Now that we’ve gone over the basics of open source software and open content, let’s take a closer look at what brought all of the participants together in Croatia: translation.

I normally flinch at the word ‘movement’, but I’ll make an exception here: the open source software and open content movements are incredibly international. Ubuntu, the most popular distribution of the Linux operating system was packaged and released in Africa. It is used by millions of individuals and groups across the world. Microsoft Windows is available in 24 different languages – Ubuntu in over 200. If you are a Xhosa wanting a computer that works in your native language, there is only one option – you must go open source.

Likewise, the free culture/open content movement is (not surprisingly) strongest outside of the US. Some of the most outstanding open content comes from Brazil and right here in Eastern Europe. Creators of both open software and open content want to see their work spread widely. Once you make a great Internet browser or a great short film you want it to be made available to the entire world. And that means translating it into as many languages as possible. Lo Qué tú quiras oír is one of my favorite short films in any language. Unfortunately, it is only available in Spanish so I’m not able to share it with my friends who don’t speak Spanish. However, because the director Guillermo Zapata released the film under an attribution, share-alike, non-commercial Creative Commons license, I can download the movie from Internet Archive, add English subtitles to it, and upload it to my own site so long as I give Guillermo credit, don’t make any money off of it, and publish it under the same license. (And, yes, I do plan on doing this as soon as I find a few hours.)

Content, be it video, audio, text, or photography, reveals both the universality of what it is to be human as well as the distinct differences between each culture, country, neighborhood, and family. We can all relate to the suffering of the protagonist of Lo Qué tú quiras oír. We’ve all been heartbroken. We’ve all tortured ourselves to try to find the secrets of moving on. Unfortunately though, the barrier of language often obstructs the obviousness of just how much we have in common and instead exacerbates our subtle differences.

While the American publishing industry continues to increasingly ignore works of translation, and while foreign films are still more of an acting-out of identity (leather boots, vintage jeans, beret) than an appreciation of good film, new tools and new media now present us with what could be the golden age of multilingual content and communication.

Until this meeting, there was little documentation and knowledge-sharing between the various translation groups in the open content/ open software movement. Who translates WordPress to make it available in so many languages? And how do they do it? Why are so many volunteers compelled to translate Global Voices’ content for free? What is their workflow? Could we all make our individual translations better by working together?

In the next and final post, I’ll take a look at what tools already exist to assist in the translation of both software and content. I’ll also examine some of the most common obstacles that prevent a smooth workflow for translators. And finally, I’ll look ahead to a few new tools and projects that aim to make life easier for translators.

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