Just nine

No one will have missed the ubiquitous English-language response to news headlining the blogosphere this week that Google’s eblogger service is being localized into nine languages. Wow!

What this actually means is that the service’s sign-in and account pages, are now available in Japanese, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, French, Italian, Spanish, German and Brazilian Portuguese. The next step will be to localize the pages containing Homepage, Login, Product Tour, Account Creation, Blog Creation, User Dashboard, and Edit User Profile.

It’s good news to potential bloggers who want to self-express in these languages, but not good enough for those speaking hundreds of other languages who want a simple online environment to write to and share comments from their communities or the world at large. What most astonishes me is how long it has taken to get this far. For an organization as powerful and rich as Google, surely the localization of an outside maximum of 5,000 words into 9 languages after “several years” of fielding its English language blog couldn’t be that hard or pricey.

As a global, language-aware technology provider, Google would have internationalized its basic blogger software right at start-up. And it has almost certainly anticipated the possibility of providing language-sourced advertising to the next generation of bloggers. Using the Yahoo groups model, for example, you might agree to finance your blog by allowing advertisers to target it automatically on the basis of the most salient words/ideas found in the blog. By opening up your language spread nine-fold (and potential punters several million fold), you then boost your advertising base. Not everyone would choose this option, of course, but since blogs are a platform for people with large mouths/egos, as well as for those virtuous few who simply want to share ideas, Google would realize that any way of attracting more readers into a given community is the name of the game.

So with the software ready and messages long stabilized, why wait? Google could even have tried tapping the enthusiasm of those who wanted blogs in ‘minority languages’ to get the job done. Think of the success of grass-roots online movements such as the Wikipedia (50 languages and rising) and indymedia in localizing reams of content fairly efficiently.

The really interesting task, though, is still ahead. According to the inexorable logic of the web, Google will eventually need to provide either a translation service for these blogs, or at least a search engine that can handle cross-lingual searching to let the linguistically challenged log the blogs. Most blog translations would probably not be worth the effort, but it would always be good for news junkies to know when someone has written something about a topic close to their heart. Just in case…

However, I presume that the ultimate market for cross-lingual access to the blogosphere might not be us Juans and Marikas of the web, but large-brand enterprises or governments snooping around to find out what’s being said about them among the unwashed masses, or trying to capture insights into ‘the next big thing’ in anything from voting trends to consumer tastes. Never forget that a technology that gives you the freedom to express your opinion can also reduce you to a small statistic in a database that others can use for their own ends.

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.


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