By Kate Dobbertin Bernola, Communication & Collaboration Project Manager, Xerox Corporate Communications
My sophomore year college roommate was from Hong Kong. Of course, she spoke perfect English, so there was never a communication problem – until we were separated by a few continents after graduation and began connecting on Facebook. Suddenly, strings of strange characters began appearing in my newsfeed, and I felt a cultural gulf between us that had never been there before (I also began to wonder how, exactly, one types in Chinese).
But then I noticed something wonderful. When Facebook detects writing in a foreign language, it adds a tiny button at the bottom of the post: See Translation. Call me a starry-eyed idealist, but I believe this button has the power to change the world.
My role at Xerox involves helping employees communicate and collaborate with each other, primarily through platforms such as SharePoint and Yammer. Translation is a constant problem, and if either of these platforms were to enable a similar function, the impact on the business could be huge (I’ll let you use your imagination on this one). Facebook’s translations (which are provided by Bing) are far from perfect, but sometimes all you need is a rough approximation – and I’m willing to bet a smarter translator is just around the corner.
So here’s my challenge to Facebook and Bing: add another button beneath each translated segment – “Correct translation.” Sure, you might get a few thousand comments from smart alecs, but I’ll bet millions would jump at the opportunity to help you improve the translator. Free data for you, smarter translation for everybody else. Businesses would benefit (fewer requests for translation results in less marketing spend), social media would benefit (more communication = more eyeballs = more ad sales), and the world might just become a better place to live. After all, our opinions of other cultures and value systems can be drastically altered simply by interacting with them. Cue Dionne Warwick.