Translating the web, and free language training

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Duncan1890

“How can we get 100 million people translating the web into every major language for free?”

Does this sound like a crazy question? I thought so initially, and I still have a few caveats, but I’m very impressed by the outrageous ambition of the ‘duolingo‘ initiative that follows …

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Why it makes sense to ‘Like’ and ‘Check-in’

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/pressureUA

For a long time I thought, as I believe many people still do, that ‘Liking’ posts or webpages (eg, Facebook‘s ‘Like’ button), and ‘checking-in’ at locations (eg Foursquare) were just for fun, an unnecessary novelty.

With the development of social discovery, and smarter algorithms used for advertising, it’s becoming apparent to me that there is in fact quite some value in ‘liking’ and ‘checking-in’.

Of course, many people will immediately shudder, raising privacy concerns, and concerns that it is time-consuming or frivolous (see also my post “Thoughts on privacy versus disclosure in today’s society“). These can be fair objections, but let’s investigate things a little further.

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Thoughts on Clay Shirky’s concept of “Cognitive surplus”

I recently came across various reviews and marketing for Clay Shirky’s new book ‘Cognitive surplus‘.  While deceptively simple, I love the “concept” of ‘Cognitive surplus’ – in two words it sums up intellectual and creative potential, and the question as to what we do with that.

One of the key points of Clay’s argument is the disparity between time spent watching television (‘consuming’) and time spent ‘creating’ / ‘contributing’, and the consequent waste of our intellectual and creative potential during this time (he compares the “200 billion hours spent by Americans annually watching TV“, and the “100 million hours so far invested in creating Wikipedia“).

David McCandle has a prepared a brilliant, simple visualization of this on his excellent website ‘Information is beautiful’ (which I see as a sort of artistic version of my thoughts on ‘Killer charts’, which I blogged about a while ago).

It was that graphic, sent to me in a link in an email from a friend, that prompted me into this post, and the following thoughts.

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Is the iPad Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”?

I recently read (and retweeted) the tweet above.  It made me think what has been achieved in a relatively short space of time (30 years or so, since computers began to reach the public, initially in only a very rudimentary form), and inspired me to develop those thoughts.

As @dna4ever42‘s tweet quotes Stephen Fry (in the Time magazine article ‘The iPad Launch: Can Steve Jobs Do It Again?‘), Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) likens the iPad to the encyclopedia in Douglas Adams’ brilliant ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘ (the encyclopedia being that guide), written by Adams, a close friend of Fry, in 1979.

It is indeed a shame that Adams, who Fry describes as being the first person in the UK to own an Apple Macintosh computer, isn’t able to see the iPad (Adams died of a heart attack at the age of 49 on 11 May 2001) – one can be fairly sure that he would have been excited by it.

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Is Google killing General Knowledge? Emphatically, No!

In response to an article written by Brian Cathcart in the current issue (Volume 2, Issue 4, Summer 2009) of Economist’s “Intelligent Life” magazine (which, by the way, I find to generally be a very good read). Click here for the article.

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The article purports that today’s ability to google the answer to almost any question, and have a near immediate answer, is potentially reducing the extent to which today’s society accumulates, or prides itself, in holding and increasing a broad and deep ‘general knowledge’.

Personally I see that this is in fact a misinterpretation of what Google means for our social development. It is correct that answers to more questions can be found quicker, and that one can choose to short-cut ‘knowing’ a fact, by simply ‘looking it up’, but it was always possible to look up some facts, and yet those that prided themselves in their general knowledge used the available sources to provide them with the facts.

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