Israeli translation tech promotes ‘understanding’

Babylon has one of the most-visited websites in the world, generating tens of millions of translations a day

Babylon screenshot (Photo credit: Cpurtesy)
Babylon screenshot (Photo credit: Cpurtesy)

Before Google Translate, there was Babylon. Although the Israeli translation software and service has long been eclipsed in numbers of users by Google’s product — due, for the most part, to Google’s Internet ubiquity — Babylon is now getting its shot at mass web usage. The company has signed a four-year cooperation agreement with Yahoo to provide online translation services for web users and mobile devices. The two companies will share advertising revenue.

The new deal comes after the release of version 10 of Babylon’s software, which offers several new and improved innovations. “Babylon 10 offers a number of game-changing new features including the ability to translate full documents into different languages while retaining their initial formats. It’s also the first software of its kind that is already compatible with Windows 8, Office 2013 and Internet Explorer 10,” said Liat Sade-Steinberg of Babylon.

On its own — with its current own-platform web service — Babylon has about 50 million users a day, said Sade-Steinberg, with the last version, Babylon 9, receiving a Guinness World Record for the most downloaded translation software. With the Yahoo deal, the company hopes to increase that number significantly.

Babylon has been around since 1997 as a computer application, adding an online module with the rise of the Internet. The biggest change for Babylon in recent years, said Sade-Steinberg, is that the basic translation service is now free. “We’ve gotten to the point where our advertising model allows us to offer these services for free, enabling many more people to take advantage of what we believe is our superior technology.”

Until now, Babylon worked with Google, using a clickthrough system to generate revenue. The company did not release details of its new arrangement with Yahoo, but in a message to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, where the stock has been traded since 2007 (last November, the company filed a notice of intent to file for an IPO on the Nasdaq), the company said that “Babylon’s management estimates this agreement will have a substantial contribution to the company. At this stage management cannot assess the amount of this contribution.

“Our translations are more accurate than our competitors’, and you get much more information with Babylon, about usage, word origins, alternatives, etc.,” Sade-Steinberg told the Times of Israel. “Over the past 15 years we have developed all sorts of tricks, using our advanced morphological engines,” offering results from a database of over 1,700 sources in over 75 languages.

Another big advantage for the Babylon download, according to the company, is that it works with a patented OCR technology and a single-click activation in any Microsoft Windows application, such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Excel, Internet Explorer and Adobe Reader. When activated, Babylon opens a small popup window that displays the translation or definition. Babylon provides full text translation, full web page and full document translation in many languages and supports integration with Microsoft Office.

That integration puts Babylon in a different class than Google Translate, especially for enterprise, said Sade-Steinberg. “Users can install the Babylon applicants on their PCs and Macs and get the automatic integration, without having to switch applications to a browser and go online to get a translation, like they would with Google Translate” — a time-saver, said Sade-Steinberg. Not to mention the fact that Babylon can be used offline is a big advantage for users in places like Brazil and India, where electricity and Internet connectivity is often iffy.

Those advantages have made Israeli startup Babylon a world-class company, said Sade-Steinberg. “We do about 50 million translations a day, and we are in the top 30 of all websites. We get a huge amount of traffic, and help out a lot of people.”

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