A Japanese version of Twitter was launched today making this the first alternative language version for the site.
I find it interesting that Japanese is the first language that the site has been localised in but as Twitter reported in their blog they were noticing a high volume of users and Twitters originating from Japan which drove them in their decision to localise into Japanese. This is very much in keeping with what I’ve heard elsewhere about social networking sites: you never know what region your site is going to take off in so site owners tend to internationalise and localise into languages where they already have market share rather than where they want to build a presence. Both Facebook and Flickr have followed this path.
What is really great is that by releasing translated versions social networking sites are really putting internationalisation back on the agenda for website owners and developers in general. Previously internationalisation was the domain of global corporates where as now it’s more relevant to sites we use more regularly.
To see the Japanese version you’ll need to select the Japanese option from the drop down select box. Not a great idea as many Japanese users may not understand what “Select language” means. Ideally Twitter should code the English and Japanese as HTML text and remove the drop down. Translating the TITLE of the page would also help wannabe Japanese Twitterers.
I’ve not checked it out under the bonnet but if you have leave a comment and let everyone know what you think.
I arrived at W4A in Beijing this morning and one of the first people I bumped into was Charles Chen over at Google. Charles is the guy behind FireVox, the screen reader extension for FireFox, and has been busy working on a solution to incorporate translation into Google instant messaging in a way that makes it screen reader accessible and therefore spoken out loud. Pretty impressive.
The bot is essentially your regular Google instant messaging box but with translation support added so you can have text translated on the fly. The bot works using ARIA and the AxsJAX library together with Google Translate.
To start using this all you need to do is add a translation bot as a friend and chat as normal. When you send text the bot will echo it as well as translate it simultaneously. The ARIA support then allows the translated text to be read out loud by screen readers.
There are roughly 25 languages supported distinguished by their own two letter identifier in an email address. If you want to try it in Chinese, just add firstname.lastname@example.org as a friend in Google Talk and send it a message to translate from English to Chinese. If you want to chat with someone you then just add them to the conversation and away you go.
Update: I love technology, especially when you hear about something new and it’s immediately put to good use but perhaps not the one that was initially anticipated. A lot of people are struggling with the language barrier here so are taking advantage of the WiFi and are communicating with people in the hotel using Google Translate.
Over at Yahoo! changes have been made to the search so that it now has natural language search results. This is great news on two counts as this supports both internationalisation and accessibility so readers in languages other than the main language of the page can access content as well as screen and braille readers.
Natural language is the default language of the page and is indicated by providing the
xml:lang attribute in the
html elements. The main language of the page needs to be indicated in the header with any changes in language coded within the body. So, if you are browsing search results in an English page that had a couple of search results in French
lang=fr would be wrapped around the French text so that it can be picked up as French.
In terms of internationalisation this is important so that search engines can read text correctly, text and scripts can be rendered correctly and text can be more easily translated.
The accessibility benefits are also huge as coding language properly allows braille translation software to substitute control codes for accented characters and screen readers that support multiple languages to speak in the appropriate accent with proper pronunciation.
In their blog post announcing the news that their search now support language changes Yahoo! have added in a few recordings of before and after pages with language not coded and coded. This is really handy as people often ask me what a screen readers says when language has been coded.
Read and listen to Yahoo! search now supports natural language.
Find out more about the LANG attribute in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 and using the LANG attribute to identify changes in language.
At SXSW this year there was a lot of talk about internationalization and global web design. One recurrent theme debated in panels such as Taking Over the World: the Flickr Way, Lost in Translation? Top Website Internationalization Lessons and Glenda Sim’s and my core conversation on Global Design: Web Sites for the World was the issue of translation. The main problem being how to source, quality assure and fund good translation that talks to people rather than alienates people. The recurrent solution in all three sessions was to crowdsource translation.
Wikipedia describes crowdsourcing as “the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call”. This is an approach which is very similar to how Wikepedia itself crowdsources content. In the context of translation of a website this means simply inviting your users to offer translations of your templates and content.Large corporates, small companies or organisations all face the problem of translation. Even when there is a budget for translation there is often still an issue of quality control. One organisation I spoke to said that all translated text could only be published on their site once it had gone though four rounds of edits. Costly both in time and man hours. The reason for such extensive edits was to ensure that translated text was checked for literal translations that were out of context. A couple of the stranger examples given were”crowded camp” instead of “concentration camp” and “Enter” written in a sexually suggestive way in Russian for a submit button.
So when does crowdsourcing translation work? In the corporate world this is unlikely to be a huge hit for a number of reasons. Firstly it may not be the route that a large organisation wants to go down as they may have a strong house style and brand that needs to be stuck to. The bigger issue, to my mind at least however, is that people are going to be less likely to want to offer translations of sites such as these as they have no real stake hold in the sites and typically are not emotionally invested in these sites.
Crowdsourcing really comes into it’s own when you think of it in a social networking context. Sites such as Flickr, Facebook and WordPress have communities of users that are hugely passionate about what they consider to be their sites given that content is contributed to and generated by themselves. They therefore have a real interest in feeding into the translation process.
Facebook openly crowdsources translation by rolling out a loose translation of the site (some have claimed by using Babelfish) and then letting the users do the rest. Indeed the final French version of the site was rolled out on Sunday 9th March and almost immediately I spotted this status update from a French friend of mine: “Frederique is trying out facebook in French and is having a good laugh”. Facebook would do well to get her feedback as she is a translator by trade and has worked on translating series such as Sex in the City and now translates games. You can’t really get much better than that!
Crowdsourcing translation for blogs also fascinates me. I love the idea that a reader spots a post that resonates and inspires them and then goes to translate it. There are a number of plugins that the humble blogger can use to support translation of their own content. Worldwide Lexicon is a site that supports collaborative translation and has a plugin for WordPress: the plugin enables your readers and volunteers to view, create and edit translations to any languages they speak. This is something I’m definitely going to try out.
So what do you think? Is crowdsourcing translation the way to go for you?
Finally if you weren’t able to make it to SXSW you’ll be able to catch some of the panel discussions podcasted via the SXSW site. I’ll be posting about these together with any slides made available as they get published.
Come and join Glenda Sims and I as we host a Core Conversation on Global Design: Web Sites for the World:
Internationalization? Localization? Beyond these clumsy buzzwords is the global reality. Hear world designers and developers share firsthand experiences with international best practices and Web standards. Learn technical infrastructure principles for creating sites with the flexibility to be global while keeping visual designs sensitive to regional needs.
We’ll be looking at some of the challenges and benefits of building sites for international audiences as well as exploring the relationship between internationalisation and accessibility.
Kick off is Sunday, 3.30 to 4.30 – hope to see you there!
Google desktop recently moved out of beta and added Thai and Indonesian to it’s language bank bringing the total of translations up to 31. If you don’t already use Google Desktop it’s worth checking out as it allows you to carry out text searches of your emails, computer files, music, photos, chats, web pages viewed all from the comfort of your own desktop.
Google have been working hard at localising and internationalising their interfaces having recently added right to left search and continually adding to their list of supported languages and countries. What’s really great though is that while they themselves have ensured their stuff can be accessed in as many languages possible they are also encouraging developers