Meedan

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What Google Translate Persian says about the future of the polyglot web

Image via CrunchBase

Today was one of the most important days in Meedan's history, and for the least expected of reasons.

Six days into a electoral crisis of revolutionary proportions in Iran, Google released an alpha version of their Persian MT service.

wOOt.

Big deal, you may say. An MT service - what has that to do with protests and high politics in the Iranian Islamic Republic.

Actually, I think it is enormously significant.

It shows that Google feels the time is right for translation on the web. So much so that it could bring forward a new service and launch it within a week of the Iranian elections.

That means Google is watching web use and seeing that English speakers want to hear from Farsi voices in Iran.

It says that local voices in local languages matter in times of crisis.

This, in essence, is the driving force behind Meedan.

But there is another point here.

The unwritten, and probably most important, feature of the heavy use of Twitter over the past week is this: Twitter is enabling - maybe even encouraging -  users of the web to encounter and seek out voices in other languages.

That is astonishing. This moment marks a sea-shift. Not in activism online, or people politics over authoritarianism, but in the need for a multi-language web with translation at its heart.

Step in Google to seize the moment - recognizing the potency of what Twitter was offering.

Now Twitter users who don't speak Farsi can use the Google Translate API to read MT versions of tweets from within Iran.

Given the astonishing crush for authentic voices, translation will become key.

Now the next step is for projects like Meedan - perhaps in collaboration with other offerings, like Google's translator toolkit, to ratchet up the value of social translation.

This is the collaborative editing, reversioning and rewriting of MT translation texts to enable full and human translations.

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