What We Have to Offer

Much is made of the internet’s ability to connect us and just as much is made of its ability to rend us apart. The reality is that it’s a medium that allows for both. Time spent on the internet can be a morass of LOLcat reposts and click-games, but it can also be used for communication, organizing, and creativity.

The challenge for most of us is being aware of all its potential and the tools that are available to us, if we know where to look. One such tool is Amara (or, Universal Subtitles), which enables users to caption any video on the net for translation purposes, or for deaf and hard-of-hearing folks.

If you’re like me, videos come across my Facebook page and Twitter stream regularly. If I like one, I’ll repost it and keep it moving. If it’s something that’s particularly resonant, it can become a cultural touchstone, like this video:

There’s a closed captioning option available, but if you turn it on, you’ll notice that it’s mostly nonsense. Being able to crowd-source accurate captioning for such videos makes them accessible across language and hearing barriers, allowing that cultural transmission to continue.

I decided to try my hand at captioning Eliot Rausch’s beautiful video of Charlie Kaufman‘s words. When I went to Amara, I found the video, which already had Brazilian Portuguese subtitles created for it. My task was English captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. The site made it easy – the hardest part was trying to capture the punctuation of spoken language. If I didn’t achieve that adequately enough, another Amara user can edit my subtitles and improve them. (In an ideal world, the author would stop by and create a definitive version.) Here’s the video, with captions:

What I Have to Offer

It’s not just these small moments of resonance that need this treatment; there are also larger projects in the works. Amara is looking for volunteers to help translate or caption movies, news programs, and more. I like the idea of crowd-sourcing transcription and translation talent to help widen the pool of people able to access all the video goodness floating around the interwebs.

Sounds like time well-spent, Mr. Kaufman’s caveats about entertainment aside.


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