The Meedan Blog Archive

Ethan Z. on translation

Our friend and advisor, or friendly advisor, Ethan Zuckerman put up a great post yesterday on Chris Salzburger's social translation research. Chris is a researcher at Tokyo University and the Japanese language editor of Global Voices.

For those of us who 'see' what social translation is going to mean to the web Chris' work inspires a chorus of resoundingly enthusiastic 'yeses.'  For those who don't spend their days thinking about social translation, it is probably worth talking a bit about translation on the web.  Social translation is not merely the transition from an individual sport to team sport. Additionally, social translation on the Internet is, as Ethan suggests, perhaps closer to journalism than translation. [Granted, the translator has always been an editor, deciding how to cast words or phrases that might have a narrow (culturally specific) referent into another language. Put bluntly, language is built around use, so how does the first translator import a word like 'snow' into an obscure polynesian dialect?] Journalism on the web, as a social practice, is as much about curating, annotating, rating, and linking as it is about writing sentences.  Translation communities are, not suprisingly, choosing, as would an editor, the web content from their native language that will be visible to travelers on 'the other side of the web.' This is a powerful and emergent form of journalism. Deserves study. Deserves funding. [Fund GV here.]

Yesterday I told Meedan Design Lead Chris Blow, that I took it as an indicator of wild success that we were moving toward ideas that were not in the epic-novel length PRD we have been working against.  So too with Global Voices and social translation--Ethan admits that translation was a blind spot for GV; he and Rebecca MacKinnon (GV co-founder) assumed GV would simply spread the work of English language bridge bloggers. Indeed, the Lingua community has grown larger than the GV editorial community in about half the lifespan.

For a world that does not understand itself, there may be no more urgent need than providing tools to empower these new journalists; Meedan will be working with IBM, DotSub, Worldwide Lexicon, and SpeakLike in 2009 to improve these tools and extend them to communities like Global Voices.