TED Translations: free to the world

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011 at 5:14 pm

TED Talks are wonderful. Yesterday I watched this fascinating video by Eli Pariser, entitled Beware online “filter bubbles”:

While watching the video (on the TED website) I noticed the subtitle options. TED has a fantastic translation scheme where users can transcribe translations for videos — a staggering 18,265 translations so far. But user experience-wise, this scheme has some critical issues.

TED Video player

The default labeling for the subtitle feature is ‘Subtitles Available in: X languages [Off]‘. Your main call to action to help people who perhaps don’t speak English is… well, in English. There’s not even any sort of icon to suggest non-English content is available: unless you speak enough English to understand ‘subtitle’ or ‘languages’, then your really reliant on pure luck to spot this. And even then, there’s another trap: you must know the English name for your language. This same issue repeats itself on the actual translation page — users are presented with a list of language names ‘in your language’ — but the language names are all in English.

It’s quite probable that most users will be able to find their own language in a list of English names. But it’s not fun, and by no means a good user experience — consider finding a link entitled ‘Inglés’ on a website in Spanish.

A similar problem is present on the TED homepage. To access the huge translation program, you need to select the link ‘Translations’. Again, you need to know the English word.

Interestingly, if you search for TED on Google in another language, it’s pretty good at sending you to the relevant translation pages. And if you have an in-browser translation feature (such as Chrome), this also makes it much easier to find these translations in your language (except even if you do translate the whole page, the subtitle options in Flash won’t get translated).

The TED strap-line ‘Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world’ is brilliant, yet I think the world could really enjoy TED a lot more if they made a few simple changes:

1. Redesign the video player. Create an icon denoting other language support (and my attempt below is by no means a great icon!) and vitally list languages in their native name (just like on Wikipedia entry pages) — also apply this anywhere else on the site where languages are listed.

TED Video player

Sure, there’s still English in the subtitles area, but I think something like this would be a tremendous step in the right direction. And an extra killer feature would be defaulting subtitles (if available) to the user’s language.

2. Look at the user’s default browser language and give them a clear invitation to view translations in their language:

TED en español

Of course it’s easy for someone to think up design ideas for someone else’s website: I know nothing about how the TED site works and whether any of this is even feasible, but I still felt it worth noting these ideas down, as it would be great to see the TED site provide a better experience for non-English speaking users.

2 Responses to “TED Translations: free to the world”

  1. Carl Morris says:

    Good analysis – when it comes to user-maintained translations at the moment I prefer what http://www.universalsubtitles.org are offering.

  2. James says:

    I hadn’t seen Universal Subtitles, it looks like a great idea.

    From a UX perspective unfortunately they fall into many of the same pitfalls as TED do — interestingly, they do redirect you based on language (i.e. http://www.universalsubtitles.org/it for Italian), but that’s as far as it goes — there’s also no default loading of Italian subtitles and the language labels are still in English.

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