An open translation service for software?

When you read about the magnitude of trade imbalances in this country, you understand that a lot of what we've been doing in the US is this: we make services and products for people in the USA, and we borrow money from people overseas to pay for it. Everyone's finally noticing that this doesn't make much sense in the long term.

One of the things I learned at Google is that the world is a really big place, and people in other countries like software and services, and we could actually be a very big exporter of software, not just 10 big companies or 8 countries, but even startups...and to 100 countries.

But, translation and localization are expensive things (I read that some big companies will spend nearly $1M to do professional translations in all their languages for one product, with documentation, etc.). There's enough effort required that especially small companies don't do the work in their first year or two on the market.

But--what if the translation part were free? What if there were an online service that would translate all your strings instantly and with decent quality? I think companies like Google might be able to sponsor such a thing, and it might have far-reaching impact for commerce. If we could export (and import) just about everything we make online, it would be a pretty amazing world.

And before solving the general translation problem, I wonder in particular about catalyzing some effort around translations for software, because it's a constrained problem, and there's lots of repitition...once you've translated "Are you sure you want to delete this file?" to 200 languages, you don't have to do it again. Everyone could use it.

Comment here if you have thoughts or a way to make this closer to reality.


  1. is just one example of the free assists for this. But serious translations of real software would need QC, which may be hard. Imagine if your competitor "did" the translation.


    Might be useful...

  3. This seems like an awesome idea, especially for things like software installers and UI, in which there is a huge amount of commonality between apps.

    One starting point might be freeware/shareware/open source that is volunteer translated already (e.g., and then asking authors to pitch in to contribute their localization glossaries to a central repository.

    An existing project that you might be able to leverage is Launchpad, which is used to localize Ubuntu and appears to share some of the goals you mentioned: