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August 29 2012

18:14

PBS NewsHour’s viewers are translating its videos into 52 languages (and counting)

Ever try watching Sesame Street in Turkish, or Hindi? Big Bird has made his way to 150 countries, and has been translated into more than 50 languages.

Now, PBS NewsHour is working to follow the bird and push some of its newsier content to global audiences. Partnering with the translation platform Amara, the show is crowdsourcing an effort to add subtitles to politics-themed videos, including moments from the U.S. presidential campaigns and short man-on-the-street interviews with American voters.

So, for example, now you can watch a video of President Barack Obama talking about a new immigration policy with subtitles in Vietnamese; or the Ukrainian version of Mitt Romney announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate. (Amara, formerly known as Universal Subtitles, is also involved in projects to crowdsource captioning for Netflix films and TED talks.) Since January, PBS NewsHour has built up a community of hundreds of dedicated volunteer translators across the world, and videos have been translated into 52 languages.

Because translations are done at the whim of volunteers, the outcome is unpredictable for any given video. As of this writing, for example, Ann Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention was available in English, French, and…Georgian, a language that has millions of speakers but isn’t usually the first that comes up among translation projects in the United States.

Generally, Obama gets more attention from translators than Romney. (It’s understandable that a sitting president would draw more attention than his as-yet-unelected rival.) Some languages are more popular than others. One volunteer in Indonesia is particularly active, which means that many videos have Indonesian subtitles.

“The most frequent languages besides English are Spanish, French, Indonesian, Chinese, and Korean,” Joshua Barajas, a production assistant at PBS NewsHour who handles communications with the volunteer translators, told me. Arabic and Turkish aren’t too far behind.

And what about quality control, a question that comes up in just about any crowdsourced project? It can be particularly difficult — if not downright impossible — to keep tabs on volunteers who are submitting work in a language you don’t understand.

“There has been one incident,” involving a captioner who inserted some foul language, Barajas said. “One troll. We quickly got rid of it. For the most part, it’s been pretty polite.”

And that’s because the volunteers who are involved are really, really involved. If they see something that’s not right — more often a technological bug or minor translation error than inappropriate conduct — they’re quick to notify the team at PBS, Barajas said.

Running parallel to these videos is a translation effort for a series called Listen to Me. PBS NewsHour has been collecting short interviews with people from around the country based on three questions: What’s the most important issue to you during this election? Are you hopeful about the future? Do you think the political system is broken? (For now, PBS affiliates have been shooting and submitting footage, but NewsHour plans to let people submit their own videos, too.)

There have been a few kinks to work out on the production side. A syncing issue with subtitles has since been resolved. Quite a few translations get started but not finished. (The video of Romney introducing Ryan lists 17 languages, but only six are complete; Bengali, Korean, Portuguese, Swahili, and Turkish are all less than 10 percent done.) And PBS NewsHour wants to build a more reliable language mix; they hope to partner with language classes at universities to achieve this.

But the biggest challenge is impact: how to measure it, yes, but mostly how to make a difference in the first place.

The core idea behind the translation project is that “everyone should have access to the political conversation regardless of the language they speak or their ability to hear,” Barajas said. But how do you let people know that these translations are available to them?

This is an issue that all newsrooms confront: What good is a great story — in any language — if you don’t have an audience ready to consume it? But most newsrooms aren’t trying to reach a divided global audience in dozens of languages.

“As of right now, we’re limited in gauging the translations’ reach,” Barajas said in a follow-up email. “We look at YouTube views and the growth of the Amara community for some insight, but these are limiting benchmarks of course.”

Still, NewsHour deserves credit for taking on a translation project of this scope. (Even a newspaper that simply directs its readers to Google Translate is going farther than most English language news outlets in the United States.) Ultimately, it appears what PBS NewsHour is really doing is community building.

“People are just excited because they feel like they want to be a part of something, and they feel like they’re contributing,” Barajas said. “They’re able to catch the nuances that otherwise would have been, well, lost in translation.”

April 25 2012

15:43

Worldcrunch wants to be the Internet’s Rosetta Stone for news

As the translation-based news service Worldcrunch approaches the one-year anniversary of their launch, it’s also tweaking its business approach in three key ways that co-founders Jeff Israely and Irène Toporkoff hope will help it thrive.

Worldcrunch’s central goal is to find news that wouldn’t otherwise appear in English-speaking news sources at a time when U.S. news organizations have slashed their budgets for international coverage. You may recognize Israely, a former Time correspondent, from his regular column for Nieman Lab about the process of launching a news startup. A year in, he’s getting a better sense of what it takes to keep one going.

First, Worldcrunch has plans to increase its output. The most straightforward way to do this, as many news organizations have found, is to aggregate from other sources. But Worldcrunch will do so with a twist: Call it translaggregating — translating what you aggregate.

“That’s going to allow us to really be more dynamic, more reactive, and expand the kind of stories we can produce, and how we can produce them, and when we can produce them,” Israely told me from Paris, where Worldcrunch is based.

One way the site aims to bump up the volume of aggregated material is through a crowdsourced initiative it’s calling “Crunch It.” For now, Worldcrunch is calling on volunteers to nominate articles for translation, “English-ize” them, and vote for the best finished pieces. But Israely said the Worldcrunch team is still figuring out exactly how process will work. He calls the initative “in the neighborhood of crowdsourcing,” but he also wants to put certain quality safeguards in place. Making sure a story is right for Worldcrunch isn’t simply about impeccable multilingual skills — it has to be a story that doesn’t already appear in English.

“They think that content is self-generating, and you just need the tools to filter it, to aggregate it, to monetize it. We don’t agree with that.”

“In addition, the original story itself has to stand up,” Israely said. “It has to be a well written story. It has to be a story that has enough background material that allows it to travel. If Le Monde is writing a story about French schools, and if the story has too many references to things that only French people know, we’d have to transform the story and put in all kinds of context — our partners allow us to adapt the story and add in context when necessary — but if the whole process becomes rewriting and adding in context, it’s probably not a good story for us.”

The second key change Worldcrunch is making: it’s putting up “some kind of metered model” paywall “before summer.”

But even as the paywall goes up, Worldcrunch is shifting away from the idea that its website will be the sole hub for its readers. Arguably the most important development to the Worldcrunch business model is that it’s forging partnerships with English-language publications that will pay for translated content. Worldcrunch is already selling content to the Toronto Star, and is in talks with a U.S. publication about a similar deal.

Here’s how it works: A non-English news organization gives Worldcrunch permission to translate its content. Worldcrunch then posts the translated content to its website, and offers to sell it to English-language news organizations. Those organizations pay Worldcrunch an undisclosed amount, and Worldcrunch gives the original content producer a 40 percent cut.

Israely and Toporkoff see this distribution model as a win-win-win: The original publication gets a much wider audience for its stories (plus some extra revenue); English-language publications provide valuable international news to their readers; Worldcrunch can pay its bills and keep the cycle going.

With the slogan “all news is global,” the site operates with three editors and about a dozen freelance translators. Working with media partners across Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, Worldcrunch translates about 30 articles per week into English from German, Turkish, French, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish. Worldcrunch aims to do what even the old network of foreign bureaus had trouble doing: providing original, domestically produced coverage for an international audience.

Some examples that stand out for Israely and Torpokoff include diverse viewpoints about the economic situation in Turkey, coverage of tensions in the Middle East, an interview with maligned Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi about his plans to resign, Russian election coverage by and for Russians, and a French-authored article about why French people reacted differently to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal than residents of other countries. (Israely also points out the benefit of getting original French perspective about more lighthearted topics like perfume and food.)

Press freedom as a moving target

Earlier this month, German-language newspaper Die Welt published a column about a controversial poem penned by Nobel Prize winner and former Nazi Günter Grass (the poem was published in another German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung), and Worldcrunch translated it.

