December 17, 2014 Last Updated 2:54 pm

Microsoft to launch preview of simultaneous translation service Skype Translator next year

Sign ups begin to be included in tfirst group of beta testers; Spanish and English are the first two languages for simultaneous translation, more than 40 more for instant messaging

Thanks to a tweet from Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) I learned of a YouTube video posted by Microsoft for their Skype Translator (see video below).

Translation has been a topic here at TNM since the site launched and digital publications began to be released into the Apple App Store. The need for good translation mechanisms for publishers is instantly obvious the minute one tries to look at a new app such as that from the Quebec newspaper Le Devoir, or the digital magazine Sobre São Paulo_Entrevistas. My French is poor, but my Portuguese…

Skype-videoIn his tweet, Gillmor thought it would be amazing if Microsoft beat Google to simultaneous translation. He is right. Google has been offering translation online and built into its Chrome browser for quite some time. Google, probably unfairly, has been the butt of jokes for some of the results to come out of Google Translate – but it is also true that the service has not progressed much recently.

Most importantly, I’ve always believed that Google missed out on a huge opportunity to build translation into a digital publishing platform for Android. If Android offered this service to publishers, one would see native Android digital editions become the develop-for-first platform over night.

Microsoft’s service is tied to Skype and will begin with Spanish and English for spoken language, and more than 40 for instant messaging through Skype.

“Skype Translator relies on machine learning, which means that the more the technology is used, the smarter it gets,” Gurdeep Pall wrote on the Skype blog. “We are starting with English and Spanish, and as more people use the Skype Translator preview with these languages, the quality will continually improve. We also need your help to expedite new language releases.”

The service was previewed at Re/code’s inaugural Code Conference earlier this year, but the question was whether it would go anywhere – tech companies are notorious for previewing things that never happen, or happen far into the future (Apple was good at avoiding this until its Apple Watch). But in the past two weeks the service has been tested by more than 50,000 volunteers, Microsoft said, so now it is one to the next step.

Microsoft is letting people sign up to preview the solution. You’ll only get an invitation if you are using Windows 8.1, meaning Mac users can go pound sand, but I signed up anyways.

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