Utilities for analyzing keyboards?

Don Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Fri Jun 27 17:58:58 UTC 2008

In discussing layouts for African languages whose orthographies include characters or diacritic combinations not supported by American and European keyboards,* and being aware not only of the multiplicity of possible layouts, but that various layouts have already been created and some number of them are used to varying extents, I'm wondering about the potential value of 2 kinds of utilities to analyze layouts statistically:

1) A way of "censusing" character placements on keys on existing layouts - in other words a way to enter keyboard layouts into the utility and have it count what is assigned to what key, and show what keys have been used for a given character. It seems to me that this information might be useful in getting an idea of whether there are some emerging consensuses (or people for whatever reason thinking in the same lines) regarding placement and arrangements. Such data might possibly point to things we hadn't realized or imagined.

2) Even more useful might be a utility to analyze the work of typing with different existing and proposed layouts. Say you had alternative layouts for Yoruba (or any language). The idea would be a way to have a utility in which you could enter the layout information and then put in a text and figure out how many keystrokes it takes to enter that text with the alternative layouts. In principle, once such a thing existed you could also analyze what fingers are doing the work, but the main idea I have of being able to say how "efficient" a given layout is in terms of keystroke count for sample (and hopefully representative) texts, and so anticipate how it might be received by users.

IMO, one really helpful outcome of any keyboard project at this point in time would be the ability to systematically analyze what we are proposing and thus take the learning and quality of production up a notch. Perhaps the concept of such utilities to do this would interest multiple projects, such as PanAfrican Localisation Network, AfLaT, OLPC, .... And perhaps commercial ventures would be interested.

I'll cc the ILAT list since some indigenous languages with extended Latin character sets presumably have similar issues.

Don Osborn

* Mainly "category 3 & 4" orthographies in the system I proposed last December on A12n-collab: 

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