Yesterday i got a tour of the Nomad Translation Project. The system will allow a network of grassroots translators to manage a live translation system with archiving and streaming based on free and open technology. It's a free software package written in C for linux and licensed under the GPL. It's being developed by a group of Tunisian free software hackers and being used for the first time here in Mumbai for the World Social Forum.

The way it works is you have a central computer which takes in audio in from the speaker and manages the recording and streaming of the conference. The main computer expects to be given the name of the conference, the name of the current speaker, and what language they will be speaking.

Then each of the translators has their own computer where they can define what language they are speaking and which language they understand. This means that each translator doesn't need to know every other language being spoken, or that everything be translated in to a single language like English first. If a translator doesn't know the language of the speaker, for example, not many Hindi speakers know Spanish, they can listen to the English version, and make their translation based on that.

In the first real test, the Babels network of activist translators will be using it to translate the main conference sessions in to 7 languages.

The translator's computer uses a custom protocol to receive an audio mp3 stream from the central server. The translator's computer play's the audio for the translator to hear and records the voice of the translator and re-encodes as an mp3 for the new language. The translated audio piped out to a traditional translator's radio based translation system.

For the WSF in Mumbai there are two systems of audio out, one for European languages which use the traditional headsets and one for Indian languages which will be broadcast on three low power FM frequencies.

The amazing part to me is that this system allows for web streaming of all the languages in all the conferences automatically, although that is not yet working for Mumbai. Beyond that, because it's all in mp3, rather than raw analog audio, it's easy to archive it. For this indymedia and the Babels project are working together to publish a full audio archive of all the main conference sessions in 7 languages. This marks a major step forward in being able to archive and preserve the dialog.

During the previous WSF's a number of us have gone around and recorded sessions using minidisc recorders and plugging in to the audio boards. We were able, with some coordination, to record a number of the talk's, but what really amounted to only a small minority. Even then, the process of encoding and uploading the talk's was so labor intensive that only a small percentage of the talk's recorded ever were actually uploaded to the site.

Nomad is licensed under the GPL and is a project on sourceforge. They will be uploading and releasing the first version of the source code after the WSF wraps up.