On September 19, 2005 a tall, dark, and handsome Taiwanese blogger who goes by the strange name of “Portnoy” decided that he would start translating select blog posts from Global Voices into Chinese. His first translation was of a post by Indonesian blogger Enda Nasution which summed up the week’s news from Indonesia through the eyes of its bloggers. Portnoy wasn’t asked to translate the article into Chinese, and he certainly wasn’t paid for it. Nor did he have any tools or a community of fellow translators to help him out. He simply published the volunteer translation on his personal blog because he felt it was important to share the information from Global Voices across a language divide.

Portnoy was ahead of his time. Fast forward three and a half years and the number of translators on Global Voices is greater than the number of authors and editors. Our articles are regularly translated into about 20 different languages and Jer has developed an entire system within WordPress to manage and organize the translations of articles. Additionally, we are no longer alone. Meedan is translating articles and conversations about current events in the Middle East. Yeeyan serves as a hub for volunteer translators who translate between Chinese and English. And TED has had much success recruiting volunteers to translate and subtitle their videos.

Furthermore, a number of open source programmers have begun developing tools to serve this ever-expanding group of volunteer translators. Those tools must also compete with proprietary tools like Google’s new Translator Toolkit, which was recently used by volunteers at Effat University in Saudi Arabia to translate over 100,000 words from the English Wikipedia into Arabic.

Aspriation Tech, an NGO based in San Francisco, invited a number of translators, programmers, and publishers to Amsterdam last week to discuss how the social translation movement can be made more efficient, sustainable, and fun. 🙂 Representing Global Voices at the gathering were Solana, Leonard, Georgia, Ivan, Ethan, Silvia, Anna, Rezwan, Jer, Paula, Marc, and me. For those interested in learning more, notes from all the sessions are available on the Open Translation Tools wiki, Ethan has a nice summary blog post, photos are on Flickr, and updates are on Twitter, and more related blog posts are available here. For those of you who wish to learn more about open source translation software, a valuable guide has been published on FLOSSManuals. There is another guide about open source “video translation”. For more information about the history of Lingua, Leonard has made an excellent timeline and Chris Salzberg has done thorough academic research on the community.