Dismantling the Tower of Babel

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I have no facility for languages other than knowing the word for beer in 42 dialects. This is a handicap for someone who travels frequently to countries where English or even American is not widely spoken. Usually there is a translator handy so no real problem for me. Of course, there is the issue of a 45 minute presentation taking twice as long because of the translation.

Cheriff Moumina SY

My friend Cheriff Moumina SY is a journalist from Bukna Faso. He speaks English but he’s fluent in French. I speak no French except Je voudrais une bière, s’il vous plaît. We see each other at conferences and not a lot needs to be said post-confab because he always knows where to hear live music and my making a circular motion is “another round” in any language.

Email and social networking communications are another problem. I write this blog in English but I’d like it read in other languages without the hassle or expense of hiring translators in dozens of languages. This is where Mojofiti comes in. I met Dennis Wakabayashi, by happenstance at a Meetup. He has had a number of jobs where the language barrier became an issue. “Exact machine translation may be accurate, but it loses certain colloquialisms.”  While Mojofiti is using the Google translation engine the company has added

Dennis Wakabayashi

crowd sourcing to improve cross cultural idioms by having users edit the nuances.

The feature that will be most useful for many of us is that there is an iPhone app that lets you have your text and SMS messages to be translated into the receiver’s language and vice versa. The service currently supports 28 languages. When asked directly if the service will work on other mobile phones, including a no-frills model used in much of the developing world, Wakabayashi only would say, “Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone does something like that.”

CORRECTION: The features of SMS, email and wire translations are in the mojofiti.com environment. The iphone App, translates text and pictures using human translation.

What makes Mojofiti useful, in my view, is the ability to click on a language icon and have the current page translated into that language. While Mojofiti allows anyone to create a blog on its site and it is working on arrangements to import existing blogs into the service.

Mojofiti is among the growing number of companies that believe in Open Source Software. A lot of what runs Mojofiti is the WordPress framework. And in the spirit of the Open Source movement, will, at some point, make its translation code available as a plug-in for WordPress websites.

In the interest of full disclosure, this site runs on WordPress

Steve Miller
Stephen C. Miller is an editor, reporter and technology consultant. He writes the blog, The Future Was Yesterday: Technology in the Real World. He has spent nearly 30 years training African journalists throughout the continent in investigative techniques.

Formerly he was Assistant to the Technology Editor at The New York Times. He retired in 2008 after a 20 year career there. While at The Times he supervised the training of reporters and editors in the use of new technologies. Miller started his career in broadcasting, spending 12 years at CBS News in a variety of positions, including Night News Manager.

He is on the Board of Directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors and is past President of the New York Association of Black Journalists. He speaks frequently on how technology is affecting journalism.
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