July 14, 2010

A chat with the founder of dotSUB

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A chat with the founder of dotSUB from JD Lasica on Vimeo.


Service provides subtitling of videos into multiple languages

Target audience: Nonprofits, social change organizations, educators, businesses, foundations, individuals. This is part of Creating Media, our ongoing series designed to help nonprofits and other organizations learn how to use and make media.

JD LasicaOne of my favorite Web 2.0 collaborate production sites of all time is dotSUB — tagline: “Any video. Any language.” I’ve been bumping into Michael Smolens, CEO and founder of the innovative startup, for the past couple of years at video and citizen media conferences on both coasts.

dotSUB is a Web-based tool that enables the subtitling, or captioning, of Web videos into other languages using human translators. The videos can be subtitled through volunteer crowdsourcing or restricted to professionals hired to complete the task for a business or project.

“Anyone in the world can volunteer to translate any TED talk into any language.”
— Michael Smolens

The genesis for dotSUB was Michael’s realization that English-only independent and documentary films, TV programs and videos could have a powerful, transformative effect if made available in dozens of other languages – and the same could hold true of foreign works shown in the U.S. with English subtitles. The service’s early years relied on the Wikipedia model of crowdsourced translations: Anyone could begin subtitling a film into his or her own language, and others could come along afterward to tidy up.

Apart from open, collaborative uses, dotSUB more recently has been used as a closed platform where media and entertainment companies or other organizations that don’t trust the open community could hire a team of professional translators to provide captions of TV programs, CEO speeches, corporate videos, training videos, marketing and advertising messages in multiple languages. And this, no doubt, is where dotSUB generates the bulk of its income, given that it can accomplish this task at a price considerably below traditional methods.

In a very real way, dotSUB is removing language and cost as barriers to cross-cultural communication using video.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo

dotSUB is helping to put the issue of access and language on the radar screens of major corporations and smaller organizations. In the last couple of years, dotSUB has partnered with TED, Pop!Tech, ICANN, Brightcove and SDI Media, among others. For example, dotSUB is powering the translations of thousands of TED videos into scores of languages.

“Anyone in the world can volunteer to translate any TED talk into any language,” Michael said. “This is the first time these remote languages will have something like TED talks available in their own language.”

He also cites the example of Iranian bloggers who used dotSUB to translate cell phone videos about the Iranian street demonstrations from their native Farsi into other languages, including English. And Michael said he and Wikipedia are discussing the use of dotSUB as an enabling tool for the videos starting to appear on the site.

Amazing. One can easily imagine the educational uses of dotSUB in classrooms from elementary to high school, from universities to graduate level programs.

Michael and I chatted during the last Open Video conference at New York University. Not sure if I’ll be attending this year’s event, Oct. 1-2.

JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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  • Nana

    Hi JD, Can I have his contact details/email address? My organization would like to have this solution. We have been communicated with dotSub, until last month went raise a couple of questions. Until now, no reply from them. I've tried to sent a couple of a reminder to follow up. I've a dateline to meet and I desperately need an answer from them.

    • Sure, Nana, I don't believe this is confidential: michael at dotsub.com

  • Bill

    Haha! This if funny, because DotSUB allows subtitles in any language, but Vimeo doesn't support subtitles at all!

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