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Startup Hopes To Crowd-Source the Developing World 49

Posted by kdawson
from the solving-captchas-in-cameroon dept.
GalaticGrub writes "Technology Review has an article about a startup that wants to build a business out of crowd-sourcing the developing world. The company, called txteagle, seems to be interested mainly in using local knowledge to translate information into less common languages. The Finnish cell-phone company Nokia is a partner in the project, and CEO Nathan Eagle says that it provides a good example of a Western company that could benefit from txteagle workers. Eagle explains that Nokia is interested in 'software localization,' or translating its software for specific regions of a country. 'In Kenya, there are over 60 unique, fundamentally different languages,' he says. 'You're lucky to get a phone with a Swahili interface, but even that might be somebody's third language. Nokia would love to have phones for everyone's mother tongues, but it has no idea how to translate words like "address book" into all of these languages.'"
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Startup Hopes To Crowd-Source the Developing World

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  • What could possibly go wrong with this plan?
    • A colleague of mine provided a "translation" of HP BASIC for april fools one year (35 years ago - HP2000). PRINT became SCRIBBLE, IF became SHOULD, GOTO became LEAP, LET became MAKE

      10 I = 0
      20 SHOULD I = 10 LEAP 50
      30 SCRIBBLE I
      35 MAKE I = I + 1
      40 LEAP 20

      Interestingly, no one had any trouble with their assignments (programs were stored tokenized, so you saw the new keywords in the "editor").

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They may not have any one particular translation for words either. Remember, a lot of these small languages have relatively few people who are not well connected with each other, which is necessary to expedite the definition of new words for new technologies.

    Forget computers, these people may never have used a paper address book before..

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      People List?

      Surely most cultures make lists and have words for people. So People List could work.

      Acceptable substitutes:

      *Friend List
      *Community List
      *Home/House List
      *Contact List

      s/list/$OTHER_ACCEPTABLE_WORD that is similarly descriptive.

      If a culture doesn't have a word for potato, I'm sure they could go with small brown thing.

      (Aw crap, I hope I didn't just inspire another poop-related troll post.

    • by hdon (1104251)

      They may not have any one particular translation for words either. Remember, a lot of these small languages have relatively few people who are not well connected with each other, which is necessary to expedite the definition of new words for new technologies.

      Forget computers, these people may never have used a paper address book before..

      I think that's the entire point of this project. Everyone takes for granted that there is usually a correct canonical term for a certain type of thing, but it's obvious that there aren't, and sometimes there aren't even terms for things. Some words that have been canonized are even completely incorrect like "Kleenex" (tissue) or (coincidentally) "Rolodex"

      Natural language translation is an incredibly subtle task. What's the difference between translating between one language and another, and translating bet

  • It wouldn't surprise me to find out that something like "address book" might not even have a direct translation in some of these other tongues. Thankfully, this sort of crowd-sourcing should yield the closest usable match, which, of course, is the entire point. (Pat, I'd like to buy a 'comma'.)
  • Babelfish (Score:3, Funny)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Friday January 30, 2009 @01:02PM (#26668001) Homepage

    Nokia would love to have phones for everyone's mother tongues, but it has no idea how to translate words like "address book" into all of these languages.

    Duh... use Babelfish.

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Friday January 30, 2009 @01:03PM (#26668013) Homepage
    Kenya has a population of about 37M [wikipedia.org] people. That means that most of those languages are bit players in the country. It's questionable as to how many of those languages would actually have a large enough population that cares about using their primary language on their phone to exclusion of cheaper translations for much larger languages, and how many people using those languages could even afford a phone.
  • Learn English (Score:1, Insightful)

    by RoCKeTKaT (1456287)
    Learn English, you're gonna have to one day anyway, so start now. Problem solved.
    • by dwarg (1352059)

      You've been modded at least 4 times, as I right this, and not a single one of them was modded as funny--which I'm hoping you were going for.

      If not, I'd say something about monocultures--it's not just for operating systems and agriculture anymore.

      Also, it's funny no one has mentioned Esperanto [wikipedia.org] yet.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It will fill up with vandalism and bullshit. However, it won't have the OCD-inflicted monkeys on Wikipedia who get to the vandalism within a month or two. The vandalism will be there forever, on your company's cell phone. I can see the startup menu now:

    WELCOME TO NOKIA
    1) Send Call
    2) Check Email
    3) Fuck Your Mother

  • ...that we all speak different languages. These people are welcome to try and make a profit off these inefficiencies. But the fact that this market exists (or, perhaps, the fact that these txteagle people might be able to convince some VCs it does) says to me that we should be trying to teach these people a more global language, so they can participate on equal footing rather than being marginalized.
    • by zappepcs (820751) on Friday January 30, 2009 @01:22PM (#26668265) Journal

      I have no mod points so let me just comment that this is a well spoken post. Globalism is on the rise, and we need someone to help assume some of this debt. Once they speak English we can begin sending them "you have been specially selected... " credit card applications and such. Not to mention how the illegal pharmaceutical market will blossom.

