Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

The polyglot internet

I’ve been invited to participate in the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the future of the internet. This is a group of extremely smart folks who’ll be meeting both in the real world (in Dubai late next week) and online to share ideas and strategize about ways to keep the net open, robust, innovative and generative. I’m honored to be part of this group… and I’m trying to figure out how I can push my fellow council members onto some less familiar ground. I worry that there’s likely to be a great deal of agreement in the room on the basic ideas of network neutrality, collective governance and resistance to censorship and control. And since I generally agree with those ideas, I wanted to be provocative in another direction.

We’ve all been asked to write brief essays about the future of the internet. My friend Jeff Jarvis shares some thoughts on his essay, on the idea of the internet as a right. My essay is on the importance of translation in the age of the polyglot internet, and it follows below, with substantial help from my friends involved with Lingua, Global Voices’ amazing translation project.


The first wave of the Internet revolution changed expectations about the availability of information. Information that was stored in libraries, locked in government vaults or available only to subscribers was suddenly accessible to anyone with an internet connection. A second wave has changed expectations about who creates information online. Tens of millions of people are contributing content to the modern Internet, publishing photos, videos and blogposts to a global audience.

La globalización de internet ha traido la conectividad a 1’3 billones de personas. El internet que proviene de la globalización y de la autoría de los usuarios es profundamente políglota. La Wikipiedia está ahora disponible en más de 210 lenguas, lo que implica que hay comunidades capaces de crear contenido en esas lenguas. El buscador de blogs Technorati observa al menos tantos posts en japonés que en inglés, y algunos expertos especulan que probablemente hay una cantidad parecida de contenido en chino, creado en
sitios como Sina y QQ, que en todos los blogs en inglés juntos.

10年前にくらべて、今インターネットを使い始めるユーザーが、自分の言語のコンテンツを見つける確率は、はるかに高い。しかし、それぞれのインターネットユーザーが参加できる相互関係や会話の割合は、英語がネット上の主要言語であった1997年に、英語が理解できるインターネットユーザーが参加できた割合よりも低い。

আজকের ইন্টারনেট জগতে ভাষাতাত্বিক বিচ্ছিন্নতার ভয় রযে়ছে। পূর্বেকার
ইংরেজী ভাষার আধিপত্যের ইন্টারনেটে এর ব্যবহারকারীরা বাধ্য হতেন তাদের
ভাষাগত বাঁধা ডিঙ্গিযে় একটি একক ভাষায় তাদের চিন্তাধারা প্রকাশ বা বৃহৎ
পাঠকগোষ্ঠীর সাথে কথোপকথনে। কিন্তু আজকের ইন্টারনেটে পর্তুগীজ, চৈনিক, বা
আরবী ভাষাভাষীদের সুযোগ রযে়ছে তাদের নিজের ভাষায় নিজেদের সাথে যোগাযোগের
এবং হয়ত ভাষাগত বাঁধার জন্যে তারা কম আগ্রহী হবেন অন্য ভাষাভাষীদের সাথে
কথোপকথন চালাতে। এটি হয়ত সেইসব লোকদের ভবিষ্যৎবাণীকে সমর্থন করবে যারা
বলেন যে ইন্টারনেট শুধু সমমনাদের যোগাযোগ ও কথোপকথনের মাধ্যম হিসেবেই
উপযোগী। যা তুলে ধরবে না এই সত্যকে যে ইন্টারনেট একটি শক্তিশালী মাধ্যম
জাতিগত, ভাষাগত এবং সংস্কৃতির বাঁধা পেরিযে় অন্যান্য ভাষাভাষীদেরকে জানা
ও বোঝা এবং তাদের সাথে কথোপকথনের জন্যে।

حتى يكون باستطاعة الشبكة العنكبوتية تلبية طموحها الأكبر، علينا أن
نعترف بالترجمة كتحدي محوري لشبكة مفتوحة، مشتركة و محكومة بشكل جماعي.
الكثيرون منا يتشاركون رؤية عن الإنترنت كمكان حيث الأفكار الجيدة من أي
شخص في أي دولة تستطيع التأثير على الآراء و الأفكار حول العالم. هذه
الرؤية لن تتحقق إلا إذا قبلنا تحدي شبكة إنترنيت قادرة على التحدث
بلغات متعددة و بناء أدوات و أنظمة للوصل و الترجمة بين المئات من اللغات
الموجودة على الشبكة

