Worldwide Lexicon: matching up technologies and culture to end the language barrier

I’ve reported before on the

Worldwide Lexicon
the brainchild of my friend Brian McConnell.
His most recent breakthrough, which I

blogged about in August
was an impressive

Firefox plugin

that exploits both human and machine translations on the Web to
provide pages you can read in your primary language.

As attractive as the Firefox plug-in can be, it’s only the first stage
in four that Brian plans toward a computing environment that
encourages and leverages human translation. On the browser side, the
next logical project is to reproduce the Firefox experience for IE
users. Ultimately, he hopes the functionality becomes a standard part of every
browser. Even better, he’s working on a way to include the functionality
on the server side so that it’s browser-independent (although that
technology would require support in the server software, of course).

And there’s even more to come. He lays out his vision in an essay
boldly titled

The End Of The Language Barrier
The bottom of the article points to an equally important

statement written for the World Economic Forum

by Ethan Zuckerman,
founder of the

Global Voices

site that extends the reach of weblogs to people in many countries who
previously lacked access to such forums.

Ethan’s essay appealed to me because he describes a culture of helping
each other to understand the world by voluntarily contributing
translations to important content on the Web. Brian’s essay lays out
in detail some tools that would make it easy to write and disseminate
such translations. Both aspects are important in a world that (to
recycle a cliché) is increasingly interconnected, and where
ordinary people without large budgets are generating personal
testimonies at an enormous rate.

Brian is also

requesting donations

for Worldwide Lexicon, which is all open source.
He says, “We are also looking for corporate donors to fund
commissioned projects, such as a Drupal or WordPress module. One of
our main priorities now is to build connectors and interfaces for most
of the widely used web servers, CMS platforms, etc. so that adding WWL
to a system will become a checkbox option in most cases.”

Volunteer translation still faces the problems familiar to the field
of translation. The WWL plugin has a rating facility, so as more
people use it, high-quality translations will hopefully stand out. And
of course, if something of global interest happens in Thailand or
Ethiopia, it’s unlikely that volunteers can be found to provide
translations from those languages to every other language represented
on the Web, so we’ll have to settle for a certain amount of relaying
through a common language such as English.

Even though I’m lucky to have libraries full of information about
other cultures available, I’m looking forward to getting more

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