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Business - Written by on Monday, May 18, 2009 12:15 - 0 Comments

The TED Open Translation Project

TED talks are some of the richest discussions showcased on the Internet, led by world experts in Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The breadth and wealth of their video library makes it possible to simply browse to the site, poke your head around, and spend the next several hours enthralled in some thought provoking discussion … if you can understand it. The talks take place in English, meaning that, in the past, if you didn’t speak English, you may not have been able to share in the learning. All of that has changed over the last year, as TED worked to develop the TED Open Translation Project, which aims to make its full video library accessible to the  non-English speaking world, by providing access to subtitles and interactive transcripts on every  single video.


There’s a couple really neat elements to this. First, the majority of all translations in this project are staffed by volunteers…

These volunteers have doubtless, seen a particular video and thought, “I want to help share this with the world.” Currently there are video translations in over 40 languages, and more than 1100 volunteer translators. All translations are peer-reviewed for accuracy, and are expected to follow a style guide for consistency across video translations. From an incentive perspective, volunteers are provided with recognition for their work, and can even create translator profiles in order to build up a TED identity, where their contributions are tracked. This is an entirely sustainable project because the workforce/volunteers benefit from getting involved, and this involvement is made easy using technology that simplifies the process. Benefits include the inherent satisfaction from translating a video discussion you’re interested in, as well as the professional reward of contributing to the well known and esteemed TED community.

What impresses me about this project, is not just the scope, but the way in which it uses technology in a simple and effective way to help so many people across the world. From a technical standpoint, here is what is in TED’s first May release (from the TED website):

Along with subtitles, every talk on TED.com now features a time-coded, interactive transcript, which allows users to select any phrase and have the video play from that point. The transcripts are fully indexable by search engines, exposing previously inaccessible content within the talks themselves. For example, searching on Google for “green roof” will ultimately help you find the moment in architect William McDonough’s talk when he discusses Ford’s River Rouge plant, and also the moment in Majora Carter’s talk when she speaks of her green roof project in the South Bronx. Transcripts will index in all available languages.

The initial launch incorporates:

  • Subtitles on every talk (available in English and any translated language)
  • Interactive transcript (available in English and any translated language)
  • Language-specific index pages featuring all the talks translated in that language
  • Translations for headlines and talk descriptions
  • The Translator Dashboard, allowing a bird’s-eye view on talks available for translation or review
  • My Translations: a personalized page within each translator’s member profiles that shows the translations to which a translator has contributed
  • Ability to sync user accounts between TED and dotSUB, allowing seamless transfer of data for translators

Perhaps what I like most about this project, is that TED is only the beginning – this ‘opening up’ of the world’s knowledge can only gain momentum and spread in other applicable settings. My colleague, Daniela Kortan, recently discussed Academic Earth in the context of a discussion on how the model for learning is changing. Academic Earth and other similar offerings can look to what TED is doing here, and say “that is the way, this is the direction for the future, so that we too can more effectively share our knowledge.” As we in society begin to better equip people with the tools to more effectively learn, more and more people will gain access to the same wealth of knowledge, inspiration, and a world-changing resource – information. Because, as we all know, knowledge is power.

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