Closing the Translation Loop

A long, long, it-feels-like-forever, time ago, Anna covered the story that there were a lack of good translations tools available on the internet, and especially in languages like Russian. In that article, she linked to an article that showed Google had developed a much better translations service, but hadn’t released it to the general public. Well, I’m always interested in closing loops, and so I’m happy to report that Google just announced that their, much improved, translation service is now live at Google Translates.

What makes Google’s service interesting is that it doesn’t use the standard “rule-based” translation methods, but rather, it is much more statistical in nature:

We feed the computer with billions of words of text, both monolingual text in the target language, and aligned text consisting of examples of human translations between the languages. We then apply statistical learning techniques to build a translation model.

Anna and I couldn’t help but to try the service out, so we choose a Russian news site: and the results were pretty impressive ( in English) as I could definitely pick up almost every story.


My take is that the translation of websites is only the beginning for Google… Not only will they improve the translations (especially if enough users adopt their feature to “recommend” a better translation directly through the tool), but I can easily see a day in the not-too-distant future when this tool is built right into gmail or google chat. This could make it extremely easy to have an online conversation with someone who doesn’t even speak your language.

In my family this could be very useful as my wife’s parents do not speak much English (and I don’t speak much of their native Russian). At this point that means that my wife has to translate everything that is said between us. What if instead, I could simple email them (in English), but it would arrive with an accurate translation in Russian? The result is that it would actually be easier for us to share stories over email or chat then in person!

From a business perspective, the possibilities are fascinating… Why not translate an entire website (Welcome to “Дождь город

Is the mobile web the next big thing?

I was recently inspired by Joel Burslem’s, House Hunting On the Go blog posting. A lot of folks have voiced their desire for having MLS search tools designed for their mobile devices. Since I had some spare time last weekend, I went ahead and designed a mobile version of Real Property Associates’ web site. If you’re curious to see the final results, I encourage you to visit and let me know what you think.

Ironically, as I was reading the post’s comments, I personally agreed most with Greg Tracy’s assertion (of Blue Roof fame), that his clients didn’t really care. The experience on a 3 GHz computer, with fast & reliable network connections and a 21″ LCD monitor is far more compelling, than the experience on a 200 Mhz Phone, with slow & intermittent network connections and 2″ LCD screen. I suspect a typical real estate consumer probably doesn’t care about mobile home search capabilities because they typically only look for homes for a few weeks every 5 or so years.

[photopress:mobile_zearch.jpg,full,alignright]Despite my reservations, I realize that real estate professionals are often very mobile and generally look for houses every week of the year. Since my customers are real estate professionals first and real estate consumers second, I suspect that my semi-pessimistic outlook is due to the fact that I’m not a mobile professional myself. That and the mobile web’s predecessor, WML, leaves a bad taste in my mouth like the New Coke did.

Mobile devices are a challenge to design for because the CPUs are slow, the browsers aren’t usually as powerful as their desktop equivalents (although Opera for Windows PocketPC currently smokes Internet Explorer Mobile), the screens are small, the network speeds can be glacial, and the user input mechanisms are slow and cumbersome. That said, having the whole MLS (w/ photos, static maps & Zillow Zestimates) and the office employee directory (w/ email addresses & photos) in your coat pocket is pretty dang slick, despite all the limitations.

Disclaimer: I designed this site for devices that support HTML and have screens that are 240 pixels wide. Since newer smart phones (Samsung Blackjack, Motorola Q, etc) and PocketPC’s have “big” screens and high speed networking, I decided that was the smallest device I wanted to support and still have the features I wanted. If you use a device with a smaller screen, you may be scrolling around more than you’d like.

So, what features would you like to see in your mobile real estate apps? Do you prefer text messaging apps (like Zillow Mobile) over real mobile web apps? What kinds of mobile devices do you plan on using to access mobile web apps? Is the future bigger, PDA like phones (like Windows Mobile devices, Blackberry, and the upcoming Apple iPhone) or smaller, more limited devices like the ubiquitous Motorola RAZR V3? Do think this trend will take consumers by storm or be restricted to professional use only? Would you pay extra for this technology if your MLS or IDX vendor offered it? Have you bought your .mobi domain names yet?

Rain City Guide on Your Mobile Phone!

The other day someone emailed to ask me to fix Rain City Guide so that the site wouldn’t break when they tried to visit via their mobile phone. I gave a LOL and told them that RCG already works on a mobile phone!

Here is how I read Rain City Guide (and or the other 250 blogs in my feed reader) when I’m on the go.

Using your PC or Mac:

  1. Go to Google Reader on your PC (not the Pocket PC): (You will likely need to sign in using a free Google account. Let me know if you don’t have one and I’ll send you an invite)
  2. Click on the “+ Add Subscription” button
  3. Copy and paste this feed into the empty field and click “Add”:

Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the comment feed:


Now, you’ll have all the posts and comments send to your Google Reader where you can check them using the browser on just about any handheld phone (assuming you get an internet connection on your phone!).

However, note that the URL for the Mobile Google Reader is a little different. So on the browser of your phone, you’ll need to go to this address to check the blog:


I recommend typing this in once on your phone and then saving it as a bookmark! (or better yet, email it to an address you can check with your phone and then just click on the link!)

These same instructions will work with just about any blog on the planet… Just replace the RCG feed with the appropriate feed!


I just remembered that there is one other Google Reader-related item you may be interested in subscribing to and that is the list of articles that I “share” using my feed reader. The idea is that as I’m reading articles using Google Reader, I often click on a share button to share items that I think are interesting. I watch a few other people shared items and I’ve found this to be a great resource for finding new and interesting bloggers. Similar to the other feeds listed above, simply subscribe using this URL to add this item to your feed reader:

BTW, if you are also sharing or staring items in either Google Reader, or any other service and think that others might be interested, definitely leave a comment to let me know about it!

Addicted to Google’s Mobile Maps

[photopress:phone.png,thumb,alignright]I was just reading a post from Jim Kimmons where he gives advice for Realtors on how to better use their handheld Treo’s and it reminded me that I really should put a plug in for Google’s mobile mapping program because I’ve simply become addicted to it and many others could probably benefit from this tool.

The first thing to realize is that the mapping program is separate from your cell phone’s browser. In other words, you’re going to have to download a program to your mobile cell phone. Here is the url you’ll have to type into your cell phone’s browser to download the program:

Obviously, this program won’t work with all phones, but Google is kind enough to give a list of supported phones. Note that they do support Blackberry phones (which is what I use!).

Why am I addicted?

The interface is simple and and clean. The main options I use are “Move to Location” and “Find Business”. The “Move to Location” option is used to locate me in a general area, while the “Find Business” option gets me to specific places.

Being in a new area, this one-two combo has been extremely powerful. For example, today I used the program to find (and get directions to) a local post office, a washington mutual branch and a coffee shop, all while out of the office and miles away from my desktop computer. Very cool indeed.

As with many google programs, the tool gets even more powerful if you learn some of the “tricks”. My most common one is to use the “3” and “1” buttons to scroll between turn movement descriptions while navigating directions. I also like that “i” zooms in while “o” zooms out. (Note that I’m using a Blackberry and other operating systems will surely use different buttons!)

If you happen to be in my situation where you have a powerful phone (and no powerful in-car navigation system), definitely consider checking out this program. It has done away with my need for hard-copy maps!