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You say Sea of Japan. I say East Sea.

Who said the life of a map maker isn’t interesting?

Every other day it seems there is another disputed territory, which usually means another disputed name.

I’ve already mentioned the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas issue.

On the other side of the planet there is a dispute brewing over the Sea of Japan.

South Korea maintains that the body of water should be known as the East Sea.

Japan disagrees.

Now I’m not going to wade into these murky waters by picking a side.

But if you’re a map maker, you’ve got a tough decision to make, unless you wisely decide to take a more neutral approach.

Here is how Google handles the issue currently:

Google Sea of Japan East Sea

And this from Bing:

Bing Sea of Japan East Sea

Of the two approaches, Microsoft appears more tactful. I’m not sure Google’s approach is as pleasing to South Koreans.

And there is a takeaway from this issue that every global executive should always keep in mind — maps often convey cultural and geopolitical biases. Use caution when you use maps on websites and in promotional campaigns.


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Gabble On: Using machine translation to learn a language

Ethan Shen, who has become quite an expert on the various machine translation (MT) engines, has launched a nifty web service designed to help you improve your language skills: Gabble On.

Basically, the site leverages an MT engine (Google, Bing, Systran) to display a news article in the target language.

It’s still a work in progress, but I like the way it displays source and target sentences side by side so you can follow along sentence by sentence.

I think the site has the greatest potential for teaching vocabulary.

Ethan welcomes input so give it a test drive and tell him what you think!


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Looking for a translation icon?

If you haven’t visited the Noun Project yet, take a moment and drop by.

It’s a great initiative to provide open source icons. All you have to do is provide attribution according to the Creative Commons license.

I noticed recently the addition of a translations icon.

I believe Microsoft was the first company to develop a translations icon along these lines, which was used as part of Microsoft Office.

Here’s an icon currently in use on the Bing Translator page:

Google quickly followed along with its Google Translate icon, shown here:

(Contact me if there is another company that is using a variation of this translation icon.)

To be clear, I would NOT use this icon as part of a global gateway.

This icon is not about finding localized content — it’s about getting content translated (usually via machine translation).

For the global gateway, I recommend this open source icon:

For more on global gateways, check out The Art of the Global Gateway.

UPDATE: Here’s the machine translation icon used by Yamagata Europe:

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You Say Falkland Islands. I Say Islas Malvinas.

Remember the Falklands War?

I do and, yes, this does make me feel a little old.

For those of you who don’t remember, the war was fought over a group of small islands far off the Patagonian coast of Argentina.

The British won the war but the Argentines are still very attached to the islands.

So what we have here is a disputed territory, always a challenge for mapmakers.

Here’s a screen grab from Google Maps. Notice how “Islas Malvinas” is in parentheses.

As a test, I switched my language preference on Google Maps to Spanish thinking maybe I’d see Falkland Islands placed within the parenthes. But no.

However, Bing does localize the map based on language. When I switched Bing Maps to Spanish, here’s what I saw:

This is map localization at work.

I hope to one day visit these islands — and I hope they can survive the next looming (environmental) conflict. The Falklands would not be in the news today if not for great quantities of oil buried deep below the ocean floor. Make no mistake, oil is at the center of this current  dispute, not the natural wildlife, which neither government seems too terribly concerned about.

If it were up to me — and if only it were — I would hand over the islands to the one government that promised to leave the islands free of oil derricks.  The Falklands are of enormous importance to penguins, albatross, and many other creatures that are running out of safe places to nest.

PS: Here’s a recent article in the NYT about the islands.


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Think your translator is cutting corners? Try the machine translation detector…

Lior Libman of One Hour Translation has released a web tool that you can use to quickly determine if text was translated by one of the three major machine translation (MT) engines: Google Translate, Yahoo! Babel Fish, and Bing Translate.

It’s called the Translation Detector.

To use it, you input your source text and target text and then it tells you the probability of each of the three MT engines being the culprit.

How does it know this? Simple. Behind the scenes it takes the source text and runs it through the three MT engines and then compares the output to your target text. So the caveat here is that this tool only compares against those three MT engines.

Being the geek that I am, I couldn’t help but give it a test drive.

It correctly guessed between text translated by Google Translate vs. Bing Translate (I didn’t try Yahoo!). Below is a screen shot of what I found after inputing the Google Translate text:

Next, I input source and target text that I had copied from the Apple web site (US and Germany). I would be shocked if the folks at Apple were crunching their source text through Google Translate.

