli's email was a delight to receive. He sent a really nice emblem, which you can see on the bottom of this post. Because the Kamusi Project is not strictly "Tanzanian" (we have staff in Kenya, Ghana, Switzerland, and the UK, we have users all over the world, and Swahili is spoken in many more countries than just Tanzania), we won't be able to use the particular image that Walli sent. However, he and I have talked some more about what sorts of graphics would be appropriate, and I look forward to featuring his designs in the days to come.

The post from "kibo," on the other hand, was disheartening. We know the project is experiencing technical problems - I recently blogged about the difficulties moving to a new platform, from which we are still trying to return to full functionality. (Thanks to the users who are sending in descriptive error reports!) We know the project is far from perfect, and we appreciate constructive suggestions about how to improve. We work day and night (as my wife will unhappily attest, with emails, IMs, and SMS messages buzzing among the staff at all hours) to fix problems at the same time that we are developing tools to expand the project to over a dozen additional African languages. All of this work has been done with no funding for six months, so I personally paid staff salaries out of my pocket from October through March while we've been getting the project into a position to be sustainable going forward. (The current deficit is about $28,000, which I sincerely hope we can raise in our upcoming fund drive! All donations appreciated!) So an email like Kibo's is frustrating, particularly because it did not even include an email address where I could reply and say,

"Sorry that we aren't living up to your expectations (or our own) at the moment. Please bear with us while we work out some temporary problems with the site. We hope that you will be pleased with the improvements we plan to introduce in the coming weeks and months - meanwhile, we apologize for any inconveniences you may experience."

Incidentally, the specific issue about which Kibo was complaining, where we asked users to solve a very simple math problem before performing certain actions on the site, should now be resolved. (If not, please send in a detailed error report.) The math problem was a form of "captcha" or "reverse Turing test" that we implemented in order to stop rogue computers from hijacking our system. The math problem was never a particularly good way to stop the spam artists, and the implementation proved to be incompatible with our platform upgrade. Instead, we spent much of last Thursday implementing a new system for confirming that a request is coming from a human instead of a computer. We hope the system will be more reliable and more user friendly - but of course, the *#$!~@#s out there will keep trying to find new ways to sabotage the system, so sooner or later we'll need to re-re-re-revisit the problem.

Here is the image from Wallimohamed Datoo, distributed under the Creative Commons license Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0


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