From time to time, our own T.V. Raman shares his tips on how to use Google from his perspective as a technologist who cannot see -- tips that sighted people, among others, may also find useful. - Ed.
Language barriers can be a primary source of accessibility problems on the web, and automatic translation, though not perfect, provides a useful solution.
We recently made our machine translation technology accessible from within Gmail and Google Talk, which gives mail and IM users instant access to translation capabilities at the point where they might most need them, e.g., when communicating with friends and colleagues around the world. If you find yourself wanting to translate a few words or short phrase, you can IM an appropriate chat-bot to obtain an immediate translation. As an example, the Google translation bot for going from English to Chinese is available as firstname.lastname@example.org. In general, translation bots are named using two-letter codes for the source and target language.
Surfacing machine translation in this manner is a great example of how Web 2.0 mashups bring together useful services to create solutions that are bigger than the sum of their building blocks. I've blogged here in the past about the potential presented by web mashups for users with special needs. Using our work on AxsJAX to inject accessibility enhancements into Web applications, my officemate Charles Chen and I recently augmented Google Talk to produce appropriate spoken feedback when used with adaptive technologies such as self-voicing browsers.
The combination of machine translation, instant messaging and AxsJAX-enabled spoken output produces an interesting result that is obvious after the fact: when I use Google IM to message a translation bot, I now hear the result in the target language. This makes for a very interesting chat buddy -- one who can act as my personal interpreter!
And let's not forget that little translate this page within Google search results. Next time you find that some of the documents in your search results are non-English, try clicking on that translate link. You'll be able to specify the source and target languages to obtain an automatically generated translation. A nice thing about the translated page is that when you follow any links from that document, the newly retrieved document will be automatically translated. Thus, if you find an article in German that matches your query and you're an English speaker, you can translate from de|en (that's German to English using two letter language codes) and as you read the translated English version, following links from that document will result in their being automatically translated to English.