Translation Swarm Alert: Meedan

by Translation Guy on February 26, 2010

I’m trying to wrap my head around this: Meedan is a news site that translates from Arabic to English and back automatically using machine translation, with easy upgrade to human accuracy using a team of free-service translators. Now remember, we don’t call these folks “community translators” on this blog; they are “hobby translators.” But to give credit where credit is due, these guys have put their reputations on the line in a community designed to bridge the translation gap between Arabic and English — but not for money…world peace perhaps? There certainly is a crying need for more translation in this language pair.

This lack of translation between Arabic and English has been a problem for years — something like 4000 books per year. Anyway, the flow of cross-linguistic info has been low considering the global importance of English and the number of Arabic speakers in the world.

So Meedan utilizes a machine translation to drive a bilingual interface for the free flow of information. The Arabic word ‘meedan’ — ميدان — means ‘town square’ or ‘gathering place.’

Sponsors say that Meedan is a digital town square where you can discuss and share Middle Eastern news with people from outside your language community.

Everything that appears on is mirrored in Arabic and English — whether it’s the headlines you read, the comments you post, or the articles you share.

This pitch has several tines…
Get another perspective; share opinions; talk to people from other cultures.
Comments are threaded so you can reply to the main thread or to an individual post, with the latest comment on top. You can also see the Arabic translation if you want to see how your words are being viewed by Arabic speakers.

And if you want to take conversations private — you can. Meedan allows you to make friends and send private messages.

You can also subscribe to an event that interests you, so that you’re notified every time a new comment or link is added. Notifications are all housed on your personal profile page.

So that’s interesting and noble — and someone else is paying for it! The cynic sitting on my left shoulder is whispering that it sounds too well-intentioned to work the way it is intended to. On the other hand, is it just me, or have people on the internet become more polite and helpful? We seem to be forming these online communities where people are as respectful and well-intentioned as they are in our press-the-flesh networks.

Anyway, I’ve checked the site out and made a beeline to the trashiest story on it — that of the Saudi prince who killed his manservant, who apparently slept at the foot of the prince’s bed. I’m not sure how else I would have found that important bit of information. Ever since I phoned in my first story from a phone booth, I’ve loved that kind of city news. So it’s a great way for ex-newshounds to kill time. Perhaps you will be equally fascinated. A very interesting and admirable effort.


  1. Sam Berner says:

    This lack of translation between Arabic and English has been a problem for years — something like 4000 books per year.

    Where did you get this info from?

    Many more books get “translated” (or plagiarised) without the west being even aware of it. And the Arab world has hundreds of its own good writers, so translationis really just a supplement.

    More books get translated from English into Arabic than there are from Arabic into English, because there is a lack of interest in the English-speaking West about Arab writers, and publishers are not willing to take the risk. What ends being translated is not what an Arab reader would view as literature, really – the erotic, the socially outrageous, etc. The translation of Naguib Mahfouz was a fluke based on Noble, and the translation is rather poor and sanitised.

    Now, to Meedan. There are hundreds of thousands of translators around. Translation is a profession, and although I applaud volunteering, I don’t think it is right to slave for free. Think this way – Meedan could have had enough sponsors to be able to pay their translators. Quality is usually better when you have people whose living depends on it.

    My 2 pence!

  2. Hi!
    is this downloadable on a website?
    I provide Arabic and other langauges translation services.
    Being an Arabic translator myself, I think this could be useful.
    Please, let me know if this has a link that I can insert in the text of my website:

  3. Zolo says:

    So in a sense this is also a hybrid social network. Interesting how social media is bridging the language barrier and infaltrating the translation spce as well..get on the gracy train I guess..

  4. Rooney Quinn says:

    I agree with you Sam, very eloquently put.

  5. Nice of you to allow an obvious post from a competitor to stay up on the blog Ken. I guess, in theory, there is an alturistic approach to this. Furthermore, the plug is very relevant to the conversation :-)

  6. Mike Dwildy says:

    I think this is interesting as well – waiting for Arabic SEO:

    • Ken says:

      Mike’s citation reports that Arabic is under-represented on the Web too. Arabic morphology, (limited number of root words with tons of prefixes and suffixes, makes search trickier. That’s got to have some impact on Arabic-speaking search habits. Thanks, Mike.

  7. Supposedly, Deception Point by Dan Brown was translated into Arabic and was hacked to peices

  8. I heard something about Arabic translation. translation for the Jolly Green Giant into Arabic didn’t go as well as it could – it was made into ‘Intimidating Green Monster’, which would hardly endear the brand to consumers. Amazing!

  9. Buddy says:

    Can anyone help me finish this translation from English into Lebanese Arabic with English characters, no glottal stops, etc. Thanks so much! I’m glad I found this blog–everyone seems so wonderful!

  10. Indendose says:

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