28 Feb 2009
Meedan is going to open to public use on March 18. It will be quiet. There will be quite a few features under tarps in the corner of the room, but George and the content and translation teams will be throwing out the checkered tablecloths, and filling the tables with a sampling of interesting translated Arabic and English media mezza, and maybe some conversational flowers. Make your reservations now.
I am just back from travels to the region for the Qatar Foundation/Brookings US Islamic Forum. Great event and many thanks to the Qatar Foundation and Brookings. My take away:
1) just about everyone thinks there should be some sort of social media meets translation meets social networking site to connect people who care Western/MENA affairs--check.
2) exactly three sentences into every conversation, just after the vigorous agreement and head nodding (as indicated above) stops, I got this question: 'So, how good is the Machine Translation?'
My general rejoinder is to say that the quality of our translation service is exactly proportional to the quality of the relationship between the Arab world and the West. To say, it is ok, but it needs to get better. Which presents the interesting point that the rationale for our project also defines the state of our technology. And, we can take the metaphorical onion one layer deeper--Meedan's MT system, thanks to Salim and the folks at IBM Research, is able to accept user input and make use of this to improve over time. So too, we hope to create a feedback loop for understanding. It's a nice, humble, way to look at Meedan: users with quite imperfect understanding of each other use imperfect tools to incrementally move toward a bit better understanding while they incrementally improve the tools. Classic bootstrapping (invoking Engelbart).
Agreement might come later. We'll see.