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Startup Hopes To Crowd-Source the Developing World

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the solving-captchas-in-cameroon dept.

Cellphones 49

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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49 comments

My hovercraft is full of eels (3, Funny)

14erCleaner (745600) | more than 5 years ago | (#26667965)

What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

Buzzword Alert! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26668855)

Blah, blah, blah...

SCRIBBLE (1)

CustomDesigned (250089) | more than 5 years ago | (#26669059)

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").

Dear Slashdot: (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26667969)

The U.S. is collapsing while Slashdot fiddles about
crowd-sourcing. Get rid of the Geekspeak and post some
news about the economy.

Yours In Socialism,
ÐsÐÐÑOEÐÐ¾Ñ ÐоÑÐÐÑOE
  and get some Cyrillic fonts

P.S.: Arrest, try, convict, and sentence the world's most dangerous person [youtube.com] .

The locals may not know how to translate it either (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26667973)

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..

Re:The locals may not know how to translate it eit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26670297)

So, they won't understand the desktop/file metaphor then, I guess. Hmmm... How about the dirt/rock/twig metaphor?

Re:The locals may not know how to translate it eit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26670673)

Exactly! Localization should start from concepts. They should use a high level description language to map the concepts into functionality. Forget about addressbook, welcome the (address|location|person|connection|relationship|friend|whatever)(table|list|storage|bin|jar|cabin|whatever). Processes shoud be given the same treatment.
Not that I would prefer to use whateverwhatever myself.

Re:The locals may not know how to translate it eit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26672893)

To be fair, neither have I...

Re:The locals may not know how to translate it eit (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 5 years ago | (#26673007)

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.

Re:The locals may not know how to translate it eit (1)

hdon (1104251) | more than 5 years ago | (#26673243)

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 between one dialect and another? Can there be a statement which simply cannot be translated for a particular language? Culture? Individual? People disagree about whether female authority figures should be addressed as "sir" or "m'am." Think about that.

It may be tempting to criticize this because of the obvious potential for catastrophic failures, or because these languages/regions simply don't have terms for certain ideas we (Nokia, apparently) want to give (or market) to them. Consider that perhaps many expressions you use today began life differently and changed; perhaps some phrase started out more sarcastic, or officious, but is more or less casual and direct when you say it. Maybe a humorously inappropriate translation that gets picked by the most people (ie. crowdsourcing) is simply the most memorable and will do the job of making sense to the user best.

I'm not saying this is the end-all killer localization app, but I think it's more than a little silly to assume these obvious pitfalls are fatal ones, or even that they aren't beneficial diversions off the beaten path; after all, when is the last time you saw Corporate America make use of the most poignant slang terminology in any way that wasn't transparent and condescending? What would all the names of skateboard tricks be called if they had all been invented by the marketing staff of a skateboard manufacturer?

For better or worse, the public should participate in the advancement of their language.

address book (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 5 years ago | (#26667995)

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 (2, Funny)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668001)

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.

Does this make much business sense? (3, Interesting)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668013)

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 (1, Insightful)

RoCKeTKaT (1456287) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668053)

Learn English, you're gonna have to one day anyway, so start now. Problem solved.

Re:Learn English (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26668191)

I somewhat agree with this, though not necessarily with the "English" part. I think it would be tremendously beneficial for the entire human race if we all could standardize on one single language. I think English would make the most sense as it is already the basis for many technology standards; also, it doesn't have any goofy accent marks. Of course if it were up to popular vote, I think Spanish would win.

Re:Learn English (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668297)

I don't know. Somehow I think Chinese might edge out spanish... http://www2.ignatius.edu/faculty/turner/worldlang.htm [ignatius.edu] Unless you think the Chinese won't vote.

Re:Learn English (1)

Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) | more than 5 years ago | (#26669919)

Yeah I would expect one of the languages from China or India to end up being the dominant global language sooner or later. Although no one has mentioned Lisp yet....

Re:Learn English (1)

e2d2 (115622) | more than 5 years ago | (#26670573)

The most used language in India is English simply due to all the regional dialects such as Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, etc. English is the common language bond across local Indian states.

More likely we will see a mixing of languages as we create a more connected world where like languages borrow phrases and words from each other, eventually becoming so close they are hard to distinguish from each other.

But even languages that share glyphs such as Japanese/Chinese (say Mandarin for this argument) have greatly different meanings for such glyph combinations/words.

I think you are right about one common global language, but I think that language will never stop evolving and there will always be other variants and local dialects.

Re:Learn English (1)

Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) | more than 5 years ago | (#26671301)

You may be right. My (British) Dad could speak Hindi, French and English as well as read and write Latin (and he never got past the English equivalent of high school btw). I don't know the breakdown of languages in India and I suppose it depends on whether you consider different dialects to be different languages. OTOH Mandarin is the official language of China, Taiwan and Singapore (one 4 there) and one of the handful of official languages of the UN.

I think you are probably right that there will be a blending over time, and of course language will always continue to evolve. According to Wikipedia Mandarin is the first language of 885 million people. I'd say that gives it a pretty good chance of having a dominant influence on whatever comes out of all this. For example in Vancouvers the languages you are most likely to hear after English are Chinese, then Indian. I think English is now the first language of a minority of people and French barely registers. This in a country where English and French are supposed to be the official languages.

Re:Learn English (1)

HeiligeKartoffel (1180773) | more than 5 years ago | (#26679857)

Yes, let's just merrily destroy everyone's cultures for the sake of standardization. Diversity is such an unnecessary burden. English is indeed a superior language, because it doesn't have those pesky accented characters that can't be typed on an American keyboard. Also, with its very consistent spelling and dead simple pronounciation, it is a natural choice for everyone in the world to learn. Thank you, America!

