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News and comments on community broadband networks, the communities deploying them and the technologies that support them. Published by Denise Frey and Al Bonnyman.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2004


Power-searching the world with Google News + Babelfish

Recently I stumbled across a powerful combination of search tools I had not used before -- Google's foreign country sites combined with Alta Vista's Babelfish on-line translation service. Trying to follow up on a somewhat vaguely translated English (or should I say "Engrish"?) translation of ITOCHU's press release about its' investment in DS2, I came across what looked like (based on the URL and date) the original Japanese version. At a loss to understand it, I tried plugging the URL into Babelfish's translation page. In 5 seconds, I had a second rough Engrish translation -- enough to see some ambiguities in translation.

A check of the Google News site at turned up nothing about an ITOCHU-DS2 deal in the English language news sources Google crawls. On a whim, I tried Google's site in Spain at, clicked the "News" tab and entered DS2 and ITOCHU in the search box. Voila -- 10 recent Spanish news articles.

Google has country-specific search pages for most larger nations; to access them, just substitute the country's 2-letter domain for the '.com' in ''. For example, Google's Canadian site is, while its' Latvian site is

Going back to Babelfish, I entered in the URLs for the Spanish articles' and got rough translations -- certainly not perfect but good enough to make sense of what was going on.

Babelfish certainly isn't perfect and I hope the CIA is using real translators in their hunt for terrorists overseas, but it's opening new doors for the curious. It seems a lot better than it was when I first tried it a few years ago.

With so much happening overseas with power line broadband (especially in Spain and Chile) and fiber to the home (especially in Japan, Holland, Italy and Scandinavia) I look forward to using Babelfish more, especially as they add more languages. My wish list: Swedish, Danish, Dutch -- I'm not holding my breath for Icelandic, but conveniently FTTH pioneers there have a great site, Digital Reykjavik in English.

A final personal comment about Engrish -- even if it's sometimes funny, it's still a much better version of English than any Japanese translation I could ever attempt. It's humbling to be just another monolingual American in a world where billions speak two or more languages fluently. I'm glad my kids are getting the foreign language education I never got.


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