Translations which are good enough

The current issue of Wired had a very thought-provoking article which argued that “good enough” was now a viable business model in many fields. The examples of technologies where consumers had apparently determined that what was on offer was good enough included Skype (patchy quality, but free), Flip video cameras (not brilliant quality and lacking in features, but dead simple) and netbooks (fairly low powered but small, convenient and with great battery life).

It has occurred to me lately that another technology which is rapidly approaching the “good enough” hurdle is online translation. I’ve been amazed recently that the language pair translation which Google offers now within Gmail is actually good enough to enable me to easily understand emails written in another language. Some language translations are better than others, and the syntax leaves something to be desired, but I really believe we’re nearly there.

This has be brought about by the mining of the internet to enhance machine translation. And crowdsourcing has now started to play its part: Facebook has just applied for a patent for its Digg-like crowdsourced translation system which enabled the very rapid translation of the site into multiple languages.

In my view we’ll now see an explosion of “good enough” translations of journalism which was hitherto limited to the country of origin. Better to have the gist than nothing at all. And the one thing you can rely on is that the quality will get better and better. Babelfish here we come!

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