Re:Learn English (1)

dwarg (1352059) | more than 5 years ago | (#26671115)

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.

Re:Learn English (1)

RoCKeTKaT (1456287) | more than 5 years ago | (#26728623)

or lojban, yuck !

I do agree that English spelling is wacky, if only it could be cleaned up somehow. But you know Latin spellings are kinda hard too.

The good part about English is that it's easy to learn, has many new terms (technological) that other languages lack, and is easy to speak (unlike other languages I have learned, or maybe it's just IMO).

This will hit the Wikipedia problem immediately. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26668083)

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

A sign of the unfortunate fact... (1, Insightful)

Xeth (614132) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668109)

...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.

Re:A sign of the unfortunate fact... (4, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668265)

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.

Re:A sign of the unfortunate fact... (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668427)

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.

Re:A sign of the unfortunate fact... (1)

Xeth (614132) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668581)

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?

Re:A sign of the unfortunate fact... (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668779)

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. A recent study shows that I'm probably on the right track, but we'll see. (German, Spanish, French) Latin keeps sneaking into the mess too.

Re:A sign of the unfortunate fact... (1)

Xeth (614132) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668939)

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?

Re:A sign of the unfortunate fact... (1)

Xeth (614132) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668959)

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 (4, Insightful)

rjstanford (69735) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668129)

'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:Utterly Ridiculous (2, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668449)

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 exceed their profits in these very small markets.

Re:Utterly Ridiculous (1)

sloomis (1326535) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668713)

Nah, you hire locals at a daily rate of 4 schekles or junebugs or whatever the hell they want.

Re:Utterly Ridiculous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26668583)

"Nokia is exactly the sort of company who could, very easily, hire 60 different people..."

WRONG.

Nokia is exactly the sort of company that hires people to receive a subsidy, then lays them off (as it happened in Germany last year) and moves on to another country to receive the next subsidy - people in Bulgaria are already disillusioned (only a few months after Nokia has arrived!).

So that's Nokia - buy labour cheap, sell it high.

What would Microsoft do if... (0, Offtopic)

The Assistant (1162547) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668403)

What would Microsoft do if, due to the economy, individual users forgo upgrading to Windows 7, and decide to keep what they have. Will Microsoft go and say, "XP is old and we won't be supporting it anymore. Also, by the way, VISTA will only be supported for another year."

At that point, Microsoft would alienate users of previous versions of Windows, the users will decide that they need to choose something else, and a large corporation ends up loosing a large chunk of the marketplace.

I would say that Microsoft needs to test the waters prior to dropping support for XP, otherwise people that could decide to upgrade after the ecomony improves would end up getting comfortable with whatever alternate they end up choosing and tell Microsoft that they're not coming back!

Literacy anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26668523)

I'm kind of thinking that xlating cellphone menus into dialects that may not even have a single book written in them is... silly. Why don't they have books? Because illiteracy is rampant in the developing world. Will cellphones now become the driver for people to learn to read? Oh wait, in the poorest countries most of people don't have cellphones: http://www.web4dev.org/images/8/8d/Africa_Mobile_Fact_Book_2008.pdf

Sometimes translations are even barriers to usability- my Swedish wife can't use the Swedish-localized version of Excel because the menus don't make sense to her after having used it in English so much.

Kraut-sourcing ... (1)

AtomicJake (795218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26668997)

"Wienerschnitzel"
"Sauerkraut"
"Leberwurst"
"Blitzkrieg".
"...und der Ullstein mit der Wurst!"

happy kraut-sourcing ....

Re:Kraut-sourcing ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26670399)

Die Sun scheint ma am Penis - Schen is!

I wish we had some type of translators group... (1)

guruevi (827432) | more than 5 years ago | (#26669873)

...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 favourite spoken language.
Launchpad supports most localizable open-source applications.

Cool (1)

twmcneil (942300) | more than 5 years ago | (#26671163)

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.

as a Nokia customer, (1)

zmollusc (763634) | more than 5 years ago | (#26671387)

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).

Use Globish - Its Already Out There (1)

aoheno (645574) | more than 5 years ago | (#26671875)

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 franca of globalization. Hi Y'All doesn't quite work when buying lumber in Papua New Guinea. A one-time translation of the 1500 words will last humankind for ever, unless physicists make up their mind how many dimensions there are in string theory and bring about contact with other civilizations.

Distributed Human Computation (?) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26673915)

I heard about this concept a few years ago in an academic research paper by Craig Gentry, Zulfikar Ramzan, and Stuart Stubblebine:

http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1064009.1064026

I must admit that it seemed a bit too science-fictiony, but maybe they were on to something.

Abstract: This paper is a preliminary exploration of secure distributed human computation. We consider the general paradigm of using large-scale distributed computation to solve difficult problems, but where humans can act as agents and provide candidate solutions. We are especially motivated by problem classes that appear to be difficult for computers to solve effectively, but are easier for humans; e.g., image analysis, speech recognition, and natural language processing. This paradigm already seems to be employed in several real-world scenarios, but we are unaware of any formal and unified attempt to study it. Nonetheless, this concept spawns interesting research questions in algorithm design, human computer interfaces, and programming language / API design, distributed systems, and cryptography, among other fields. There are also interesting implications for Internet commerce and the B24b model. We describe this research area and suggest a basic framework for the design of such systems. We analyze security and reliability against malicious parties using standard probability theory tools. We then derive design principles using standard decision-theory concepts. Finally, we list extensions and open problems.

Don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26680951)

I thought the third world was an excellent source for crowds?

The real meaning of CrowdSourcing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26689419)

Let's be honest here folks. Crowd sourcing is just a substitute for getting other people to do jobs white people are too cool to do themselves.

And if anyone gets the Brujeria reference, we salute you, my heavy metal brother or sister from Switzerland!

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