And, sure enough, here’s what the Translation Detector spit out:

So if you suspect your translator is taking shortcuts with Google Translate or another engine, this might be just the tool to test that theory.

Though in defense of translators everywhere, I’ve never heard of anyone resorting to an MT engine to cut corners.

I actually see this tool as part of something bigger — the emergence of third-party tools and vendors that evaluate, benchmark, and optimize machine translation engines. Right now, these three engines are black boxes. I wrote awhile back of one person’s efforts to compare the quality of these three engines. But there are lots of opportunities here. As more people use these engines there will be a greater need for more intelligence about which engine works best for what types of text. And hopefully we’ll see vendors arise that leverage these MT engines for industry-specific functions.

UPDATE: As the commenters noted below, there are limits to the quality of results you will get if you input more than roughly 130 words. The tool is limited by API word-length caps.

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Google, Bing and Babelfish: What’s the best translation engine?

Two months ago I wrote about an effort to evaluate the quality of the three major free machine translation (MT) engines:

  • Google Translate
  • Bing (Microsoft) Translator
  • Yahoo! Babelfish

Ethan Shen has wrapped up the project, soliciting input from more than 1,000 reviewers. He summed up his findings here.

Here are the findings that jumped out at me:

  • Google wins, hands down, translating longer text passages. No big surprise here.
  • Bing and Babelfish are competitive translating shorter texts (150 or fewer characters). Bing did quite well with Italian and German, while Babelfish did well with Chinese.
  • Google’s brand trumps all. About halfway through his test, Ethan removed the brand names from the search engines, so the reviewers did not know which engine was doing which translation. The change in results was significant. Reviewers were 21% more likely to say Google was better than Microsoft when they knew the brand names. And reviewers were 136% more likely to say Google was better than Babelfish.

This last finding is what poses the greatest hurdle for Microsoft and Yahoo!

When it comes to machine translation — perception is (almost) everything. If people think you’re the best translation engine, then you are the best.

Integration is the other key element of success, and Google Translate is doing well here also — I absolutely love the Chrome browser integration.

Ethan is not done with his research. This is only stage one. To help him with stage two, click here.

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Bing cuts the clicks

Disclaimer: I work for Microsoft, so take this with a grain of salt.

Since Bing launched I’ve been thinking a lot about search engines and how I use them.

I’ve got two recent examples that illustrate why I think Bing might be onto something. Bing, for certain scenarios, cuts the clicks you must make to get the information you need — or at least the information I need.

Checking a sports score

I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. When I want to get a Cardinals score, I often go to ESPN, but that site loads so slowly and is so busy that I have been going to Bing lately and just entering “Cardinals” in the search window. Here’s what I get:


Bing gives me a nice summary of the Cardinals schedule. If there’s a game going on at the moment, I get a real-time sports score, which is nifty. Google, as shown here, only gives me a link to the Cardinals’ site. Another click, instead of a score.


Checking on a flight

My wife flew to Oakland recently and I wanted to check on her flight. So I entered the flight number into Google and Bing. Here’s what I found:


I got the arrival time so I knew when I could call her.

Google gives me a link to another site that will give me the details that Bing already gave me.


Google got to where it is today by prioritizing speed. Austere web design and massive data centers gave its search engine a massive advantage over everything else out there.

But speed isn’t just about how quickly a search page loads, it’s about how quickly you find what you’re looking for. If a search engine knows you’re looking for a sports score and not a sports team web site, it can save you a click and, as a result, save you time.

Time is clicks. You save people time by saving them clicks.

Granted, I’m probably not the most objective observer of the Bing vs. Google debate. So what do you think?

Are these two Bing innovations going to stick?

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Bing Beats Google in Insta-translation

Bing recently added a nifty new translation feature — one that is so simple and in many ways so obvious that I can’t help wondering why Google never got around to doing it. But that’s a topic for a later post.

For now, I’d like you to try entering the following text strings into both Bing and Google (to save you time I created pre-loaded hyperlinks):

Below are screen shots of the first text string in both Bing and Google. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:



Google, despite its massively powerful translation engine, doesn’t simply answer your translation question. Instead, it provides links.

I realize that this is a relatively minor feature and that it currently only supports a small number of very common text strings, but it’s still a very handy feature for a translation geek such as myself.

Now, I’m not saying Bing is perfect. When it comes to technical searches — or when I just need to look up a Wikipedia article quickly — Google still does better, sometimes far better.

But I’m glad to see Bing integrating translation in an intuitive way. It’s a feature that I’ll be using again.

PS: Here is the blog announcement of this feature from Microsoft Translate team.