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Make your product “translation worthy” and the world will follow

From my guest post for Gigaom:

When a software company asks me if I think its new product will succeed globally, I typically respond by asking: Is your product translation worthy? In other words, are people eager to voluntary translate your app or website into their language?

This phenomenon is commonly known as “translation crowdsourcing,” and a number of familiar names have relied on the kindness of strangers to take their products and websites global—companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. When a website or software application is so appealing to users around the world that they will help translate it—for free—the odds are quite good that the product will succeed globally.


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Listen to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in 53 languages)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been translated into 370 languages

Here’s the full list.

But if you’re less into reading and more into listening, the folks at SoundCloud have recruited volunteers to record the declaration.

Here’s Hungarian:

They’re at roughly 50 languages so far, including, perhaps not surprisingly, Esperanto.

It’s probably just a matter of time before Klingon appears.


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The Khan Academy and the kindness of translators

The Khan Academy is out to revolutionize education by providing a free online education through lots and lots of well-produced videos.

A core component of this revolution is the subtitling these 2,700 videos (and counting) into many languages.

To get there, Khan is relying on the kindness of translators.

Currently, Estonian is the leading language, with more than 700 videos dubbed into the language. And you can see above that they’re really just getting started — only 16 languages are currently supported.

I’m not a translator. But if I were, it is nonprofit efforts such as this, Wikipedia and Translators without borders that I would most want to support.

PS: I almost forgot to mention that the engine supporting the subtitles was built by another impressive nonprofit group: Universal Subtitles.

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TED is translation-worthy


Earlier this year, TED began recruiting volunteers to translate its recorded presentations, known as TED Talks.

It looks like the venture is off to a strong start. According to TED, more than 1,500 volunteer translators have provided more than 1,000 translations in more than 50 languages. And another 1,000 translations are in the works.

September 18, 2009 Update: TED has reached 2,000 translations.

Now, putting aside my concerns about a company getting services for free that it could very well afford, I want to focus on what TED has done well with its web site to facilitate the crowdsourcing of translations:

  • All translators have their own profile page (see below)
  • Translators get little buttons they can use to promote themselves (see above)
  • The translators who have done the most work are highlighted
  • The most-translated talks are highlight (see below)


One of the most active translators is Yasser Bahjatt. I like how you can click on the talks that he has translated.

A picky comment: Why is Arabic in Latin script? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use Arabic script? Details, I know, but these details count when you’re trying to create content for people who may not understand any English.

Next, here is a screen shot of the most popular talks — at least among translators:


As TED adds more and more translated content, it’s going to need to devote resources to providing a fully localized user interface (UI).

Right now, TED offers this:


But for the most part, the TED site expects users to know a fair amount of English if they’re going to navigate to their translated content.

Ultimately, TED will have to localize its Web site — or just the Ted Talks section — so that people can more easily find their translated content. And this I suspect won’t come free.

Nevertheless, TED has proven that its content is translation-worthy and it has done a great job of creating a community of translators who are bound to keep the effort alive and growing.