Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bringing The Global Web To India

A few weeks ago I blogged about search suggestions, a feature that made it easy to enter queries in Indian language scripts. Once you are able to do that and start searching, you'll quickly discover another barrier that non-English speaking users face in India - there just isn't much good content available online. No matter how good the search engine, it can't return relevant information if it doesn't exist! This situation is beginning to change in a few areas -news and entertainment for example - where lots of Indian language websites are being created. However we still have some way to go before the Indic web has enough high-quality content to satisfy all the information needs of users.

What can we do in the meantime? Well, Google has an interesting approach to this issue - automatic translation. If you do a search in Hindi and scroll down to the last search result on the first page, you'll see a link to a result that's been translated from English. For example, try querying for सरकारी नौकरी and scroll down to the bottom of the results page. You'll see a link to a translated query result. Clicking on the link takes you to a translated query results page. Here's how this works:

1) We will take your Hindi query - "सरकारी नौकरी" - and translate it into English - "government job".
2) We'll then run the English query and get back English results.
3) We'll translate those results back into Hindi for you.

All these translations are done automatically, using a machine translation engine developed at Google. This technology allows you to translate any text or web page instantly. Here's the Times of India homepage automatically translated into Hindi. Of course, because these are machine-generated translations they will never be as good as human translations (and they can even be quite funny) but the quality should be good enough for you to understand the sense of what you're looking for.

A neat and unique way of using technology to help bring information to users, even when it doesn't exist in their language.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Better Search in Hindi

One of the core value propositions on the web, and one that is certainly near and dear to Google's heart, is search. Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

For our purposes, the operative words are world and universal. So how do we fulfill this core mission in India, for those who would prefer to interact in their local language rather than in English? Of course our core search technology works across languages and has been adapted to the specific needs of each language. Apart from this there are some specific features we launched on Google Hindi Search. I'd like to showcase one of them here. We launched this in response to the difficulty our users faced in entering Hindi text.

Problem: Hard to enter Hindi text on a regular english keyboard.
Solution: Easy Hindi search in 3 steps - Pictures say it louder than words.

Step 1: Start typing in English and you'll see Hindi suggestions

Step 2: Select your query from the drop-down list

Step 3: View the results of your search in Hindi

We have this feature available in seven other Indian languages:
Happy searching!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chicken or Egg?

Google India had its first ever Google Developer Day, held in Bangalore on October 18th. I spoke about our Indic Transliteration API, which makes it possible to add Indic language tying to any website in a very simple manner. (more about this API and other Indic tools a later post).

What struck me as I spoke to the developers at the conference is a sense of uncertainty about the market opportunity for Indic language products and services, so I thought I'd set down some thoughts on how I look at this market.

The opportunity.
  • In an earlier post, I outlined some of the demographic and socioeconomic statistics that set the context for this opportunity. Bottom-line: India is getting richer and more literate at a much faster pace than its learning English.
  • In every country around the world, as the internet provided compelling content and applications in local languages, people found value in them. This is true across Europe, Asia and the Americas. There is no reason to think India is different.

The ecosystem
  • The bottleneck is this: people won't go online until hey find value, and the value creators (content producers, application developers) won't make the investment until they find people online. How to break this logjam?
  • If we look at how the internet developed in the US, it may provide a useful analogy. For the purposes of our discussion, we can break down this evolution into three phases.
  • First came content. This was mostly produced by communities people who had a passion for putting up content they cared about. Traffic and monetization was mot the motivation.
  • Second came growing readership as people started discovering this content. This set off a virtuous cycle in which content eventually because a viable, monetizatable business.
  • Third (and final) were the application developers who could now focus on moving the online experience beyond passive consumption of information to interactivity, community building, service delivery and a host of other innovations.
The Indic market was stuck in phase one for a long time, and (I believe) has just recently entered phase two. There are some signs to back this up - the growing number of newspapers launching online editions in local languages, the growth in the number of tools available for entering local language text using an english keyboard (Google, Quillpad among others).

Are you ready?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Improving Lives Through Search

One of the most common questions I'm asked when I talk to people about building products and services in Indian languages is, "Why?" The unspoken thought behind the question: those who don't know English in India are dealing with more basic sorts of problems - web search is a luxury that can have only tangential impact in their lives.

I beg to differ.

One of the most powerful features of the web is the democratization of access to information. With the web, consumers can be free of value-extracting middlemen and brokers of information. With the web, consumers can reduce information asymmetry. That isn't a luxury - it's a powerful tool to improve lives.

Imagine a sick child, and parents who have no easy access to medical care. The web can yield information to understand symptoms and help parents provide basic treatment. Imagine a bright school student who attends a poorly-run and managed school that will ill-prepare her for college and the job market. If this student could access educational content online, it could transform her life prospects.

Search can improve lives. And it helps those people most who have the least access to alternative sources of information - typically those lower down in the socio-economic ladder.

One of the things I like to do is to read Google's customer testimonials from time to time. I've reproduced a few below. This isn't a pitch for Google - you can replace "Google" with the more generic "search" and the message is equally powerful.

Message from: Abigail

"Google helped me discover that my daughter's strange medical problems are part of a rare genetic syndrome that most of her doctors had never heard of. Her doctors diagnosed her after I brought them the information, and my discovery helped her cardiologist diagnose another patient with the same syndrome. Because of my daughter's new diagnosis, we have uncovered other dangerous but treatable problems that we wouldn't have known about until they caused her serious damage. So, I'm very grateful to the people at Google who made all of this possible. Thank you."

Message from: Ann

"I just wanted to let you know that Google may well have saved my life. My sons and I were walking home from having eaten out. A half block from my house, I felt this pressure building in my chest. Immediately, I thought, 'heart attack' and ran through how I'd been feeling that the day (I had been nauseated). My first thought was, 'confirm suspicions,' and immediately, upon arriving home, I went to Google and typed in 'heart attack.' I kept thinking, 'you only have minutes...' I found a site that listed symptoms. Indeed, I was having a heart attack. I was at the Albany fire station within minutes. Five baby aspirin later, and a few squirts of nitro and I was in the ambulance on my way to the hospital. The good news is, I have no residual damage. My heart is back to normal. Thank you for providing the Google search engine. I'm sure my recovery was complete because of the speed within which I was able to get help."

Message from: Laura

"Last year my daughter, who was a senior in high school, was afraid of failing her math final. I did a search on Google and came up with more than one method of explaining the formulas...She passed the final and ended up with a B in the class instead of a C. "

Friday, September 12, 2008


On this festive occasion, I'd like to wish all Malayalees Onashamsakal. To celebrate the occasion, Google just launched a News edition in Malayalam. You can learn more by reading our post on the Google News blog. Of course, if you're looking for more information on onam or on any other subject, in Malayalam, you can also use Malayalam search. It's very easy to type in Malayalam using a normal english keyboard: you start typing Malayalam words in english, and we will generate Malayalam suggestions for you to select as your query.