Meedan, a new website launched last month, will attempt to cultivate citizen diplomacy between the Middle East and the West by eliminating the language barrier, reports Wired.
Meedan, which aptly means “gathering place” or “town hall” in Arabic, is a project of a five-person non-profit, funded with grants from large foundations (e.g., Ford, MacArthur, Rockefeller, Cisco).
Visitors to the site post stories and comments on featured news stories in English or Arabic, and their text is automatically translated into the other language. Translation “status” is always clear, and Meedan also publishes the full history of each translation to the public, similar to Wikipedia.
Though Meedan uses machine translation for the first pass, one of their 107 human translators then steps in to fix and refine the translation — a step beyond services provided by Google and Yahoo. The site has 12 editors who often act as moderators in discussions.
The mission is certainly ambitious — cross-cultural understanding and tolerance between the West and the Middle East — and the site does have a long way to go. Like any online community, it will likely struggle with the challenges of moderating a discussion forum that maintains respect for differences. And though the traffic numbers are impressive, with about 500,000 visitors so far, the site has yet to go viral.
Interesting note (via The Guardian): Meedan’s translation technology partners include DotSub, GeoCommons, MakerLab, Carrot Search, and Rylander Design, but the big guns behind the project is IBM, which has given the non-profit some $3.2 million in research and development support. And although IBM’s system isn’t open source, Meedan’s translation memory data of over three million words is officially available to other translators.