Google has announced that its translate service now helps people converse online back-and-forth in 51 languages. I have been following and using translate for a couple of years, with progressively increased frequency.
That's in part because I find myself talking with people in more and more countries, particularly in Twitterville. It's also because Google Translate has steadily, progressively improved and continues to do so.
Universal translation is a Holy Grail for social media's greatest promise: that all people can talk to all people in social media spaces and they can do so without the intermediation of government, media or other imposing institutions.
Ultimately, here's what would happen. Let's suppose my native language is French and yours is Farsi and let's suppose we met in Twitterville. I would type a message to you in French but you would read it in Farsi. You would respond in Farsi and I would see your answer in French.
We are some distance from the day when that would happen. Google Translate requires a few extra steps that slow down the interaction. It sometimes makes truly goofy translations. A few months ago, my friend David Feng, who is incidentally a professional translator, tweeted in Chinese that he was tweeting from his iPhone in a subway under Beijing.
But Google translate from Chinese to English said that David was "under Beijing's belly holding my device" Funny? Yes, but not conducive to natural language flow.
The point is that Google Translate has been moving steadily toward greater accuracy and it seems to now be getting better faster. Translate also needs to figure out how to be actually integrated into the Twitter application as well as in blogs, Facebook and so on.
It is only recently that I began to believe this might actually occur in my lifetime and when it does, the results, it seems to me, will be monumental.