Машинскиот превод нема да ги реши сите наши проблеми. Иако системите за машински превод постојано се подобруваат, тие сепак не го задоволуваат потребниот квалитет за да им овозможат на корисниците да учествуваат и коментираат во дебатите со говорници од други јазици. Најдобрите системи за машински превод сè уште имаат проблеми со секојдневниот и неформалниот јазик и даваат најдобри резултати во превод помеѓу романските јазици. Сонот за систем кој ќе овозможи превод кој е целосно автоматизиран и со добар квалитет помеѓу јазиците англиски/хинди сè уште изгледа недостижен.

در حالی که به شدت این نیاز وجود دارد که ترجمه اتوماتیک –ماشین های ترجمه- به
پیشرفت خود ادامه دهد ولی ما نیاز داریم تمرکز خود را صرف افراد مترجم کرده و
به آنها قدرت و توانایی بخشیم. مترجمان حرفه ای همچنان استاندارد طلایی برای ترجمه مدارک مهم به شمار می
روند. اما این روش ها برای کاربران اینترنت که می خواهند بفهمند دیگر کاربران در چین
یا کلمبیا در مورد چه بحث می کنند و در این بحث ها شرکت کنند ، بسیار گران است.

L’Internet polyglotte exige que nous explorions les potentialités et la puissance de la traduction humaine collaborative. Des centaines de millions d’internautes parlent plusieurs langues, un certain pourcentage de ces utilisateurs sont capables de traduire d’une langue à l’autre. Ces utilisateurs peuvent être l’épine dorsale d’un système puissant et collaboratif de production de contenus traduits et sont capables de prendre à bras le corps la tache audacieuse de traduire le Web.

我們此刻身處在網路內容翻譯新模式的起步階段,是種「同儕產製」的翻譯模式,班克勒(Yochai Benkler)提出這個詞語,以描述籌組合作式計畫時,不同於一般企業組成的新途徑。人們參與翻譯計畫動機各異:建立跨文化橋樑、獲取金錢報酬、個人榮耀等,同理可證,開放碼軟體亦源出於具熱情的程式設計師,在跨國企業支持下,我們需要「同儕產製」的翻譯模式,廣納更多人員與動機一同參與。

Para traduzir a internet, precisamos tanto de ferramentas quanto de comunidades. Programas de memória de tradução de código aberto permitirão que tradutores compartilhem o trabalho com colaboradores ao redor do mundo; mercados de tradução possibilitarão que tradutores e leitores se encontrem mutuamente por meio de sites parecidos com o Mechanical Turk da Amazon aprimorados com métricas de reputação; ferramentas de navegação permitirão que os leitores traduzam páginas continuamente em versões na maior qualidade possível e solicitarão futuras traduções feitas por humanos. Para tornar essas ferramentas úteis, é necessário formar grandes e apaixonadas comunidades, dedicadas a construir pontes em uma internet poliglota, a preservar as línguas menores e a elaborar ferramentas e conhecimento
acessíveis a um público global.

Raha toa ka tsy karohantsika ny olana momba ny internet sy ny fiteny maro dia mety hisy ny fizarazaran’ny internet. Misy fomba fijery mifaninana, ary tsy afaka mifandravona, momba ny fomba hitantanana ny internet. Raha mihena ny fanantoloan’ny internet sy ny internet zaraina, ary maka toerana kosa ny internet sinoa na arabo na anglisy, dia mihena ihany koa ny famporisihana antsika hiasa miaraka ka ho tonga amin’ny fomba fiasa afaka miravona sy mifandray. Tena misy ny mety hisian’ny internet maromaro, voazaran’ny fomba fiteny amin’ny voalohany, ary aty aoriana ho zarain’ny soa toavina mifandrirotra, fanaraham-penotra, ary aro fenotra samihafan’ ny tsirairay.

