Supporting te reo Māori

The Trade Me iOS app learned its first words in te reo

Written by our Head of Mobile, Nick Parfene

Did you know you can set te reo Māori as your preferred language on your iOS device? It’s quick and painless. Most of your apps and websites will still be presented in English, however if there is support for te reo on a particular app, it will magically appear.

Here’s a real world example: can you tell which of these two iPhones has te reo as the preferred language?

It only takes a few seconds to enable your iOS device to show you more content in te reo.

Make the change

We’d love you to consider setting the preferred language on your iPhone or iPad to te reo to incorporate more of the language in your daily life. Who knows, you may even learn a few new words!

Making the change is easy. It’s safe and can be easily rolled back if you decide it’s not for you. Here are the steps and a quick example of how to do it:

Settings > General > Language & Region > Other Languages. Look up Māori and then select ‘Prefer Māori’.

What you will see in the Trade Me iOS app

This first step is small: we’ve translated the app name and some of the most familiar areas of the app.

We aren’t doing any machine translations, instead we’re working with licensed Māori translators and language consultants, developing a process for building the Māori language content of our apps and assuring its quality. We believe this will lead to a more natural integration of the language into our apps.

All the user-generated content (e.g. listing descriptions) is still in English, but we are looking at ways to also support the use of te reo Māori in user-generated content in the future.

Why it matters

Māori Language Week is 1117 September this year, and we want to contribute something that is permanent and lays the foundations for further te reo support on Trade Me.

We want as many people as possible who value te reo Māori to select Māori as their preferred language on iOS. There are currently less than 1,000 users with Māori as their preferred language interacting with Trade Me's apps each month. We want this number to be higher. By making this change you show us the software builders that this matters to you. The more of us who make this change, the louder our collective voice becomes and this will lead to more software supporting te reo Māori.

Adding te reo Māori to our iOS app is just the first step. We’d love to make this change on our Android app too, but Android doesn’t currently support te reo Māori so we don’t have this option yet. (I’m working with Google to see if we can move this along.)

Why can't user-generated content handle macrons yet?

We know that providing the ability to use macrons is an important part of supporting the use of te reo Māori for our members. This may seem like an easy thing to do, but it’s technically very challenging. We need to shift almost 19 years of code to what is essentially a new language that supports macrons. However, it’s something we know we need to do.

Here’s a bit of ‘extra for experts’ around how we’ve got to this point. Trade Me has been around for almost 19 years. In the initial design of our database, catering for unicode characters such as the macron wasn't considered. As we grew the code base we evolved into a more distributed architecture.

Keen to support unicode on site, in 2015 a group of Trade Me tech folk attempted a proof-of-concept to enable this change. From their work, it became clear that our distributed architecture made this change difficult, so it was put on hold.

Our project to consolidate our architecture was completed in July 2017, so we're now in a better position to re-visit the unicode support. We are expecting a few bumps and surprises along the way, so our plan is to make these changes across the site progressively, rather than all at once. This will help limit any issues that crop up, and also let us learn before we tackle more complex areas of the site.

What’s next?

The new Māori language content in our iOS app is the first of many steps and we’ll continue to build on this in more places within the app.

Right now we’re scoping what the next step is to support macrons across all parts of Trade Me where members enter content, and we reckon the best place to try this first is within the member profile.

Overall, the benefits of enabling unicode character support will also extend to speakers of other languages in the Trade Me community.

A big thank you to the Trade Me folks who have been involved in getting this over the line, especially Chris Hawkins, Jacob Lapworth, Gili Sharrock, Sam Meikle, Rick Chen, Rory O’Logan, Tony Li, Yohan Huria, and Madeleine Diver.

Kia ora to Karena Kelly, and Leon Blake who’ve been instrumental in helping us define our voice.

Kia kaha e hoa mā!

Nick Parfene
Head of Mobile

Update: we now support macrons on your first and last name, and also within your member profile.