Drumbeat On Call: Universal Subtitles

Each week the members of the Mozilla Drumbeat Community conference call to strategize on ways to keep the web open. “Canadians, Bosnians, Britons, Californians, Mexicans, Basques and so on... We have slightly different perspectives, angles, points of view. We have different time zones, indeed, different experiences which we are eager to share. But also the same concerns. Keep - The - Web - Open.”

Most of us are so used to going online and getting the information we want, we don’t often think of what we can’t get. For me, it took a trip to Asia to wake me up to what I really knew all along - there’s a whole other Internet out there that, until translation technology catches up, I can’t access. If you’ve ever used a translation website, you know how awkward the results can be. That situation is only compounded with video where no adequate search mechanism yet exists.

If you speak English, you might think that you have quite enough Internet. What would you do with more, especially video? I mean, do we really need Tickle Kitten translated to understand what is going on?

But consider people in developing countries where even one computer in a small village could make a huge difference. The problem is, developing nations don’t have a vast Internet in their own language like what we are used to having.

This week, Nicholas Reville, Executive Director of Participatory Culture Foundation (the folks who brought us Miro) introduced the Drumbeat community to his latest project - Universal Subtitling.

“The project came out of a whole bunch of conversations among PCF folks and other organizations,” informs Nicholas. “We think a lot about how to make video more open and accessible to people across cultures and the rarity of subtitles and translations for online videos puts tons of great video out of reach for all of us. Subtitles are a really tough problem and I think our approach could change the landscape because it will let people contribute subtitles and translations easily and share them across sites.”

Here’s how it would work:

In the video, Olivia is asked if she would like to contribute subtitles for videos with outstanding requests in the languages she speaks. Nicholas notes, “If a viewer decides they want to contribute subtitles for a video, a subtitling and translation interface will appear.” But it doesn’t end with Olivia. Other community members are able to improve existing subtitles, thus contributing the context that is often lacking with web-based translations. “People will be able to go into an edit mode on subtitles or translations and submit changes back into the subtitle repository.”

Nicholas’s project is a great example of what Drumbeat is all about. It’s not just advances in technology that makes the Internet better, it’s people - the capacity to create community and work together towards common goals.

Like all Drumbeaters, Nicholas has big dreams for his project. “I would love to develop the same spirit of open collaboration to make videos accessible that Wikipedia has developed for creating articles.”

The Wikipedia of video - that’s thinking big. And thinking (and DOING) big is what Drumbeat is all about.

Posted in Submitted by Gina on February 2, 2010 - 09:19.

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