While you could have read about the scandal in The New York Times, that story — published three days after the Worldcrunch piece — didn’t provide the same direct cultural perspective (the Times coverage has a joint byline from Israel- and Berlin-based correspondents). The Times reports that Grass’ views “are relatively common among European intellectuals,” though “strung together” in a way that incited outrage. But Henryk Broder’s column for Die Welt actually articulates those views in the context of the Grass imbroglio.

“The fact that [Grass] is accused of being anti-semitic and here you have the German press — this German writer in the German press — saying he is anti-semitic, and it’s not normal — I think that makes it interesting,” Toporkoff said. “Within Germany, there is debate. We have chosen to publish something that we found very interesting that says a lot about what’s happening in Germany, but also what happened in general.”

Then there is the “meta-example” that Israely gives of an article — from China’s Economic Observer — highlighting the global scarcity of press freedom.

“This was the Beijing paper reporting on this almost over-the-top sort of rabid, gossipy Hong Kong press right before the elections there,” Israely said. “Sort of explaining to Chinese readers how this is what a free press looks like with all its warts, and the beauty of being truly free and going after a candidate and sticking cameras into his backyard.”

Along those same lines, working with a (relatively) independent newspaper out of China can be unpredictable. Though there are certain boundaries he says The Economic Observer won’t cross (they won’t write about Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, for instance), he has been surprised by how provocative, lively, and sometimes irreverent the paper can be.

“It’s a moving target, because it’s changing before our eyes,” Israely said. “The Economic Observer in Beijing actually does get shut down now and again. The site does get shut down, and our contact there says they’re in the penalty box essentially.”

Israely says that establishing partnerships in the first place is the hardest part. His job is to convince them of a principle that he says was best summed up in a recent TechCrunch article: Whoever creates the best content at the lowest cost possible will create the most value over time.

“It’s a very simple formula, but I think a lot of energy has been spent over the past few years where people — particularly on the tech side, thinking about the news business — they think that content isn’t an issue,” Israely said. “They think that there’s no shortage of content. They think that content is self-generating, and you just need the tools to filter it, to aggregate it, to monetize it. We don’t agree with that. We don’t think that news content just produces itself. It has to be produces and I don’t care about the labels — whether it’s journalists producing it, or in our case translators. But there needs to be a layer of journalism, or layers of journalism, to make it quality content.”

Photo of Earth by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center used under a Creative Commons license.

July 14 2011

15:35

In Spanish: The inverted pyramid of data journalism part 2

Mauro Accurso has followed up his rapid translation of last week’s inverted pyramid of data journalism with a Spanish version of part 2: the 6 C’s of communicating data journalism. It’s copied in full below.

La semana pasada les traduje la primera parte de La Pirámide Invertida del Periodismo de Datos de Paul Bradshaw que prometió extender en el aspecto de comunicación del extenso proceso que significa el periodismo de datos.

comunicar periodismo de datosEn esta segunda parte Paul recorre 6 formas diferentes de comunicar en periodismo de datos que pueden ver en el cuadro de arriba y al final encontrarán un gráfico que resume toda la teoría (la cual está en desarrollo todavía y Bradshaw pide aportes, comentarios y sugerencias):

“El periodismo de datos moderno ha crecido junto con un gran aumento en visualización y esto puede llevarnos algunas veces a dejar de lado diferentes formas de contar historias que involucren grandes números. La intención de lo siguiente es funcionar como un manual para asegurar que todas las opciones sean consideradas:

1. VISUALIZACIÓN

La visualización es la forma más rápida de comunicar los resultados del periodismo de datos: herramientas gratuitas como Google Docs lo permiten con un sólo click y herramientas más poderosas como Many Eyes sólo requieren que el usuario pegue la data cruda y seleccione de un grupo de opciones de visualización.

Pero facilidad no es igual a efectividad. El surgimiento de cuadros-basura demuestra que la visualización no es inmune al churnalism o al espectáculo sin profundidad. Hay una rica historia de visualizaciones en gráfica que se mantiene relevante para la generación de las infografías online: enfocarse en no más de 4 puntos de datos, evitar el 3D y asegurarse que el gráfico es autosuficiente son sólo algunas.

No es un proceso simple pero, sin embargo, la visualización tiene una gran ventaja que hace que ese esfuerzo valga la pena: puede hacer que la comunicación sea increíblemente efectiva. Puede proveer de un método de distribución de tu contenido que no puede ser igualado por otros tipos de comunicación listado acá.

Pero su mayor fortaleza es también su mayor debilidad: la naturaleza instantánea de las infografías también significa que las personas a menudo no pasan demasiado tiempo mirándolas. Las hace muy efectivas para la distribución pero no para el engagement, así que es importante pensar estratégicamente acerca de 1) asegurarse que la imagen contenga un enlace a la fuente; y 2) asegurarse que haya algo más en la fuente cuando la gente llegue.

2. NARRACIÓN

Un artículo tradicional puede luchar para contener la clase de números que el periodismo de datos suele recorrer, pero aún así provee una forma accesible para que las personas entiendan la historia, si está hecho bien.

Como con la visualización, menos suele ser más. Pero también, como en la mayoría de la narrativa, necesitas pensar en el significado y tus objetivos en comunicar esos números.

Las cifras abstractas pueden ser impresionantes, pero sin sentido e inútiles. ¿Qué significa que 10 millones hayan sido gastados en algo? ¿Eso es más o menos que lo usual? ¿Más o menos que algo similar? Traten de bajar los montos a cantidades manejables: las sumas por persona o por día, por ejemplo. Finalmente, usen la edición para enfocarse en las cuestiones principales y asegúrense de enlazar al conjunto.

3. COMUNICACIÓN SOCIAL

La comunicación es un arte social y el éxito de infografías a través de medios sociales es un testamento de eso. Pero no son sólo las infografías que son sociales, la información también lo es. The Guardian ha demostrado eso de forma exitosa con la rica comunidad del Data Blog y alrededor de su API. Iniciativas de Crowdsourcing con el objetivo de recolectar data también pueden brindar una dimensión social a la información (ejemplos que remarca Paul: proyecto “Investigate your MP’s expenses” del Guardian que liberó más de 450 mil documentos para que los revisen los usuarios y cuando hicieron un crowdsource de las supuestas especificaciones del iPad). Hay otros ejemplos también, especialmente cuando no hay otra forma de conseguir la información.

La conectividad de la web ofrece nuevas oportunidades para presentar al periodismo de datos en una forma social. La aplicación de ProPublica que provee resultados basados en tu perfil de Facebook (escuelas a las que fueron; amigos que usaron la aplicación) es un ejemplo de como el periodismo de datos puede aprovechar la data social y, al mismo tiempo, como comunicar los resultados del periodismo de datos puede ser orientado alrededor de dinámicas sociales usando elementos como concursos, compartir, competiciones, campañas y colaboración. Estamos recién en el comienzo de este aspecto del periodismo online.

4. HUMANIZAR

Los programas de noticias a menudo utilizan casos de estudio para tratar el problema de presentar historias basadas en números en televisión o radio. Si los tiempos de espera en hospitales han aumentado, hablan con alguien que ha tenido que esperar un montón de tiempo por una operación. En otras palabras, humaniza los números.

Más recientemente, el crecimiento de gráficos en movimiento generados por computadora ha bajado la presión de cierta forma, ya que los presentadores pueden utilizar animaciones poderosas para ilustrar una historia.

Pero una vez más, surge el punto de hacer historias relevantes para las personas. Como escribí en “One ambassador’s embarrassment is a tragedy, 15,000 civilian deaths is a statistic” (resumen del post en español: periodismo de datos y filtraciones masivas – cuando la muerte es una estadística): cuando te mueves más allá de escalas que podamos manejar a un nivel humano, luchas para enganchar a la gente en el tema que estás cubriendo, no importa cuán impresionante sea el gráfico.

Así que después de estar enterrado en información abstracta necesitamos recordar que salir y grabar una entrevista con una persona cuya vida haya sido afectada por la data puede hacer una gran diferencia para propulsar nuestra historia.

