Iranian Election Scandal Forces Facebook, Google to Translate Persian

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-06-19 Print this article Print

Google and Facebook have set the blogosphere afire with breathy promises of adding the Persian language, Farsi, to their list of translation services.

Farsi speakers can "translate any text from Persian into English and from English into Persian -- whether it's a news story, a Website, a blog, an e-mail, a tweet or a Facebook message," wrote Google Principal Scientist Franz Och last night.

Och said Google optimized this service for translation between Persian and English, but is working hard to improve Persian translation for the additional 40 languages available via Google Translate.

For Facebook, those users whose browsers are set to Persian should automatically see the Persian version of Facebook. To change your language into Persian, click on the "Settings" link in the upper-right corner of any page and then go to the "Language" tab.

Let me say right off the bat that I applaud any service that knocks down language barriers on the Internet, as powerful and democratizing a force in the world as there is... ironic given the current political chaos in Iran, but there it is.

Unless you're living under a rock, you know last week's supporters of candidate Mirhossein Mousavi are going apoplectic over the landslide victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Perhaps we should ask why Google and Facebook, whose search and social network services respectively encapsulate so much of the Web's traffic, waited so long to add Farsi to their translation engines. Och noted: "We feel that launching Persian is particularly important now, given ongoing events in Iran."

But ReadWriteWeb's Steve Walling noted: Adding a Persian version is a noble effort, but it's a week too late to aid in documenting the fiercest of protests, and is unlikely to shift attention either in Tehran or abroad.

Facebook's Eric Kwan was less vague about Facebook's translation move:

Since the Iranian election last week, people around the world have increasingly been sharing news and information on Facebook about the results and its aftermath. Much of the content created and shared has been in Persian--the native language of Iran--but people have had to navigate the site in English or other languages.

Allow me to translate this for you sans spin and ambiguity: Google and Facebook were losing traffic to other sites. Google and Facebook do not like losing users to other Web services, so they acted in their best interest, and if it happens to help others, then so be it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there it is.

Ultimately, does the motive matter as long as the language barriers continue to fall on the Web? I suppose not. What do you think? |

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