Mtandao wa intaneti ni chombo chenye nguvu kilichoundwa na wanaadamu ili kuwezesha maungano, ushirikiano na maelewano baina ya mataifa tofauti, rangi na tamaduni. Ili mtandao wa intaneti uweze kufikia uwezo wake wa kuunganisha au kusawazisha tofauti baina ya watu, inatupasa kuliweka kati tatizo hili la lugha na ufasiri katika mazungumzo yoyote yanayohusu mustakabali wa intaneti.


Found that a little confusing? That was the point. Turns out that very few individuals speak Arabic, Persian, Bangla, Portuguese, and Malagasy… though all those languages are well represented on the Internet. Wonder what you’re missing? Me too. So I’ll link to an English version as well, in case you’re curious.

My hopes for bridging the gaps that challenge us in the age of the polyglot internet rest on human translators, like the amazing folks who produce editions of Global Voices in over twenty different languages. Just how effective is distributed human translation? Within two hours of asking friends for help, that document was translated into six languages. Had I asked at a better time – when our Asian friends were awake – the whole thing would have been done within that timeframe.

Let’s just hope my friends in Dubai find this amusing and take the time to read the English version. Or that one of my friends on the council has deep linguistic talents and can explain what I’m saying above to everyone. And thanks to Nathan Kurz for the idea of turning a document about the polyglot internet into a polyglot document.

3 Responses to “The polyglot internet”

  1. Tony Yet says:

    Hi, Ethan,

    In my humble opinion, the tools and skills for building bridges across the language barriers of Internet is already there, and many people, especially Chinese people, are actively leveraging the power of these tools to bring in a broader picture of the web of possibilities. But there is still one big problem out there that is haunting people’s minds before they start a translation: is the article of GREAT value? By saying great, I mean what Jonathan Harris means: http://www.number27.org/beyondflash.html

    That said, I do really appreciate the efforts made by people at the Lingua project of Global Voices Online. But I think maybe we can have a switch of mindset, and turn the Internet into a tool for acquiring new tongues, thus making it possible for people joining in a global talk on many different issues and topics. This is a wild dream, but it is not impossible. In fact, it is often what we fail to do: to read other people’s thoughts in their original tongues.

  2. Stian Haklev says:

    Great way of presenting the problem! It took me a while to realize that the paragraphs were different, rather than one translated into many languages. I could catch the English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese (although I’m much better at simplified Chinese) … but I certainly had to slow down a lot. I also think it’s important for people to encounter languages they don’t understand in their “daily surfing” – almost no English language websites ever link to non-English webpages (maybe except in the trackbacks), and people could be excused for thinking that English is “enough”…

    I’m going to try to blog about this.

  3. Ingrid Jones says:

    Dear Ethan, I hope this finds you well. After five years, I still follow your posts. But usually, each day, after reading and writing, I rarely have enough energy left over to comment. Hopefully the length of this comment will be forgiven as I am unable to spend time on making it succinct after being up since 2am today here in England to watch live tv news coverage of US presidential election. This comment is in response to your post about the future of the Internet and Jeff Jarvis’ thoughts on his essay, on the idea of the Internet as a right.

    Surely it is a fact that the Internet is our right? I reckon that the great British physicist, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who gave up a fortune so that the world wide web could belong to the people, would be interested in reading Mr Jarvis’ essay on the Internet being our right. Here’s why: see below copies of some posts from the archives of my personal blog ME AND OPHELIA. Good luck with all your great work Ethan and thanks for such interesting blog posts. Best wishes, Ingrid.
    – – –

    Saturday, August 30, 2003
     
    VINTON G CERF
    Father of the Internet

    What a great gentleman.

    On a visit to MCI : Cerf’s Up a few days ago, I felt moved to send this email:

    Dear Mr Cerf,

    Just to say thank you for all your pioneering and hard work.

    Six weeks ago I was able to afford my first home computer.