5. PERSONALIZAR

Uno de los grandes cambios del periodismo online es que abre toda clase de posibilidades alrededor de la interactividad. En cuanto al periodismo de datos eso significa que los usuarios pueden, potencialmente, controlar qué información es presentada a ellos en varias entradas.

Hay algunas formas relativamente bien establecidas de esto. Por ejemplo, cuando un gobierno presenta su último presupuesto, los sitios web de noticias muchas veces invitan al usuario a ingresar sus propios detalles y averiguar cómo el presupuesto los afecta. Una variante reciente de esto fueron esos sitios interactivos donde invitaban al usuario a hacer sus propias decisiones de cómo recortarían el deficit (la versión del Financial Times llevó eso más allá agregando estrategias de partidos y políticas).

Otra forma común es personalización geográfica: el usuario es invitado a entrar su código posta y otra información geográfica para descubrir como un tema en particular está resultando en su lugar de residencia. Una tercera es simplemente “tus intereses”, como demostraron los acercamientos de Popvox a engagement político y el Newsmatch de LA Times.

Mientras más y más data personal está en manos de sitios de terceros, las posibilidades de personalización se expanden. El ejemplo de ProPublica de arriba demuestra como la información de perfil de Facebook puede ser usada para personalizar automáticamente la experiencia de una historia. Y existen variasaplicaciones que ofrecen presentar información basada en localización vía GPS.

Esto también indica que puede haber varias formas en las cuales la personalización y estrategias sociales pueden combinarse. Las noticias personalizadas pueden, de muchas maneras, ser usadas como una expresión de nuestra identidad: acá es donde vivo, de esta forma me afecta, en esto estoy interesado. El COO de Facebook predijo que todos los medios van a ser personalizados en 3-5 años; está claro que eso es algo donde las redes sociales nos van a llevar.

6. UTILIZAR

La forma más compleja de comunicar los resultados del periodismo de datos es crear algún tipo de herramienta basada en la información. Las calculadoras son opciones populares, así como herramientas con GPS, pero hay un montón de amplitud para aplicaciones más complejas mientras más información está disponible del publisher y el usuario.

Una vez más, hay un entrecruzamiento acá con personalización, pero es posible proveer utilidad sin personalización. Y muy a menudo, la complejidad y barrera consiguiente con respecto a los competidores presenta también oportunidades comerciales.

En Reed Business Information, por ejemplo, su modelo está orientado hacia este tipo de utilidad: atraer usuarios en varios puntos de la cadena de comunicación (actualizaciones online, revistas impresas, noticias móviles) y direccionarlos hacia el punto donde están más cercanos a una decisión de compra. La idea es que mientras más cerca tu información está de su acción, más valiosa es para el usuario.

Crear utilidad de la información es ahora relativamente costoso, pero esos costos están bajando como resultado de la competencia y la estandarización.

UN MEDIO PARA EXPLORAR

Lo que todo lo anterior hace evidente es que hay áreas enteras de periodismo online que todavía faltan ser adecuadamente exploradas, y de hecho en la mayoría todavía falta establecer convenciones claras o ideas de buenas prácticas. Esto trata de ser un resumen de aquellas convenciones que están surgiendo pero sería genial agregar más. Mientras tanto acá tienen ambas partes del modelo juntas”:

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July 08 2011

12:12

The inverted pyramid of data journalism – in Spanish

Barely 7 hours after I published yesterday’s ‘Inverted pyramid of data journalism‘, it had been translated into Spanish – by the wonderful Mauro Accurso. The post is copied in full below.

Ya hace un tiempo traduje todo el Modelo para la redacción del siglo XXI cuya parte principal es el Diamante de noticias en contraposición a la clásica pirámide invertida que enseñan en cualquier facultad de periodismo (luego vimos el ciclo de vida de las noticias digitales: el diamante de noticias reimaginado y otra vez eldiamante de noticias reinterpretado).

Pero ahora una vez más Paul Bradshaw nos trae un diagrama interesante para, en este caso, explicar el proceso de creación del periodismo de datos. Esta pirámide invertida del periodismo de datos muestra de forma simple como se avanza desde una gran cantidad de información que incrementalmente se va enfocando hasta llegar al punto de comunicar los resultados a la audiencia de la forma más clara posible. A continuación, la traducción del artículo donde podemos ver lasdiferentes etapas del proceso de data journalism:

COMPILAR

“El periodismo de datos empieza en una de dos formas: o tienes una pregunta que necesita data o tienes un dataset que necesita ser interrogado. De cualquier forma, la compilación de información es lo que lo define como un acto de periodismo de datos y puede tener varias formas:

  1. Provista directamente por una organización
  2. Encontrada usando técnicas de búsqueda avanzada para surcar en las profundidades de sitios web de gobiernos
  3. Al hacer scraping de bases de datos escondidas online usando herramientas como OutWit Hub y Scraperwiki
  4. Convertir documentos en algo que pueda ser analizado usando herramientas como DocumentCloud
  5. Tomando información de APIs
  6. Recolectando data vos mismo a través de observación, encuestas, formularios online o crowdsourcing

LIMPIAR

Tener información es sólo el comienzo. Estar confiado en las historias escondidas adentro significa poder confiar en la calidad de la data, y eso significa limpiarla. Limpiar en general tiene 2 formas: remover el error humano y convertir la data en un formato que es consistente con otra data que estes usando.

Hay formas simples de limpar la data en Excel o Google Docs como buscar y reemplazar, clasificando para encontrar entradas inusualmente altas o bajas o vacías, y usando filtros para que sólo se muestren entradas duplicadas.

CONTEXTO

Como cualquier fuente, la información no puede siempre ser confiable. Viene con sus propias historias, prejuicios y objetivos. Así como con cualquier fuente, necesitas hacerle preguntas: quien la recolectó, cuando, y por qué motivos. ¿Cómo fue recolectada? (la metodología). También necesitarás entender la jerga como códigos que representan categorías, clasificaciones o ubicaciones y terminología de especialistas.

Todo lo anterior probablemente te lleve a compilar más información. Por ejemplo, conocer el número de crímenes en una ciudad es interesante, pero sólo se vuelve relevante cuando lo contextualizas junto con la población, número de policías, niveles de los crímenes haces 5 años, percepción del crimen, niveles de desempleo y demás. El alfabetismo estadístico es una obligación acá. Tener una pregunta clara en el comienzo de todo el proceso, por cierto, ayuda a asegurar que no pierdas el foco en este punto, o pierdas un ángulo interesante.

COMBINAR

Las buenas historias se pueden encontrar en un sólo dataset, pero a menudo necesitarás combinar dos juntos. Después de todo, si te dan a elegir entre una noticia con una sola fuente y una noticia con múltiples fuentes, cuál preferirías?

La combinación clásica es el mashup de mapas: tomar un dataset y combinarlo con data de mapas para proveer una visualización instantánea de cómo algo está distribuido en el espacio. Esto es tan común (más que nada gracias a que la Google Maps API fue una de las primeras APIs útiles para periodismo) casi se ha convertido en un cliché. Pero igual, los clichés son muchas veces (sino siempre) efectivos.

Una combinación más trivial es fusionar 2 o más datasets con un punto de información común. Eso puede ser, por ejemplo, el nombre de un político, una escuela o una ubicación. Eso usualmente significa asegurarse que el punto particular de data está formateado con el mismo nombre a través de cada uno de los sets de datos.

COMUNICAR

En periodismo de datos, lo obvio para hacer en este punto es visualizar los resultados: en un mapa, cuadro, infografía o animación. Pero acá hay mucho más a considerar: desde la clásica narrativa, las aplicaciones de noticias, casos de estudio y personalización”. [...]Hay tanto que decir en esta etapa que Paul prometió escribir otro post al respecto próximamente (cuando esté listo pongo link acá)

 

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July 01 2011

16:00

The revolution will be translated: Global Voices’ citizen-powered site experiments with English-second

When Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon created Global Voices in 2004, English was the language of the blogosphere.

