What’s new roundabouts?

I have a few minutes this morning, and I thought I would indulge in an update on progress of SuttaCentral. We’ve been working super-hard, but almost all the work is happening behind the scenes, and the results are not yet put together. Anyway, here are some of the things happening.

The current round of updates is driven by a double-whammy of dependency hell! :bomb: :bomb: Two of our critical bits of software were more-or-less abandoned by their developers, leaving us somewhat in the lurch. These are Pootle, which was our translation software, and Polymer, the front end framework.

But a crisis is an opportunity, right! So, we took the chance to do things better.

We now have a better understanding of how the front end system works, and have almost completely removed Polymer as a dependency, moving to the lighter, faster, and just all-round better LitElement. This isn’t going to affect the user directly, but it makes a more performant and expressive basis for future development.

Of greater long-term significance is the collapse of the Pootle project, which lost most of its contributors about two years ago. Lacking a suitable substitute, we decided to make our own, and christened it “Bilara”.

What does Bilara do? It is a web app that enables translators to translate suttas. It has a powerful and flexible front end built on LitElement, and excellent Translation memory and find/replace powered by ArangoDB. Unlike most translation software, it focuses on translating texts, not UI, and so it keeps the translation experience very clean and flowing.

We already have a number of volunteers working on Bilara as alpha testers, and are looking to open it up more widely very soon. Our dream is to create, over the next decade, a whole new generation of translations.

The great thing about Bilara is that it seamlessly integrates into the whole SuttaCentral ecosystem. Without any extra effort by the translators, you’ll be able to see text/translation view, get the translations as ebooks, read on Voice, or in print editions.

This is a very powerful goal, but one that requires an entirely new way of handling the texts from the ground up. The process of shifting to the new system is complex and painstaking, and we are currently hard at work testing and checking to make sure everything is solid before proceeding.

The new text system allows for a more flexible presentation of the texts, and this is something we hope to evolve as time goes on. For example, currently even a very long text like DN 16 Mahāparinibbāna Sutta is presented as a single HTML file, which is burdensome for mobiles especially. We should be able to paginate it for convenience. There are many other potential features, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself!

Anyway, there will be more news in coming days and weeks, and I look forward to sharing more details with you all.