    Within a few days I discovered weblogs and started one – free of charge through Blogger – called ME AND OPHELIA at http://www.meandophelia.blogspot.com

    I have picked up a little HTML, purchased a new house sign, sent gifts of chocolates and flowers, visited art galleries and auctions, had groceries and books delivered; been reunited with old friends, have sent and received emails all over the world, met many interesting bloggers and had some good laughs….all without speaking or leaving the house.

    This new laptop and the Internet has opened up a whole new life for me, for which I thank you.

    It means a lot to me because I am housebound and horizontal 23.5 hours a day, with limited energy, due to a severe form of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis – known as ME here in England and CFIDS in the US – from which I am still hoping to recover.

    These past six weeks have been the most interesting – and least isolating – weeks that I have spent since falling ill in October 1999.

    Thank you once again. You are a hero. I have put you at the top of my web links column in my right sidebar.

    Hope you will visit us one day.

    With love and thanks once again from Ingrid and Ophelia (my wonderful cat) x

    In my email box the next day, four words leapt out of my screen:

    From: vinton g. cerf

    I was thrilled. What a gentleman. I shall treasure and frame this:

    Dear Ingrid,

    I am copying two other people who will be very pleased to hear your story. One is Robert Kahn, who initiated the Internet project and with whom I worked to do the initial design. The other is Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web – that is the application that is helping you so much. Of course, Tim has pointed out that without the Internet, WWW would not so interesting and vice versa.

    Thanks so much for taking time to write.

    Vint Cerf

    # posted by Ingrid Jones @ 8/30/2003 0 comments
    http://meandophelia.blogspot.com/2003/08/vinton-g-cerf-father-of-internet-what.html
    – – –

    Wednesday, June 09, 2004
     
    FATHERS OF THE INTERNET
    And World Wide Web

    Following my post here yesterday on Desmond Tutu’s message to the Internet and today’s rally for the Sudan at Harvard in Boston, I emailed Vinton Cerf at Cerf’s Up and sent him a copy of the post. Several hours later I was thrilled to receive this reply:

    Ingrid, your email reached me easily.

    Sir Tim did receive a handsome 1 million euro prize earlier this year so fortune has followed fame at least in some measure. However
    neither Tim nor Bob Kahn nor I nor the others working on the Internet protocols patented or made intellectual property claims on the
    technology so as to stimulate its uptake without obstacles. It seems to have worked :-)

    vint

    – – –

    Surely this proves the Internet is owned by *us* the people of the world, and that nobody can control it or take it away from us – it will be *ours* forever.

    Or will it? What if bodies like Microsoft or Google could control it? If such a thing was possible, what could we do about it?

    Hopefully, the Internet is like an amoeba or some sort of living organism that if cut in two could regroup, and replicate itself in cyberspace, to escape greedy predators trying to dominate us and take control.

    Vinton Cerf, Bob Kahn and Tim Berners-Lee will go down in history. What a shame all three did not receive the same handsome prize earlier this year.

    We need our three heroes to leave us a cyber manual on what to do if anyone tried to muscle in and take ownership of the Internet. And we Internet users ought to get up an online petition to nominate all three for a Nobel award. Here is the list of Nobel Laureates in Physics 1901 – Present. If anyone knows how to do such a thing, please let me know and I’ll do all that I can to help.

    http://meandophelia.blogspot.com/2004/06/fathers-of-internet-and-world-wide-web_09.html
    – – –

    P.S Ethan, the following link leads to some of my other posts on Sir Tim and the internet (some are copied here below for easy reference)
    http://meandophelia.blogspot.com/search?q=berners+lee
    – – –

    Thursday, November 02, 2006
     
    WEB INVENTOR FEARS FOR THE FUTURE
    Sir Tim Berners-Lee is concerned about future of web

    Nov 2 2006 BBC report says Sir Tim Berners-Lee is concerned about the future of the web. Excerpt:

    The British inventor of the internet says he is worried about the way it could be used to spread “misinformation and undemocratic forces”.

    The web has transformed the way many people work, play and do business.

    But Sir Tim Berners-Lee told BBC News he fears that, if the way the internet is used is left to develop unchecked, “bad things” could happen.

    As a result he wants set up a research project to study the social implications of the web’s development.

