The recent Presidential State of the Union received special attention this week from one company, NewsHour. NewsHour asked its viewers and web followers to utilize Universal Subtitles, a free video subtitling tool on the web to translate the President’s speech in almost real time.
Tuesday night’s effort marked the beginning of “NewsHour Open Election Community 2012,” a project in partnership with Mozilla and the Participatory Culture Foundation. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has provided NewsHour with a $420,000 grant for the project, and Mozilla and PCF are matching that with a $260,000 investment.
The goal of the crowdsourced translations is to make news videos more accessible. Traditionally, video has been a completely static form of entertainment and news; You simply watch what is presented to you. Now, with this technology, it gives people ways to interact with videos that they traditionally couldn’t.
“This is the beginning phase of turning video into something people never expected,” said Hari Sreenivasan, PBS NewsHour correspondent and director of digital partnerships. “It gives viewers an opportunity to be part of spreading content to more people, and gives public media organizations a way to engage with their communities in a deep and ongoing way.”
The process is relatively simple. Users go to the NewsHour’s website, choose a video they wish to work on and then in a drop-down menu they can click on to add a new translation, improve an already existing translation, or watch the video in a different language with subtitles. If users decide to improve or add a translation, they’ll be taken to UniversalSubtitles.org, a free and open-source site that the Participatory Culture Foundation runs.
From there, they can pick which language they want to translate the video into and type their translations line by line. If the language they want to translate into isn’t one of the 205 languages listed, they can ask to add a new language. They can also choose to either translate a video in its entirety or just a portion of it.
This technology is not just applicable to translation, and in fact, can be used for many different purposes. The partnership with NewsHour will hopefully prompt other organizations to find ways to enhance how the public experiences news videos.
The opportunities for journalism are enormous, and so are how people experience video for entertainment as well. Similar to VH1’s Pop-UP Video, now we can have interactive and user-generated pop-up content. However, it remains to be seen how this technology is put to use. There is such a thing as content-overload, and as we’ve seen from website commentors, bloggers, spammers, and internet trolls, user generated content isn’t always so great.
This push for crowdsource content is nothing new either. Facebook has used crowdsourcing in the past to translate their own web content into other languages. Currently in development, Ackuna, plans to build upon the idea of translation crowdsourcing by making it convenient and simple to use by everyone.
It appears the future of translation and communication is quite literally in the hands of everyone.