“A lot of the people who were using weblogs were writing in English even if it wasn’t their first language,” Zuckerman said. “You would see top Arabic bloggers writing first and foremost in English because they wanted that global audience.”

So Global Voices — a news site about places where English isn’t spoken — was built on English. The idea is that it’s an efficient “bridge language,” reaching a larger potential audience: More translators can do English to Swahili than, say, Tagalog to Swahili.

The site was opened up to translators in 2007 under Project Lingua — a movement that sprang up from the community — but GV still required that all original content be composed in English.

The problem with that workflow? Most of GV’s bloggers don’t speak English as a first language. “People started saying, ‘Look, I work for GV Français, and I write much better in French than I do in English. Why should I have to write in English first and then in French?’” Zuckerman said.

So Global Voices is experimenting with a decentralized, English-second workflow for the first time in its history. Paula Góes, the site’s multilingual editor, is leading the transition.

“The Internet has made the world much, much smaller, but language is still probably the only barrier that really makes it difficult for people to understand each other,” said Góes.

Góes is helping Global Voices build a (virtual) multilingual newsroom, with bloggers and editors assigned to regions and languages. If breaking news happens in South America, a blogger on the ground can choose to write in Spanish first. “It’s obviously much easier for them to write in their own language,” Góes said. “It takes less time for them, too. We’re able to get their stories out there quicker.” The goal is stories that are richer, more nuanced, more genuine. And it opens Global Voices to much wider pool of would-be volunteers.

Paula Góes, Global Voices Multilingual Editor

It all sounds kind of obvious, Zuckerman said — why not let people write in their first language? — but the translations pose a lot of challenges for the organization.

“At the end of the day, everything that ends up on Global Voices in any language is the responsibility of our managing editor, Solana Larsen. And Solana speaks five languages, but she doesn’t speak 30,” Zuckerman told me. “The question became, if we start writing in Chinese first, which Solana does not speak, how can she be responsible for what comes out?”

There was a lot of resistance to decentralization, at least at first. While GV is seen as a pillar of open, citizen-powered media, Zuckerman noted, it’s hardly lawless. “We always have to remind people that we have boatloads of editors. We are a heavily, heavily edited platform,” he said.

“We don’t want to do this in a way that people say, ‘Oh yeah, that Spanish Global Voices, that’s much further to the left than GV is’…. That would be a sign that we’re doing it wrong.” Under the new model, each language site is trusted to enforce its own editorial standards.

So far, the experiment has paid off richly. For example: “Our francophone and Africa coverage had been pretty poor. It was not our strongest section,” Zuckerman said. “It’s gotten better by leaps and bounds since we’ve done this. The francophone West Africans who are part of our community are just much more comfortable writing in French. They write more and they write better.”

To continue the improvement, Góes’ job is to find efficiencies in translation, study metrics, help define best practices, figure out what works. The ultimate goal is to reach more readers in more countries — and English still plays an essential role. All stories are translated to English first, as a rule, but that can take half an hour, a day, two days. “It depends on the urgency or the resources we have,” Góes said.

One helpful thing: Translators for individual language sites can volunteer to take on a story. “We don’t really tell people to translate anything,” Góes said. “It’s completely up to the community. We trust that they will know what posts will be more interesting to their own readers or more important to show in their countries.”

Translators are every bit as much journalists as the writers, because good translation requires an appreciation for context. How do you translate an article about female genital mutilation into Malagasy, for example, when the concept is foreign to an audience in Madagascar? And then there are links, which point to resources outside of the site’s control — resources that will most likely be in a language that’s different than the one spoken by a story’s intended audience. Translators at Global Voices follow each link to try to find relevant alternatives. Google Translate can’t do all that. (Nor does it cover all the languages GV does.)

“If you really want to understand a culture, have a deep understanding about culture, and you don’t speak the language, you cannot really rely on Google Translate,” Góes said. “How would you be able to understand the situation in Syria through Google Translate? I would’t trust Google to let me know about the world.”

Global Voices is like the Red Cross in that the leadership team is paid, but most of the staff volunteers. That means the quality of a language site depends on the time, talent, and interest of unpaid people. (Góes reminded me that her staff is always looking for volunteers. She recently put up an FAQ page for would-be translators.)

I had to ask, what does motivate people to do all this work for free?

“Two things,” Góes said. “One is learning, because when you translate about any other country in the world, you learn so much about it. You have to do research. It’s really, really exciting. I think it’s quite easy to get hooked to.

The other thing? “People think it’s important to bring perspectives into their languages, present them to their friends who can’t speak English in a way that’s not biased.”

Photo of Paula Góes by David Sasaki used under a Creative Commons license

March 12 2011

01:30

Japan: When public broadcasting meets limited access

On the long list of things I know nothing about are (a) the Japanese language, (b) the state of fair use in Japanese media law, and (c) the legal structure of Japanese public broadcaster NHK. But this article seems to hit on a lot of the same issues we see in the American future-of-journalism world: How far can (and should) a news organization go to protect the products of its journalists? How do the duties of a publicly funded news organization differ from those of a private one? And how does the mission of serving the public match up with the mission to sustain a news organization?

The brief story, in the Japanese business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, is in Japanese, so I asked our Twitter followers if someone was willing to translate.

(Huge thanks to Chris Salzberg, Annamaria Sasagawa, Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Tana Oshima, and Ally Millar for volunteering to help. Our readers are awesome.)

Here’s how one of our readers, Takaaki Okada, translated the text:

NHK disallows the transmission of earthquake footage over the web

On the 11th of March, NHK disallowed the online transmission of earthquake footage by other news media outlets. “We are sending our correspondents to the ground so we can broadcast the footage ourselves, so it makes sense that the public watches it on NHK’s TV channel or website,” said NHK’s Public Relations Department.

NHK is allowing newspapers to publish images of their footage as long as they are credited, but they are not allowing other media outlets to transmit their footage online. Because of this unprecedented emergency, Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei Newspaper) has requested the NHK — a public broadcasting organization — to offer their important video footage, so it can reach a wide audience, but NHK has declined this request.

Again, I have no idea what Japanese law around fair use is, or how NHK as a public broadcaster views (or should view) its role in a moment of national crisis. And NHK is no doubt spending a ton of money covering the earthquake and tsunami, and it makes sense that it should reap the rewards of that work in terms of audience. But it’s an interesting place to draw the line to say that no NHK footage should be allowed on the website of a leading national newspaper. It’s particularly interesting given that, as I type this, there are over 1,000 videos uploaded to YouTube in the past 24 hours with “NHK” in the description or title — and from scanning them over, most seem to be straight copies of NHK disaster footage.

In any event, NHK World is streaming free on its website for anyone looking for it. Our best to all our readers in Japan and everyone else affected by today’s disaster.

December 14 2010

18:00

Jeff Israely: Speeding up a startup, but slowing down at the same time

Editor’s Note: Jeff Israely, a Time magazine foreign correspondent in Europe, is in the early stages of a news startup called Worldcrunch. He details his experience as a new news entrepreneur at his site, but he’ll occasionally be describing the startup process here at the Lab. Read his past installments here.

Okay, here’s my shot at a new law of physics to apply to our news startup: Q. When does speeding up help you to slow down? A. At the exact moment that slowing down will help you speed up. Experienced entrepreneurs (and basketball players) will recognize this quantum bit of gobbledygook as the art of the pivot. Here’s how this particular apple fell on my head.

A month ago, when we unveiled Worldcrunch in this space, with a signup page and basic description of what we’ll be doing, it was part of a fairly straightforward plan and timetable for getting our site launched. Step 1: Announce the thing and open Facebook and Twitter accounts. Step 2: Complete the back office and site development. Step 3: Revamp the design and refine the functionality. Step 4: Solidify the core crew of multilingual journalists to begin building the editorial structure. (Note: Fundraising, partnerships, and legal issues are always at the top of the list…but their timetables have a logic all their own.)