    The changes experienced to date because of the internet are just the start of a more radical transformation of society, he says.

    But he is concerned about the way it could end up being used.

    His new web science research initiative will be more than just computer science, he insists.

    He wants to attract researchers from a range of disciplines to study it as a social as well as technological phenomenon.

    Sir Tim, who developed the web in the late 1980s, says of his invention that he was “in the right place at the right time”.
    # posted by Ingrid Jones @ 11/02/2006 0 comments
    – – –

    Tuesday, May 23, 2006
     
    WEB INVENTOR SIR TIM BERNERS-LEE
    Warns of ‘dark’ net

    Today, a friend emailed me this BBC report with the message: “This is the man you and I are so grateful to/for. I’m always astonished, every day, to consider the ways in which the WWW has changed my outlook on life.”

    The web should remain neutral and resist attempts to fragment it into different services, web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said.

    Recent attempts in the US to try to charge for different levels of online access web were not “part of the internet model,” he said in Edinburgh.

    He warned that if the US decided to go ahead with a two-tier internet, the network would enter “a dark period”.

    Sir Tim was speaking at the start of a conference on the future of the web.

    “What’s very important from my point of view is that there is one web,” he said.

    “Anyone that tries to chop it into two will find that their piece looks very boring.”

    An equal net

    The British scientist developed the web in 1989 as an academic tool to allow scientists to share data. Since then it has exploded into every area of life.

    However, as it has grown, there have been increasingly diverse opinions on how it should evolve.

    The World Wide Web Consortium, of which Sir Tim is the director, believes in an open model.

    This is based on the concept of network neutrality, where everyone has the same level of access to the web and that all data moving around the web is treated equally.

    This view is backed by companies like Microsoft and Google, who have called for legislation to be introduced to guarantee net neutrality.

    The first steps towards this were taken last week when members of the US House of Representatives introduced a net neutrality bill.

    Pay model

    But telecoms companies in the US do not agree. They would like to implement a two-tier system, where data from companies or institutions that can pay are given priority over those that cannot.

    This has particularly become an issue with the transmission of TV shows over the internet, with some broadband providers wanting to charge content providers to carry the data.

    The internet community believes this threatens the open model of the internet as broadband providers will become gatekeepers to the web’s content.

    Providers that can pay will be able to get a commercial advantage over those that cannot.

    There is a fear that institutions like universities and charities would also suffer.

    The web community is also worried that any charges would be passed on to the consumer.

    Optimism

    Sir Tim said this was “not the internet model”. The “right” model, as exists at the moment, was that any content provider could pay for a connection to the internet and could then put any content on to the web with no discrimination.

    Speaking to reporters in Edinburgh at the WWW2006 conference, he argued this was where the great benefit of the internet lay.

    “You get this tremendous serendipity where I can search the internet and come across a site that I did not set out to look for,” he said.

    A two-tier system would mean that people would only have full access to those portions of the internet that they paid for and that some companies would be given priority over others.

    But Sir Tim was optimistic that the internet would resist attempts to fragment.

    “I think it is one and will remain as one,” he said.

    The WWW2006 conference will run until Friday at the International Conference Centre in Edinburgh.
    # posted by Ingrid Jones @ 5/23/2006 0 comments
    – – –

    Friday, September 09, 2005
     
    CERF’S UP AT GOOGLE!
    Posted by Vint Cerf

    Historic news in a post today at Google Blog … by Vint Cerf!

    [Note, Vinton G Cerf is one of the three founding fathers of the Internet. Up until recently he worked for many years at MCI and had a web page called Cerf’s Up. He is not a very wealthy man. Click here to read a post I wrote in August 2003, a month after I discovered blogging, about an email I sent him, and the reply I received]

    “The news is out that I will join Google on October 3 as Chief Internet Evangelist (I tried for Archduke, but it didn’t work). What I really like about Eric, Larry, Sergey and the whole Google family is its collective and eminent practicality and seemingly boundless creativity. In fact, my recent interactions with many of Google’s senior staff have simply underscored my admiration for the extraordinary talent at Google that has been assembled in a short amount of time. Google has come so far since the early days!

