Web sites have a way of making the world seem a lot bigger and a lot smaller simultaneously. The reality is that more and more cybercitizens do not speak English natively, which could be a challenge for small businesses from the United States that are hoping to make their products and services available more globally.
Some large companies address this issue by creating different versions of their Web sites in different languages, but most small businesses can't support that sort of expense.
Enter Ortsbo, a Canadian company that has created technologies that offer real time translation services. The core service layers into chat and instant messaging applications; right now, Windows Live, Google Talk and Facebook Chat are supported. There is also a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook.
Once you sign up, the service helps you carry on conversations with someone typing in a different language. So, for example, Ortsbo might transfer your response into Arabic, translating the responses from that person back into English on your behalf.
You can easily envision customer service or sales conversations being supported by the technology. "Our whole situation is that we want to destroy the language barrier," said Ortsbo President David Lucatch. The "we" in this instance also includes KISS frontman Gene Simmons, who happens to speak five languages and is an investor in the company.
Lucatch said that the service was originally designed for software programmers and developers who were working across different time zones and country borders. Now, the service boasts about 107 million unique users, about 75 percent of whom speak languages other than English and many of whom hail from Asian countries. The company is working on wikis that help small businesses grapple with tough-to-translate phrases and idioms that might not translate well from language to language.
The company is working on free mobile applications as well; right now, unifying those applications is a priority, Lucatch said. He tells the story of a customer service representative at a small bank who was able to help a Korean-speaking woman by using the Ortsbo mobile app on his Apple iPad.
"He was making an effort and that won him the business," Lucatch said.