Worldwide Lexicon : Adding Collaborative Translation To Your Site

by Brian McConnell

The Worldwide Lexicon, an open source project I have led for several years, recently published a suite of collaborative translation tools that enable you or your readers to create, edit and share translations to and from almost any human language. We have been testing the system throughout the summer, and in this article I explain how you can use WWL to make your site or content accessible in many languages.

WWL applies the concept of user generated content, similar to systems like Wikipedia, to the task of creating, improving and sharing translations for texts. The system does not use machine translation, but instead relies on people. Human language demands people to comprehend it, and while machine translation has improved, even accurate machine translations are not usually enjoyable to read. The key insight in WWL is that a website that has an audience will have bilingual readers, often without knowing it. These people are both interested in and more knowledgeable about the subject matter, so some of them will be willing to translate it, whether for goodwill or for money. WWL creates a simple way for a website's readers to contribute, edit and share translations.

We began testing the system with a Word Press plug-in this summer, and have since released PHP libraries, as well as a Firefox extension. More tools are planned for release soon. The system is open source, and we are encouraging developers to embed this process in a wide range of platforms. The ultimate goal is to make collaborative translation a checkbox option on most publishing platforms, so that anyone who wants to be accessible can be. Since the release of the Word Press plug in, WWL has logged users in 107 countries representing some 50 languages, with over two-thirds of the users coming from outside the United States, suggesting a pent up demand for multilingual publishing tools.

WWL is easy to incorporate into a wide variety of web services. In this article, I'll describe how to use the different tools we've created so far, and how they can be adapted for custom use.


2007-09-16 23:36:09
The link to the PHP demo is a 404.
2007-09-17 02:22:53
This application calls itself a lexicon. It however is not. It is a framework where people can share manually translated texts.

This is in and of itself useful. However, it would only start to become useful if it were to leverage all the translation work done. To do this it needs the functionality of Computer Aided Translation tools. There are such tools that are freely licensed. Without such functionality it is a nice effort but not really hot. I would urge this project to consider CAT tools.


Ian Martinez
2007-09-17 06:28:21
This is truly great. I believe the language barrier becomes more, not less, acute as IT lowers barriers to interaction. At a professional level, or in the business world, you're going to see more invested in translation services as the stakes get higher. Meanwhile, on the user-generated content side and in the web communities you'll see an increased need for translation as more commerce and knowledge-sharing happens outside the bounds of traditional corporate, academic or government structures.

I look forward to following this.

Brian McConnell
2007-09-17 09:53:54

Some history about this project.. We originally started the Worldwide Lexicon with the goal of creating a dictionary service, and indeed, had published a spec for a REST-like interface for Internet dictionaries. The idea was to define a common interface for all dictionaries to use, and to make them all appear to be part of a single system. Hence the term "worldwide lexicon".

This never caught on for a variety of reasons, but we plan to revisit this as part of the document translation project. One of the ideas we have been exploring is to prompt translators to translate random phrases from texts, and to build translation dictionaries and translation memories using this approach. There is a lot we can do, but we can't do everything on the first try.

While the system is not a lexicon now, we may return to that soon, and in the meantime, we've had the domain name for many years.

Thanks for the feedback. - Brian

Tarun Das Bairagya
2008-06-11 13:52:07
Fun site