The Polyglottal Internet
 
By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
 

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The Internet started off as a purely American phenomenon and seemed to perpetuate the fast-emerging dominance of the English language. A negligible minority of web sites were in other languages. Software applications were chauvinistically ill-prepared (and still are) to deal with anything but English. And the vast majority of net users were residents of the two North-American colossi, chiefly the USA.

All this started to change rapidly about two years ago. Early this year, the number of American users of the Net was surpassed by the swelling tide of European and Japanese ones. Non-English web sites are proliferating as well. The advent of the wireless Internet - more widespread outside the USA - is likely to strengthen this unmistakable trend. By 2005, certain analysts expect non-English speakers to make up to 70% of all netizens. This fragmentation of an hitherto unprecedentedly homogeneous market - presents both opportunities and costs. It is much more expensive to market in ten languages than it is in one. Everything - from e-mail to supply chains has to be re-tooled or customized.

It is easy to translate text in cyberspace. Various automated, web-based, and free applications (such as Babylon or Travlang) cater to the needs of the casual user who doesn't mind the quality of the end-result. Virtually every search engine, portal and directory offers access to these or similar services.

But straightforward translation is only one kind of solution to the tower of Babel that the Internet is bound to become.

Enter WorldWalla. A while back I used their multi-lingual e-mail application. It converted text I typed on a virtual keyboard to images (of characters). My addressees received the message in any language I selected. It was more than cool. It was liberating. Along the same vein, WorldWalla's software allows application and content developers to work in 66 languages. In their own words:

"WordWalla allows device manufacturers and application developers to meet this challenge by developing products that support any language. This simplifies testing and configuration management, accelerates time to market, lowers unit costs and allows companies to quickly and easily enter new markets and offer greater levels of personalization and customer satisfaction."

GlobalVu converts text to device-independent images. GlobalEase Web is a "Java-based multilingual text input and display engine". It includes virtual keyboards, front-end processors, and a contextual processor and text layout engine for left to right and right to left language formatting. They have versions tailored to the specifications of mobile devices.

The secret is in generating and processing images (bitmaps), compressing them and transmitting them. In a way, WordWalla generates a FACSIMILE message (the kind we receive on our fax machines) every time text is exchanged. It is transparent to both sender and receiver - and it makes a user-driven polyglottal Internet a reality.



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