      • I don't know about that, all my emails from Nigeria seem to be pretty good English. Probably better than mine most of the time.
      • by Xeth (614132)

        So, you're saying it's better to have people cut off from the world because they are unable to communicate rather than giving the opportunity and letting them choose? (If I'm wrong, please tell me; sometimes it's hard to properly negate a sarcastic response)

        Or do you think that choosing to pick up a foreign language for one of these isolated Kenyans is as easy as going to the local Adult Education Center?

        • by zappepcs (820751)

          It was honest and sarcastic. The true answer is education so that they can participate in the wider world of communication and commerce, but that too is a cur(s)e that may well be worse than the disease. Most of us don't want spam or junk mail, but that's what's in store for them when they are able to participate.

          Picking up a foreign language is not easy. I'm working on learning bits and pieces of three with a goal of expanding on that. The goal is to prove it can be done without the standard methodologies.

          • by Xeth (614132)
            But things like junk mail aren't a consequence of knowing a global language, they're a consequence of participating in a modern commercial society. How much junk mail would you get if you didn't get a frequent shopper card? How much spam if you don't have a personal computer?
          • by Xeth (614132)
            Also, I find no small humor in the fact that my original post is now modded troll, and yours saying it's well-spoken is moderated insightful.
  • Utterly Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rjstanford (69735) on Friday January 30, 2009 @01:10PM (#26668129) Homepage Journal

    'In Kenya, there are over 60 unique, fundamentally different languages,' he says. 'You're lucky to get a phone with a Swahili interface, but even that might be somebody's third language. Nokia would love to have phones for everyone's mother tongues, but it has no idea how to translate words like "address book" into all of these languages.'"

    Nokia is exactly the sort of company who could, very easily, hire 60 different people (full time no less), who all had English (or whatever) as a second language and also had writing skills, each of whom could be in charge of the localization for their particular "first language". The additional manpower cost would be truly insignificant to their bottom line, and they'd end up with well-translated manuals, support documentation, et cetera.

    This has a far greater relevance for someone with a low- or un-funded project than a major multinational corporation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Hasler (414242)

      Nokia is exactly the sort of company who could, very easily, hire 60 different people (full time no less), who all had English (or whatever) as a second language and also had writing skills, each of whom could be in charge of the localization for their particular "first language". The additional manpower cost would be truly insignificant to their bottom line, and they'd end up with well-translated manuals, support documentation, et cetera.

      It might be "insignificant to their bottom line" but it could still

      • by sloomis (1326535)
        Nah, you hire locals at a daily rate of 4 schekles or junebugs or whatever the hell they want.
  • "Wienerschnitzel"
    "Sauerkraut"
    "Leberwurst"
    "Blitzkrieg".
    "...und der Ullstein mit der Wurst!"

    happy kraut-sourcing ....

  • ...hmm let's see... gettext anyone? I mean, we recently uploaded our strings to one of those sites (https://launchpad.net/rosetta) where open source translators work together... for free we now have 12-something languages and a lot of corrections to even the original strings.

    https://launchpad.net/rosetta [launchpad.net]: Launchpad Translations (codenamed "Rosetta") is a platform for open source application translation on the internet. It lets anybody help translate their favorite open source application into their favourit

  • by twmcneil (942300)
    Then we could send them letters about our poor dead Uncle who was killed in a bloody coup and needing to transfer millions of dollars out of our county.
  • I would suggest they put this on the back burner and concentrate on fixing some of the obvious faults in their bloody handsets, such as getting the 'cancel' button to actually cancel the web browsing which has been triggered by the accidental pressing of the 'web' key (which is placed in the corner of the keypad).

  • Teach everyone Globish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globish [wikipedia.org], a language already spoken, and you are done. Doesn't take much to speak from a 1500 word dictionary instead of the 175,000+ word Oxford dictionary.

    No need to delay projects for the required 6912 translations (languages in existence: http://www.ethnologue.com/ [ethnologue.com] because one word was changed in the UI. You need at worst 6912 translaters and at best 1 (who speaks all 6912 languages in existence today).

    Globish is already out there, the lingua fra
  • Am I the only one who got a little turned on by the phrase "everyone's mother tongues" ?

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