Society of the Query 2
Session 2: Search Across the Border
Thomas Petzold (GE): The Search Industry's Five Percent Gamble
Conference Day 1 (7 November 2013)
To support five per cent of the world’s languages suffices to reach the majority of the world’s population. This is the five per cent gamble made by the digital technology industry on global information and knowledge markets. Take Google Search as an example: although it is offered in a wide range of languages, more than ninety-five per cent of the world’s languages remain unsupported. A considerable gap remains, which is at best only partially addressed by the industry. Because of the investment costs needed in language support, the five per cent gamble is the direct outcome of the Return on Investment calculated by the industry in the overall context of internationalization and localization. The internationalization process makes sure that a piece of software is built language-neutral (and thus not biased towards any specific language), and the localization process then allows for different kinds of language and region support to be implemented. Recognizing the achievements in this domain, the five per cent gamble marks an important step towards making information and knowledge searchable and available for people. On the other hand, the benefits delivered and received by different language users differ greatly. The cost-benefit analysis of language support favours either languages that are relatively cheaper to support, say languages using Latin alphabets such as some European languages, or languages that have huge market benefits, say major world languages such as Chinese and Arabic. Clearly, the current trade-off between knowledge diversity and market efficiency is made at the expense of the former, and in favour of the latter. The current state of Internet search is neither satisfactory nor innovative enough to unleash the vast potentials of human knowledge. To improve the situation, we need further social and technical innovations to allow for better knowledge capacity building. This is an opportunity for both private and public players to try innovative social and technical measures to serve more users in more meaningful ways.