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Word Lens: Augmented reality language translation app for iPhone

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Sweet fancy wookiees, y'all, this new iPhone app sure is making the blog and tweet rounds today. The idea behind Word Lens is this: point your iPhone's camera lens at text out there in the world (a restaurant menu, a street sign), and the app translates that text instantly. The promise is a form of augmented reality assistance that breaks down language barriers.

As with many Cool New Things, this initial launch is pretty useless in real-world, practical terms, but is wicked cool and a lot of fun. I would not rely on this app to accurately translate important signs on my next trip to a foreign nation—"Do not touch nuclear waste!," for instance.

The free demo version allows you to do stuff like flip viewed text backwards. English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English translation engines will set you back $5 each. And boy do they suck! Like everything important, I tested it out on LOLcats. The image in this post is Word Lens wrestling with "What is this I don't even." Indeed!

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Universal Subtitles: add subtitles to any video on the web

The nonprofit Participatory Culture Foundation has just launched an amazing new tool: Universal Subtitles. As the name implies, Universal Subtitles makes it ridiculously easy to add subtitles to practically any video on the web, including any HTML5 video, FLV, YouTube, Vimeo, Blip, Dailymotion (you can add subtitles to a video without having to host it yourself, and the same subtitle file can be associated with multiple copies of the video all over the net).

Why Universal Subtitles? Well, of course they're useful for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, but they're also a gateway to multilingual consumption of video (as a mostly monolingual anglo, I'm extremely keen to get a chance to follow along with all the fascinating videos made all over the world). Because Universal Subtitles hosts the subtitles separate from the video, it's easy to collaborate with others to produce translations, comic remixes (this is the world's easiest Downfall remix generator!) and closed captions.

For video creators, this is a dead simple way to increase the audience for your work -- especially since there's a full-text search coming shortly. For subtitlers, the upcoming workflow management and collaboration tools will make volunteer efforts even easier to run.

Both Mozilla and Wikipedia will be including the Universal Subtitles tool for their videos -- and the tool itself is free/open source software, which means that the community can be sure that it won't be orphaned and that the tool can always be improved.

If you're a popular YouTube video creator and want to get involved in the launch effort, please get in touch with Dean at the Participatory Culture Foundation. And if you want to try it out now, have a look at the Dirk Gently video I just posted -- it's ready for your subtitles! Universal Subtitles

(Disclosure: I am proud to volunteer my services as a board member for the Participatory Culture Foundation, the charitable nonprofit that created and maintains Universal Subtitles)

Translated.by: crowdsourced volunteer translations to Eastern Euro languages

Translated.by is a service for groups of volunteers working to group-translate texts into their native language, intended primarily for use on magazine articles, blog posts, and other short works. Presently, the language options are English, Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Lithuanian, though the creator, Ruslan Grokhovetskiy notes that he can switch on other languages "on request." Ruslan and friends have used the service to translate a bunch of my articles and stories into Eastern European languages, and they're on the lookout for others interested in playing along!

Translated by humans (Thanks, Ruslan!)