VKontakte Sets Sights on English-speaking Audience, Launches NMT

VKontakte, a popular social media network in Russia and other Russian-speaking regions, has recently launched its own neural machine translation (NMT) model for translating posts on the website into English.

The Russian-language news publication TASS reported on the development on Oct. 25 (link is in Russian), noting that the NMT model was trained on open-source data. VKontakte (Russian for “In Contact”), has a predominantly Russian-speaking user base, though the company notes that it hopes to allow users to connect with a wider audience and share its “unique Russian-language content” with internet users across the world.

“Users from other countries are showing an increasing interest in the Russian-language content posted on VKontakte,” said the social media network’s technical director Aleksandr Tobol, according to TASS. “We’re taking on the global goal of breaking down communication barriers, so we will continue to invest in machine learning technology. This opens up more possibilities for people to communicate with each other.”

It should be noted that VKontakte already allowed users to access the platform in numerous different languages — including English — before launching the NMT function, but now, users can access automatic translations of posts without having to use a third-party extension like Google Translate. Currently the automatic translations are only available for posts to the platform, though Tobol noted that in the future the company plans to make automatic translations available for comments and messages as well.

According to Similarweb, VKontakte receives about 82.4% of its traffic from Russia; 92.5% of the social media network’s traffic comes from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, all of which formed part of the Soviet Union and, as such, have a large population of Russian speakers. The move appears to be an attempt to grow the platform’s user base such that it can appeal to potential users who may not be as familiar with the Russian language but are interested in learning more about Russian culture and current events.

VKontakte is often referred to as the Russian equivalent of Facebook, as the two social media platforms serve similar purposes and have a similar design. According to a report from E-commerce Nation, VKontakte’s founder, Pavel Durov, attempted to correct the errors Facebook’s team made early on in the company’s history when he was developing the social media network. With Facebook falling out of favor among many members of the U.S. public — and failing to effectively moderate multilingual content — it’s possible that social media networks like VKontakte are looking for a way to fill in the niche that Facebook has created for itself.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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