Google Ramps Up Translation for Websites, Firefox Toolbar, Docs

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-02

Google announced three pieces of translation-related news this week to make its Web services available in multiple languages and celebrate International Translation Day Sept. 30.

Google released a Website translator gadget to help developers render their site content in 51 languages.  

The idea is that when users visit a Website, if their language is different than that of the content on the Web page, they may click a button to translate the content into their language of choice on the fly.

Once a site owner installs the gadget, it will detect the language of a visitor by checking their Web browser for language properties. If the visitor's language is different than that of the site's language, a translation button will appear. If both the Website and visitor's browser share the same language, no translation button will appear.

Site owners need only cut and paste a code snippet into their Web page to leverage this gadget, based on automatic translation technology. Google's translator gadget came just a few hours after Facebook released its own Website translation tool for developers of its Facebook Connect service.

Google Oct. 1 added an in-page translation capability for the new version of Google Toolbar for Firefox, letting users to read a Webpage in another language by clicking a mouse button.

The moves comes one week after Google launched an upgraded Google Toolbar with Sidewiki, an annotation service that caused a bit of a store among bloggers concerned the service would hijack their comments, and ultimately, their traffic.

For the new version of the Toolbar, Google has also taken a page out of its Web search playbook by displaying Website suggestions and sponsored links when users type their queries in the toolbar. Clicking on suggested queries will take users directly to the Website.

For people who are using the new version of Firefox 3.5, Google Toolbar in Firefox has adopted the browser's Private Browsing mode feature. The toolbar will also now stop recording search box history while in Private Browsing mode. It will also turn off PageRank, Web History and Sidewiki.

Finally, Google added two new features to its Google spreadsheets applications in Google Docs that add translation and language detection capabilities to forms. Google explains how these work in a blog post here.

As a whole, these new translation features underscore how Google is really putting Google Translate to the test, but this will be a long, long process. There are thousands of languages around the world and every language has its own quirks and nuances that distinguish it from the others. Just look at Google position attaining human-quality machine translation:

"Even today's most sophisticated software... doesn't approach the fluency of a native speaker or possess the skill of a professional translator. Automatic translation is very difficult, as the meaning of words depends on the context in which they're used. While we are working on the problem, it may be some time before anyone can offer human quality translations. In the interim, we hope you find the service we provide useful for most purposes."

Machine translation is a global challenge, one that Web service providers such as Google and Facebook must tackle if they want to reach as broad a user base as possible.

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