Recent Meedan press

March 15, 2010

I've had a great time working at Meedan recently as Director of Miscellany. We recently rolled out an update of the site and took of the "beta" label.

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of interest generated — turns out people are actually pretty interested in crowdsourced translation!

We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but at least we are iterating live again now, and we have an incredibly supportive community getting our little nonprofit through the buggy spots.

Anyway, the recent press clippings:

The Economist discusses the human-machine "cyborg translation" approach in a summary piece mentioning Meedan as well as our friends at Worldwide Lexicon and Global Voices.

The London Guardian wrote a nice article:

The system, which has been in development for more than three years, is based on advanced automatic translation technology developed by IBM and uses an international team of 30 translators and editors to find news and polish the language. ... With the potential for highly localised websites that cannot even be reached by outsiders — let alone understood — many have worried about the potential for a series of so-called "splinternets" to evolve.

The Guardian also as wrote a blog post mentioning our Arabic-English Open Translation Memory. I appreciated this one because it at least mentioned our desire to move to WWL (away from a proprietary IBM backend which we have been loaned):

Meedan's data — its 'translation memory' of over 3m words — is available to other translators. Weyman says: "the translations that are done with the Transbrowser are part of our agreement with IBM that makes sure all those translations are open source." This isn't true of some other web-based translation services, which are open access but not open source data services. The 'translation memory' is important because having a corpus of texts in two languages allows you to apply statistical techniques to improve a translation engine.

Le Monde covered Meedan in French! Here's the original French and the translation. (It's actually quite readable MT for a change — French to English machine translation does not need humans nearly so much as Arabic to English.)

The Slashdot discussion of Meedan is hilariously bad yet somehow deeply insightful as a document of the Slashdot community (they are mostly terrified that Meedan will cause WWIII — hasn't happened yet, guys.) At least they properly crashed the site for a bit, truly Slashdotted! (Or maybe that's what I get for pretending to be a Postgres admin.)

Wired ran a great article and even ventured to mention the interaction design:

Meedan is not the first to make machine translation tools publicly usable — Yahoo's Babel Fish has been around for years, and Google's Translate continues to improve and broaden its scope as the company uses its massive trove of search queries to tune its translation technology.

Meedan takes a different tack, first using Machine Translation technology, and then letting translators fix and refine translations. The status of a translation is always apparent, and learning a lesson from Wikipedia, Meedan makes the history of each translation publicly and quickly available.

The point is to not hide the messiness of translation and keep the reminder that this is a cross-cultural endeavor embedded in the site design.

Lastly a bit about Meedan appeared on BBC Arabic, in the New Statesman, and on Al Jazeera.