Summary:

The service offers a human-powered alternative to automated translation, by creating an online clearinghouse for interpreters and web-using or smartphone-toting customers who urgently need to break down language barriers

Babelverse

Machine-driven translation is an exciting field, but let’s be honest: it doesn’t work as well as human interpreters can.

That’s the big selling point for Babelverse, an online clearinghouse for interpreters and people who urgently need stuff translated. The service has just gone into public beta, which is good timing for those who are about to go on holiday in foreign climes.

The news comes in the wake of the company’s first global experiment in January, which saw it offer live translations for President Obama’s state-of-the-union address.

What’s that you say?

“We aim to do to language barriers what the aeroplane did to geographical barriers,” is the company’s tagline. Strong stuff, and here’s how it works.

It’s part alternative to machine translation, part micro-employment platform for interpreters. Essentially, interpreters sign up to provide which ever languages they can, and make themselves available at whichever times are convenient to them.

Right now the service works best with events like the Obama address or the TNW conference, where the public beta is being launched — but the future plan is to let customers access the service through their iPhones.

Calling a local-rate number, they would then be connected to whoever’s available to help them break down the communication barrier with the person in front of them at the time.

Here’s a short video the Babelverse people put together to explain the utility:

According to an email sent out to early signers-up on Wednesday, some tweaks have been made to the service ahead of the public beta launch.

We’ve added the ability to manage your languages (inc levels, dialects & accents) and if you are an interpreter, or eager to interpret, we’ve made setting your availability very flexible, we want to give you total control over it.”

Babelverse sets its rates depending on the languages involved and the general cost of living in the interpreter’s country, and the interpreter gets a 70 percent cut.

Novice interpreters can use the platform to practice for free, while their more experienced counterparts can charge. Pros get to charge the most, naturally.

It’s a very interesting business model, albeit one that will only make sense until machine-driven translation gets where it’s going. Given that this evolution seems a way off, I’d go with the human-powered service for now.

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