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Facebook turns users into web translation engine

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Looking to translate your website into another language? You can now seek help from the social-networking-obsessed masses - and juice Facebook's advertising schemes in the process.

Today, at a web app conference in London, Facebook introduced a free service dubbed Translations for Facebook Connect, a translation engine driven by, yes, the site's users. The social networking outfit has used a similar application on its own site since January 2008, translating its original English content into 65 other tongues. The app asks Facebook users to provide translations of particular site phrases, then collects votes on which translation is most accurate.

According to the company, when the tool was first used it produced a Spanish-language Facebook in two weeks. And a French translation in 24 hours.

Now, the company is offering its translation-wisdom-of-the-crowds engine to the roughly 15,000 sites that use Facebook Connect, a service that lets netizens log onto third-party sites with their Facebook accounts and send certain info back to Facebook. Naturally, the new Translations service is meant to juice the Connect service. Today, the company also introduced a tool, the Connect Wizard, designed to ease the addition of Connect to any website.

Connect, you see, ends up feeding user data into Facebook's grand scheme to actually turn a profit. The more Facebook knows about what you do online, the more targeted its targeted ads. At least in theory.

When it comes to advertising, Facebook is mimicking The Google Way. But the two diverge on translation tools. Google's engine uses machines for translations, not social networkers. And in speaking with the New York Times, Facebook couldn't help but take a subtle swipe at Google Translate.

"Other businesses try to accomplish the same thing using technology to solve these problems, and it’s not always 100 percent accurate," said Ethan Beard, head of platform at Facebook. "But technology doesn’t take into account cultural values, idioms that are hard to translate. In the same way we think reviews are better when they come from friends, translation done by people is significantly better than what you would get otherwise." ®

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