Once steps 2, 3, and 4 began to fall into place, we’d start. Gradually. Privately. Our homepage/signup page would be a placeholder, while the various pieces came together behind the scenes. Through December, we’d use a special password for access to begin to show what we were doing (design, functionality…and the articles themselves) to our friends and colleagues, potential partners and investors, and those interested enough to sign up. Then, by the first week of January, shazzam: Launch!

But in the span of 72 hours in mid-November, two things happened that convinced us it was time to, er, slow-down-and-speed-up. First, we were presented with the chance to create an innovative front end for the website, which also held the possibility to integrate iPhone and iPad apps more rapidly down the road. This new front end would slow us down. Around the same time, one of our news partners, top French business daily Les Echos, told us they were extra eager to have us begin producing their stories to post on their website. Well, we thought, after we saw the first few Worldcrunch-produced stories on lesechos.fr, we realized we should (as is foreseen in the partnership agreement) also start posting them on ours. This would speed us up.

Putting these two equal but opposite forces on some kind of pulley system attached to a pair of fisherman’s sinkers (10th-grade physics don’t fail me now!) created the perfect conditions for our startup to make that famous pivot.

So as of two weeks ago, we are live, sort of — for anyone to see. It is not our beta, or even alpha, version. Yet it’s not quite a blog either, since we are not just publishing stuff about what we’ll be doing, but actually starting to do it. We have chosen to call our temporary public home The Garage.

This was a major decision, strategically and psychologically. As such, it was bound to test the fiber of the team, and again proved that despite our occasional bickering like brother and sister, my co-founder Irene and I are truly in synch. There was a lot riding on the decision to both push back the beta launch, and in the meantime go live with our stories. It would change both how we’d present ourselves to the public, and the mechanics of how the actual site (and company) might evolve. Yet after two brief conversations between us, and consultations with our investors, we agreed on the change of plans as if we were thinking with one brain. This bodes well for other big decisions — and pivots — that are sure to come.

A pivotal meal?

Last week was The Lunch. If some day Worldcrunch ends up realizing its full potential, the cafeteria-chic meal at Gustave in the Eighth Arrondissement will stand as one of the key moments that set us on our way. The occasion was the arrival in Paris (for the LeWeb confererence) of Lili Rodic, our indefatigable Zagreb-based web development team leader. Along with Irene, there was also Frederic Bonelli and Diane Grappin, two of our first investors. Fred has been advising us on key technical and digital publishing strategy. Diane is driving all that is product- and design-related at Worldcrunch.

We were at lunch to talk about refining the Garage, and the next steps for moving closer to the beta launch. But inevitably what we need to do today, particularly in the development of the technology, leads to discussions about the future: about how to build into the technical framework the right tools to allow our editorial and business ambitions to be realized. We brought up ideas that had already been floating around. We factored in budget and timing issues. We ate our nouvelle cuisine off of plastic trays.

But at a certain point, Fred began to lay out his vision for what the architecture of Worldcrunch should be, literally mapping it out for Lili (and the rest of us) on a piece of scrap paper. Something in that moment started to crystallize. We could suddenly see how our editorial and technical potential was naturally intertwined. It was the blueprint for a news enterprise built with new eyes — as I put it a year ago in a blissfully ignorant “about” page for my blog — and legs.

Still, big plans aside, my days now are mostly (and finally!) filled with the nuts and bolts of producing stories. We have the beginnings of a dynamite team on the editorial side. Together, we are using this time in the Garage to begin to create what in some ways is a wholly new editorial process: the selection and production of stories in English from the best of the foreign-language press, in real time. There is much to dissect, much to learn, and it will of course be a topic for future posts. In the meantime, both the day-in, day-out journalism we are doing and the other dot-connecting to come is proof of another theorem: The quality and efficiency of the editorial side improves in direct relation to the quality and efficiency of the business and technical sides. And vice-(vice)-versa. But this is not another new law of physics: just the old, yet ever valid formula for what we still call the news business.

November 23 2010

19:02

Multiple language subtitles now available in the MediaStorm Player


We’ve been rolling out some updates to the MediaStorm Player, and one of the features we’re most excited about is the ability to show subtitles in multiple languages. The subtitles work both on our site and on the embedded version of our player.

English subtitles are available for all of our projects. Foreign translations are currently available for the following projects:

Undesired: Hindi and Spanish

Intended Consequences
: German

Black Market: German

Kingsley’s Crossing: Chinese

We’re often asked why some of our projects have forced subtitles, while others don’t. MediaStorm Producer Eric Maierson has put together a Guide to Using Subtitles that gives some insight into our thought process, and also some technical tips for creating those subtitles in Final Cut Pro.

We’re working on getting additional projects and languages online, and will be adding those as we get them finished. If you’re interested in volunteering to help us translate our projects into other languages, please let us know.

November 10 2010

15:00

Jeff Israely: An idea and a brand come together as Worldcrunch

[Jeff Israely, a Time magazine foreign correspondent in Europe, is in the planning stages of a news startup — a "new global news website." He details his experience as a new news entrepreneur at his site, but he'll occasionally be describing the startup process here at the Lab. Read his past installments here. —Josh]

This is a long overdue introduction: a kind of public christening, a chance to share with you, the reader, our vision for the future of news. Okay, you see where we’re headed: this post is all about marketing. Sixteen months after secretly banging out my first PowerPoint business plan, nine months of blog posts delving into every twist and turn of my digital news startup except what the damn thing was — I am hereby beginning the rollout.

But first, one last hedge. Up until now, the motivations for these pieces for the Lab have varied: trying to figure out where I fit in to this transforming industry; sharing the daily ins and outs/ups and downs of Old Media Guy launching New Media Thing; a public search for my writing voice on new platforms and in the new role of would-be startup business dude. On that final point, I have been keenly aware of the potential benefits afforded by this space — and blogging in general — in the attention it might generate when (and if) my project got off the ground. It is an expression of that sometimes uncomfortable truth about the 21st-century journalist: that we can no longer shy away from the nitty-gritty of promoting, selling, marketing each piece of editorial output we produce and the building of each of our respective personal brands as the best way to increase the chances that we may continue (or begin) doing the actual newsbiz work we originally set out to do.

And so here, just this once, let me set aside the personal exploration and entrepreneurial and journalistic “processes,” and focus solely on product: a mini/soft/pre-launch and presentation of our company’s core concept, our big ambitions, our brand. I won’t go into detail here about our plans for actually executing what we set out to do, though that is perhaps the most difficult and decisive of all topics. Once we’re up and running live, we will see together how that execution is proceeding, both in the back office and on the front page. But first: throat clear….drumroll!….spotlight!!

What we do

How do you cover the world — the most sprawling and variegated and expensive beat of them all? Where do you turn to find the fresh new stories and voices that break through all the inevitable chattering and cannibalizing around this or that single news event that only the wires or The New York Times have managed to chronicle? Where is the existing, untapped potential for on-the-ground journalism that is more than just a lucky tweet? Might there be a shortcut to quality content? Real, worldwide scoops? Though ours is just one part of the solution to covering the global beat, we believe it is strong on simplicity and economy and immediate impact: The professional (and participatory) selection and translation of the best, most relevant stories in the foreign-language media.

This new idea, of course, is not brand new. There is much interesting already happening now around online translation of news and information: Global Voices’ coverage of international bloggers, Meedan’s innovative Arabic-English online current-events dialogue, Café Babel’s and Presseurope’s multilingual European coverage, Worldmeets.us’s global viewpoints on American policy, Der Spiegel’s English-language website. But the quest for a commercially viable digital formula around the top names in global journalism is indeed something new. And, we think, rich in potential.

The roots of the model can be found in Courrier International, a successful general interest weekly launched 20 years ago in France, and has been taken up by others, including my good friends at Internazionale in Rome, Forum in Warsaw and Courrier Japon in Tokyo. Indeed, we are exploring a range of possibilities in partnering with Courrier, which is just a Paris Métro ride away from our home offices. We have much to learn from what they’ve been doing in print, including questions of selection and translation and copyright. And some day, they may have something to learn about what kind of journalistic and business opportunities we can create by applying this formula digitally, and in the real-time news cycle of the Internet. Indeed, partnerships will be key to executing what we will be doing. More on that in a future post.

Where we are

Unlike Courrier International — or World Press Review, a high-brow New York-based monthly that survives as an online forum for global opinion — we are being born as a live news source in the digital space. This will permeate everything we do. But the technology (like the traditions) must serve the journalism, not be an end in itself. Frédéric Bonelli, one of our first investors, describes the media world right now as being “like Europe after World War II“: a mixed landscape of ruins, reconstruction efforts, old institutions trying to salvage their standing, and ambitious new players, some with true vision, others just looking to exploit the confusion. As a company that is both global and agile, we hope we can fit somewhere in the “vision” camp, aware of the words of Jay Rosen, who declared in a September speech here in Paris that “the struggle for the next press is an international thing.” Mais oui, monsieur!

What’s our name?

Way back in December 2009, when my Danish-born, Rome-based web designer friend Annie Skovgaard Christiansen agreed to create the demo site for the project, she casually said, “Okay — but I can’t start until you tell me the name.” Panic. There was a working name attached to my working biz plan, but it was both mediocre and unavailable as a URL. So the next 48 hours, I spent wracking my brain, harassing friends and colleagues, getting to know goDaddy. It had to be punchy, global…and available as .com for the standard $8.99 rate! The good names were all taken, and those not yet taken, weren’t quite good enough. Until…hmm…that’s not bad…probably not available? Let me see…yes! The feedback ever since — colleagues, friends, potential partners and investors — has been about as positive as you could hope for (though my ownDaddy said it sounded like breakfast cereal). So the URL nabbed back in late December has stuck as our website’s name, our company’s brand. And if we do the rest of our job well, we hope it sticks in your brain as a mark of quality international news: Worldcrunch.

One last bit of bald marketing: Please sign up for updates on our launch, as we continue with our alpha testing and building our team (and continuing our fundraising). We also have Twitter and Facebook pages. And though my business partner Irene is opposed, one day the Worldcrunch coffee mugs will arrive as well!

And finally, the brand needs a slogan, or what I’ve since discovered is referred to as a baseline. It came to me just a few weeks ago, as I swam my laps. Maybe you once heard it in j-school? Or at your first newspaper job? They say “All news is local.” Of course it is. The county hospital’s response to national health care reform, the school board budget deliberations, and the new stop sign installed around the corner must get covered because they affect the lives of you, the reader. But for the same reasons, we must keep up with the latest news from Peshawar or Pyongyang, China, Chile, and Chicago too, to say nothing of this autumn’s harvest in Bordeaux. What happens there matters here. All news indeed is local. We just say it differently here at Worldcrunch: All News is Global.

September 14 2010

20:07

English-Language Content a Boon to SochiReporter in Russia

On Monday, September 27, SochiReporter will begin publishing in English.

From that point on, every Monday will see us publish new exclusive stories about ongoing preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and about life in four of the Big Sochi main areas: Central Sochi, Adler, Khosta and Lazarevskoye. (We will be translating the Russian posts submitted by our citizen journalists.)

Vancouver Test Case

As I previously wrote on Idea Lab, we began testing an English version of SochiReporter during the Vancouver Olympics. We then hired Yuliya Talmazan, a Russian-speaker from Vancouver who worked as an editor at NowPublic, to cover the Olympics for us. We wanted to see what English content would do for our traffic. Simply put, it had a significant effect, driving our traffic up over 300 percent.

Yes, those weeks in February were a hot time for anything Olympics-related. Thousands of people were surfing the web looking for the information about the Games. Our headlines were crafted and customized according to SEO principles in order to attract that traffic and deliver news about what was going on in Vancouver with the Russian team.

We are currently in the process of translating content for our English version, as August and September saw the significant rise in the number of posts at SochiReporter. What makes me especially happy is that the journalistic quality of stories has improved -- that's partly why I made the decision to start translating into English. At first, we will translate about 60 to 70 percent of every post in order to convey the core idea of the story.

SochiReporter.Ru Posts

We're very happy with how the posts on our site are starting to evolve. To give just a few examples, we've received a story about the public hearings related to the reconstruction of the Sochi embankment; the transformation and rebuilding of one of the city's main hotels; the opening of a new center that will provide municipal services to the citizens of Sochi; the creation of an open-air fitness club; a mini-golf championship in Sochi; the arrival of new wolves at the nature reserve; and the start of an around-the-world voyage of a famous sailor and an honored citizen of Sochi and Newport, R.I., Victor Yazikov; and many, many more.

Another interesting story was about Sochi residents who were collecting the clothes and other donations for residents of central Russian towns who lost their houses in the fierce summer peat fires.

All of these stories inspired discussion at SochiReporter.Ru.

July 26 2010

16:24

The Need for Cultural Translation with Community Media

The TED talk of Ethan Zuckerman, the founder of the international blogging site Global Voices, provides amazing insight into the challenges of telling international stories online. It's told in the great TED way of painting lots of pictures and using a ton of anecdotes.

Zuckerman said it's a big myth that the web is bringing us closer to other cultures or countries -- when we're on the web, we're basically in our own small islands of our social networks. Most of us who are building businesses/non-profits around non-traditional media content know this, but he has some great PowerPoint slides that add a lot of meat to the arguments. Give it a look:

Cultural DJs

In addition to providing some very telling facts -- did you know that "Madagascar" the movie is a bigger brand than Madagascar the country? -- he talks about translation. And not just the challenges of literal translation from one language to another, which is something Video Volunteers faces in our work all the time, especially now when we have community video correspondents working in nearly every state of India, a country with dozens of official languages. He talks about "cultural translation." He makes the point that we need more "DJs ... skilled human curators" who can speak the language of the West and of other cultures at the same time.

The incredible editors at Global Voices fit that bill, and so does the blog Afrigadget. Video Volunteers attempt to do this, too, in the articles that accompany the online videos made by our community correspondents in our new IndiaUnheard community news network.

This is really interesting to me because at Video Volunteers we talk a lot about the need for "unmediated" voices -- essentially, voices that are not culturally translated. This is one of the differences between community video, which to us means equipping traditionally "unheard" communities to tell their stories in their own words, and documentary film, where a professional uses his or her artistry and insight to translate community voices for outside audiences.

At VV, we believe, in fact, that so much is lost in translation that you want to keep "cultural translation" to a minimum. And so, with our newly launched IndiaUnheard community news network, we want to bring voices out voices in their raw form. As my partner Stalin K. often says, "if I say the words 'Masai warrior' you get an immediate visual in your head. You don't, in a similar fashion, hear their voices in your head."

We know from TV what the Masai look like. But we don't know what they sound like, because in traditional National Geographic-type media, we just see the Masai with a narration; their whole culture, never mind their language, is translated for an international audience.

There are real limits to the possibilities for translation. As I heard Zuckerman himself say at a Civic Media conference, it's hard enough to find cultural translators for English to other cultures. But what about all the learning that could happen between the readers of, say, Kurdish media in New York City and Haitian media in New York City? How is that translation going to happen? I don't know that we could ever have enough translators to solve that problem.

Two Videos to Watch

So how do we get people to watch -- rather, to want to watch -- videos like these two posted below, made by our IndiaUnheard correspondents? If the world had an ideal system for enabling the poor to represent themselves in the media, which I would say is something like one community journalist per village (or even per 20 villages), how would we interest people outside those villages to watch this content? Here are two recent videos to check out and see what you think:

Children Carry Trash, Not Books shows how children of poor families do not benefit from the current schemes on compulsory free education. The video is produced by Pratibha Rolta, a community correspondent from the mountain state of Himachal Pradesh, who works as an activist on women's issues.

