Google Integrates Automatic Translation into Gmail

Not exactly a stunning technical development, but still pretty interesting: Google has gotten around to integrating their translation tools right into Gmail through their labs section. Once the “Message Translation” plug-in is activated Gmail will detect if an email is not in your default language and will automatically give you the option to translate it. You can see the “Translate message to:” option in the screen shot below:

Source: Google Gmail Blog

While they readily admit “it’s not quite the universal translators we’re so fond of from science fiction,” they do make a comment that I thought was pretty interesting:

“If all parties are using Gmail, you can have entire conversations in multiple languages with each participant reading the messages in whatever language is most comfortable for them.”

This is an interesting concept, and certainly for any non-mission critical exchanges will be quite handy – although I have to wonder what some of the quoted text further down in the email will look like after multiple runs through the machine translation system. I’ve found in the past even once through the grinder and back can leave the text pretty mangled, who knows what several exchanges back and forth will leave it looking like.

Either way an interesting addition to the Gmail system and another tiny step towards knocking down the language barrier.

Coming Soon: A Localized Facebook?

Came across this in my feed reader this morning:

Facebook, the world’s second-biggest social network, is working on translating its website into non-English languages as it prepares for an ambitious overseas expansion, according to people familiar with the company.

“Translation at some level is definitely on our radar. International growth is one of a few things that we are very focused on right now,” Facebook said. It declined to indicate what the timing was of a potential move into non-English language sites.

It would certainly be an interesting development – although they probably should have done this BEFORE launching the apps platform as I doubt many of the developers will have built their applications with language in mind. It could make for a very mixed-up and jumbled user experience.

Zen and the Art of Aircraft Maintenance

From the “never would have thought of that” files…

Officials at Nepal’s state-run airline have sacrificed two goats to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god, following technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft, the carrier said Tuesday.

Source: Reuters

Now I’m all good with the “to each their own” approach to life but I’ve got to say I wouldn’t be too reassured if I was sitting in the airport and heard the announcement:

“Ladies and Gentlemen thank you for your patience during the delay. The captain has arranged for the sacrifice of two goats and is confident there will be no further mechanical issues with your plane today. We are now ready to start boarding….”

“Damn, that plane did not sound healthy as it went over…”

I wonder if Boeing will update some of the localized versions of their maintenance manuals now?

Hat tip to Rick Segal for catching this one…

Photo: Joe Dunckley

Sliced White Bread: A global product

Sliced White Bread – a classic staple of (North) American homes but, it appears, also a truly global product.

Via Digital Roam I encountered a great graphic this morning that depicted where all the ingredients that go into White Bread are sourced from:


It was published yesterday in the San Jose Mercury News (reg req’d or go here) and they’ve got a couple more illustrations on that page. A great example of visual thinking/expression – and also an interesting reminder that even something as basic as sliced white bread can be a truly global logistics challenge.

Flickr Goes Global

I actually intended to post this before I left for Germany but I got busy and then had crap Intenret connectivity for a week. So, belatedly, here it is…

Anyone who’s dug around in the “Everyone’s photos” section of Flickr has probably realized that the people who submit pictures to the site come from all over the world but oddly enough, up until now, Flickr has only ever had an interface in English.

I noticed the other day that there was a new title bar across the top of the screen offering up the fact that Flickr was now available in a multitude of languages.

On top of English, Flickr is now available in French, German, Korean, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Traditional Chinese. Localized interfaces are something that, more often than not, I’ve found the Web 2.0 apps are lacking. Most are aimed squarely at US English speaks and that’s it.

Screencap: Franz Patzig
Amusingly enough the trend that has emerged is companies in foreign countries creating the same tool but in their local language. A German-based Digg clone was acquired for many millions – a huge number when you consider it was a market that the company could likely have served for want of some localization work and global thinking. Instead they left the door open for someone else to walk right into their market, leverage their effort and ideas and then take a huge chunk of money off the top as they get acquired.

Any company that offers a software product, thick client or web-based, should take these types of lessons as a reminder of the importance of thinking beyond North America’s borders.