    Among other things, I am committed to the vision of Google’s criticality to the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people. The public Internet and the growing cadre of corporate virtual private networks are already enablers of Google applications. As information pours into the Internet from all sides, Google tools will become, if they are not already, indispensable.

    I appreciate deeply the opportunity to become part of the Google family and to do what I can to contribute to its future.

    See you on the ‘Net!”
    – – –

    Photo: Vinton G. Cerf (MCI)

    Note, Vint (the Internet’s two other founding fathers are Robert E Khan and top British physicist Tim Berners-Lee who btw gave up a personal fortune so the web could be freely used by everyone) has been hard of hearing for a number of years and does a tremendous amount of great work for those who suffer similar disabilities.

    To me, the Internet is a God send. Hardly a day goes by without my counting it as a blessing and being truly appreciative. It has revolutionised my life.

    Read previous post “Fathers of the Internet – Getting the net off the ground and internetting” March 5, 2005.

    # posted by Ingrid Jones @ 9/09/2005 0 comments
    – – –

    Saturday, March 05, 2005
     
    FATHERS OF THE INTERNET
    Getting the net off the ground and internetting

    Today, the BBC reports on the fathers of the Internet, Vinton Cerf and Robert Khan. Early attention to security issues might have given us a better internet today – or the project might never have taken off at all, says Robert Kahn. The net’s co-inventor tells BBC Click Online how it all began, when, as an assistant professor of electrical engineering at MIT, he took a leave of absence to brush up on his networking theory. He was the system designer of the Arpanet – the very first computer network.

    Dr Kahn, pictured above, who never expected to be become part of technology legend, dubbed his project ‘internetting’. Also, the BBC report quotes Dr Khan as saying:

    “The work that we did was principally on designing what a network would look like. It was me working alone writing memos on the subject. I thought, at that time, that this was about as much practical experience as one would really need, to be a good theoretician back in the university. But it turned out that an agency of the US government, the Defence Advance Research Projects Agency, known as Darpa (it was known as Arpa back then) actually had plans to build a computer network in the country.

    At the time, many people didn’t think this was a very practical thing to do because it clearly didn’t look like a business opportunity and there weren’t that many computers around. But I thought it was an interesting technical challenge, so I was actually the system designer of the Arpanet – the very first computer network.

    When I got to Darpa, I got involved in the creation of two more nets. One was using satellites, a kind of Ethernet in the sky, on Intelsat-4, and the other one was a kind of a mobile network where the nodes were packet radios that broadcast to each other, so all the nodes could be in motion, in principle, or they could stay fixed as well. The whole goal of that effort seemed pretty straight forward at the time: given that you’ve got the nets, put them together and get the machines on them to work together. That was the genesis of the project itself.”

    How to ‘internet’?

    “When I first started the programme I was talking about what we were trying to achieve, which was netting these different computers and networks, so I called the project ‘internetting’.” – Robert E. Kahn.

    Photo: Vinton G. Cerf, who is hard of hearing, was the other key player in the creation of the Internet.
    – – -

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  1. global voices, one world » Blog Archive » challenges of the polyglot internet - [...] Zuckerman has a wonderfully provocative post on how he sees translation as the biggest challenge facing the future of …
  2. …My heart’s in Accra » Chris Salzburg on Global Voices, and the challenges and potential of community translation - [...] As the internet becomes more multilingual, these asymmetries become more apparent. For those who want to keep up with …
  3. …My heart’s in Accra » My Publius essay on the polyglot internet - [...] be familiar to readers here - indeed, it’s been published on this blog previously, though hidden behind a wall …
  4. Global Voices Online » Global: the polyglot internet and translation exchange - [...] existing content, based on our language capacities. Ethan Zuckerman captures the phenomenon in this post - and in its …
  5. Global: the polyglot internet and translation exchange :: Elites TV - [...] and in numerous conversations on the side. Ethan Zuckerman captures the phenomenon in this post - and in its English …
  6. Green Design » Blog Archive » New York Times on Social Translation - [...] ways to translate the variety of languages we’re seeing online. To be a pain in the ass, I turned …

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