The second video, titled Children Denied Education, captures the plight of child labourers in Haryana's brick kilns who are deprived of several rights, including education. The correspondent here, Satyawan, was a Sarpanch (village head) for five long years before joining IndiaUnheard, and has in-depth knowledge of corruption within the local administration.

Besides our own website and within the communities where the producers work (where most of our work is shown) there are some forums for videos like this. I showed these two videos two weeks ago as a panelist at the IFP/UN-sponsored ENVISION 2010: Addressing Global Issues through Documentaries, an event organized by the IFP, UN Communications Department, and New York Times. This was a one day conference on education and documentary films and, happily, there was space for user-created content.

A few years ago there probably wouldn't have been. I was on a panel about the impact of user-generated media, along with with Mallika Dutt of Breakthrough, John Kennedy of World Without Borders and Ryan Schlieff of Witness -- all good friends in the field of media and human rights. People in the world of documentary film, or in the UN sector with its huge budgets for traditional communications, were getting a taste of what's possible when you turn the camera over to communities. This is progress towards the acceptance of these voices.

More Global Than Ever

With our work, I take a long term perspective. (Wanting every village in the world to have someone skilled and motivated to represent his neighbors' concerns in the media kind of requires that!) I think that media preferences are not fixed in stone. What Americans liked on TV and in the movies in the fifties is different from what we liked in the seventies and today. Who knows where people's tastes will be twenty years from now?

I'm an optimist. I think we will only get more global and more curious, and more open to raw, unfiltered reality. I believe there are even studies that show that kids today who've grown up with mashups and social networks are much more open to gritty media that their parents wouldn't look at.

In the meantime, we keep telling our correspondents to tell their stories in their own words, with their own style, their own analysis -- no matter how challenging it may be for outsiders to understand without translation.

July 12 2010

19:53

Ushahidi Racking up Downloads, Available in New Languages

The Ushahidi platform's growing use has been astounding to say the least. The platform has been download almost 4,000 times. On top of that, our mobile applications (including the Android Oil Spill reporter by Henry Addo) have been downloaded more than 3,700 times.

As an organization that is barely three years old, it is encouraging to see adoption of the platform in various countries and for diverse uses. Be it election monitoring in Burundi, Snowmaggedon in D.C., or preventing forest forest fires in Italy, it is very encouraging to the development team to see people around the world using the platform to solve local problems. That is the beauty of open source software -- it allows for greater customization and localization.

Wide Range of Deployments

One of the early adopters of the Ushahidi technology was Oscar Salazar and the team behind Cuidesmos el Voto; they translated the platform into Spanish. This was huge for Ushahidi and for Latin America. Since then we have seen many deployments by organizations like Elecciones Transparentes in Colombia, Eleitor 2010 in Brazil and the Chile Map that utilizes the Spanish language files that Salazar and his team helped translate. (Eleitor 2010 translated the platform into Portuguese).

On mobile phones, Pablo Destefanis and his team translated and customized the Ushahidi Windows Mobile app created by Dale Zak to map crime in El Salvador. This is amazing: An app created by a Canadian software developer is associated with a platform that originated in Kenya and is being used in El Salvador.

ushahidi_worldwide

Multiple Translations for Download

While all of this was happening, there was also a partial translation of the platform into Swahili. We realized that the projects in Kenya really needed a Swahili version of the platform to encourage participation and outreach whenever an organization used the platform. We reached out to the developers in Kenya who could help, and Ahmed Maawy stepped up to the plate.

The language files will be checked into Github and made available in the next version of Ushahidi. Thank you very much Ahmed for translating this -- it will be a great help to organizations deploying the platform in East Africa.

DSC_0060

Ahmed is the gentleman in the middle. Picture was taken at a recent Developer Meetup in Nairobi's ihub.

If you would like to download the Swahili language files directly, go ahead and click on this link: i18n_swa.zip. We also have the Polish, Russian and Chinese translations available for those who are interested.

Thank you to Kuba of Shipyard and Jakub Górnicki for the Polish translation, to Altynbek Ismailov of SaveKG in Kyrgyzstan and Gregory Asmolov at the Berkman Center at Harvard for the Russian version of the platform.

If you would like to help translate Ushahidi into your language, please email us at translation[at]Ushahidi dot-com. Meanwhile, watch out for the next version of Ushahidi, which will have some cool new features and the expanded plugin architecture.

June 25 2010

14:00

The Wikipedia of news translation: Yeeyan.org’s volunteer community

BEIJING — Yeeyan.org has 150,000 registered users, who collectively translate 50 to 100 news articles every day from English to Chinese. Since its inception in 2006, the site has grown into a key gateway for Chinese speakers who want to follow international news. It has been so successful that it has attracted the attention of major news sources like The Guardian and ReadWriteWeb — and also the Chinese government, which abruptly shut Yeeyan down last year for several months.

But this is not a story about China. I believe that Yeeyan is pioneering cost-effective solutions to a major global problem: the ghettoization of information by language. This is a change with potentially far-reaching implications for journalism. I met Kitty Wang, the vice general manager, and Walter Wang, Yeeyan’s community manager (no relation), in a Beijing cafe and asked them to explain to me how Yeeyan works, from technological, social, and business perspectives.

The name Yeeyan derives from the Chinese characters 译 (yi) and 言 (yan), which together mean something like “translate the information,” and Kitty and Walter told me that the site’s primary aim is to increase the flow of information between cultures. Yeeyan.org looks like a news site, with headlining photos and editor-selected hot stories on the front page. (English readers can check out the Google translation.) Stories are arranged into typical sections such as business, sports, technology, and life. The difference is that all of the Chinese-language material on the site has been translated from English sources by members of the Yeeyan community, almost always for free.

The success of the site in producing a continual stream of translations — over 60,000 so far — is the result of careful community management and well-designed social features. And it’s a model that seems like it could be replicated for other languages.

Putting the community to work

Aside from reading stories, users can perform two basic actions: recommend a story or a URL for translation, or translate a recommended story. All visitors to the site are readers, many are recommenders, and only a few thousand — a couple percent — actually create translations. That turns out to be enough, but Yeeyan’s existence depends on getting people to translate.

The site’s design encourages participation in a number of different ways. The front page prominently displays a staff-curated selection of recommended but as-yet-untranslated articles. Users can create “projects,” collections of articles around a specific topic, such as “foreign affairs,” “film lovers,” or “Toyota recall,” and active topics are featured on the front page. Each user has a profile which shows a history of their recommendations and completed translations, and a number of typical social networking features are supported, such as comments on articles and messages between users.

Yeeyan has also recently adopted a badge system, to encourage both participation and quality. There are automatically awarded badges for things like “most translations this week” and “most comments this week,” as well as a series of overall “levels” that users can attain by translating and commenting. Kitty says participation has shot up since the introduction of these incentives.

“Amazing ah?” says Kitty. “Even this little thing can intrigue passion.” As Napoleon once said, a soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.

But clever software can never replace the involvement of human community managers. Yeeyan’s staff must read each translation before it is posted to ensure that it does not violate government taboos on reporting. (Since reopening in January, Yeeyan has dropped its “current events” category and now avoids all overtly political news, including stories from erstwhile partner The Guardian.) All websites in China are required to self-censor in this manner, but Yeeyan also takes this opportunity to interact with its translators.

“We are the first readers, so we comment first, we encourage users first, we proofread first,” says Kitty. “Those are all important to build up [the] community phenomenon.”

Participation over quality

Kitty told me that there had been much early discussion over whether the site should publish only “good” translations, but in the end they decided that “the gate should be opened to everyone.” Part of their strategy is to encourage readers to become translators. Beginning translators tend to produce rough texts and make many mistakes, says Kitty, but “it is cruel if we don’t even provide a chance.” The policy occasionally drives good translators away from the site, but the Yeeyan team sees translator training as an important part of their social mission.

Nonetheless, Yeeyan has recently debuted a proofreading feature. The original text and a user translation are displayed side by side, and the proofreader can comment on each paragraph. Participation is encouraged by awarding badges for proofreading.

Copyright and the business

Under international law, permission from the copyright holder is generally required to create or publish a translation. By publishing user-supplied translations of arbitrary news material, Yeeyan creates a public good in a legally dubious fashion. But it’s worth remembering that many of the vital information services we now take for granted began on similarly vague principles. The web search engine could not exist without wholesale duplication of the entire web onto local servers, a move which was by no means obviously legal when the first commercial search engines appeared — and which some news organizations still aren’t sure about. The legality of Google scanning books is similarly being challenged.

Even so, Yeeyan is actively seeking agreements with copyright holders to create and publish translations of their work. “We do not want to use content for business illegally, but how to get authorization is a big problem,” Kitty said. “That’s why we are trying to talk to [copyright holders] to have win-win-win business model.”

The three parties in “win-win-win” are the content producer, Yeeyan, and the translator. Yeeyan has just such an agreement with ReadWriteWeb. All RWW articles are translated by a paid freelancer and posted on rwwchina.com, with the ad revenue split between Yeeyan and RWW.

Yeeyan is reluctant to put too much advertising on the main site, both because of the legal questions raised by commercial use of translations and for fear of alienating its all-volunteer community. But there’s money to be made offline if you have access to a huge pool of translation talent, and connections to publishers on both sides of the language divide. Yeeyan hopes to make its money out of brokering translations for foreign firms eager to enter the Chinese market, both online and offline. The company already handles the Chinese language versions of Men’s Health and several other magazines and has brokered more than 20 book deals. Translators are drawn from the best of Yeeyan’s volunteer talent pool. As an incentive to reach professional proficiency, translators who have earned the “Level 4″ badge can apply to be Yeeyan partners. If approved, these skilled translators get the “Partner” badge, plus 3 RMB for every 1,000 views of their translated articles — and possibly a translation job offer later.

Journalism in an era of cheap translation

Yeeyan’s success raises broader questions for journalists and journalism. First, could the model be replicated? Could, say, the Associated Press cultivate a community that actively translated their reporting into other languages? I don’t see why not, though any organization that tried this would need a deep understanding of “community” and everything that implies — and deliver such an obvious public good that thousands of people would be willing to volunteer their time. The business model might also be different, but I can think of a number of ways to monetize a pool of translators and an audience eager for foreign-language news.

But suppose that a news organization was able to deliver a substantial amount of content to foreign-language audiences for very little cost, through communities like Yeeyan, or machine translation, or a combination of the two as in the hybrid World Wide Lexicon project. Such translations would not be up to professional quality initially — if ever — and publishers may be hesitant to endorse error-prone representations of their work. But asking about absolute accuracy and brand dilution misses the point — it’s like critiquing Wikipedia for its (improving) accuracy without discussing the net benefit to humanity. How would cheap translation change foreign reporting, and the very concept of international news? It’s a question which will soon be forced upon the profession by rising technological tides.

For the curious, and because I have repeatedly advocated that reporters make available their full source material, here’s a transcript of my followup IM chats with Kitty. In it we discuss further details of the site’s origin and operations, and their experience with the Chinese censors.

June 16 2010

14:00

Gooooooooaaaal, in any language: Boston Globe uses Google Translate to expand its soccer blog’s reach

How do you make the most of World Cup fever? If you’re the Boston Globe, you think…well, globally. Boston.com’s soccer blog, Corner Kicks, has integrated Google Translate into its user interface: click a button, select a language — from Afrikaans and Azerbaijani to Welsh and Yiddish — and the blog’s text will be translated for you, instantly.

For example, in Spanish:

The insta-translation is one way to extend the blog’s — and, by extension, the newspaper’s — reach, says David Beard, Boston.com’s editor. “I love it,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for us to bring people into the tent.”

A polyglot blog, Beard points out, allows the Globe to leverage both depth and breadth: to find new audiences both in local communities and around the world. The fact that Corner Kicks can now, with essentially a single click, be translated into Spanish means not only that the Globe can easily reach new readers in Spain or Mexico or the Philippines…but also that it can reach new readers in Lawrence, the Boston-area town with a large community of Spanish speakers. Same deal with Portuguese and Framingham. Same deal with Vietnamese and downtown Boston.

That said, the automated translation service — though steadily improving — isn’t perfect. To integrate Google Translate is to integrate an experimental feature on the Globe website. And that’s “going to rub some people the wrong way on the perfectionist-slash-iteration divide in American newsrooms,” Beard allows. As he put it in an editor’s note introducing the new feature:

To our readers,

We’ve added a translation feature to the Corner Kicks blog to assist readers who may be more comfortable reading another language.

Google Translate is not perfect — we’re aware of that — but it is quite good at getting the main points of the story across. We’ve successfully used it on The Big Picture, Boston.com’s extremely popular world photography site. I’d be eager to hear your feedback on its use in Corner Kicks, in whatever language.

David Beard, Editor, Boston.com
beard@boston.com

Still, though, the translation is “fairly good, I think,” Beard points out — at least for many of the languages most relevant to the Boston area. (Beard is fluent in Spanish, and speaks some Portuguese.) And besides, its integration ultimately “allows a greater number of people access to our content.”

And that fact alone, from both the business and editorial perspectives, is vuvuzela-worthy.

November 23 2009

12:32

WiserTongues: WiserEarth goes Multi-lingual

Do you speak a language that isn't English?  Do you have a passion for multi-lingual social justice?  If so (or even if not) this is the opportunity for you.

Wiser Earth is a nonprofit and social justice community that includes members from around the world.  However, they are now seeking to expand their resources to support the huge number of non-English speakers who use to WiserEarth so they can become a more effective global resource.  They hope to encourage their members to use WiserEarth in their own language.  How to make this happen?  Well, the good news is, you can help!

read more

November 11 2009

20:18

Model for a 21st Century Newsroom – in Spanish

In April Maxim Salomatin translated the Model for a 21st Century Newsroom series into Russian. Now Maura Accurso has translated it into Spanish. All 6 parts, which make up around 10,000 or so words. It’s an incredible feat, and I’m enormously grateful.

News Diamond in Spanish

So, here they are, part by part:

  1. Part 1: The News Diamond – http://tejiendo-redes.com/2009/09/02/el-diamante-de-noticias-modelo-para-la-redaccion-del-siglo-xx1-1ra-parte/
  2. Part 2: Distributed Journalism – http://tejiendo-redes.com/2009/09/07/periodismo-distribuido-modelo-para-la-redaccion-del-siglo-xxi-2da-parte/
  3. Part 3: 5 Ws and a H that should come after every story – http://tejiendo-redes.com/2009/09/21/6-preguntas-que-deberian-venir-despues-de-cada-noticia-modelo-para-la-redaccion-del-siglo-xxi-3ra-parte/
  4. Part 4: News distribution in a new media age – http://tejiendo-redes.com/2009/10/06/la-distribucion-de-las-noticias-en-un-mundo-de-nuevos-medios-modelo-para-la-redaccion-del-siglo-xxi-%e2%80%93-4ta-parte/
  5. Part 5: Making money from journalism online: new media business models – http://tejiendo-redes.com/2009/11/02/ganando-plata-con-el-periodismo-modelos-de-negocio-de-los-nuevos-medios-modelo-para-la-redaccion-del-siglo-xxi-5ta-parte/
  6. Part 6: New journalists for new information – http://tejiendo-redes.com/2009/11/11/nuevos-periodistas-para-un-nuevo-flujo-de-informacion-modelo-para-la-redaccion-del-siglo-xxi-%e2%80%93-6ta-parte/

(As an aside, The Spanish Press Association approached me last year for permission to translate it too but I’ve never seen it. Perhaps they got bored after part 1… or perhaps they’re just rude. Anyway, if you’ve seen it, let me know.)

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