After stumbling off our 12-hour flight from SFO to Tokyo, the Geeks spent our first evening at Tokyo2.0, a hub for Tokyo's web community that meets monthly. We joined over two hundred techies in a dimly lit, underground bar in Tokyo's hip Roppongi Hills neighborhood to hear about new developments in natural language on the web.
The two demos that stuck out as having the greatest potential to impact the way we interact with the Web were from Mozilla and Knowledge Creation. Mozilla demoed Ubiquity, an experiment into connecting the Web with language. Imagine that you are inviting a friend to a new restaurant and you want to include a map and restaurant review. In today's world you would need to have one window open for your web email service, another for a mapping site, and yet another for reviews of the restaurant. You would then include several relevant links into the email that your friend would have to browse to. Enter Ubiquity, a new user interface that would simplify this process by allowing users to easily include the map, review, and any other relevant information, right into the email message itself with simple language-based instructions.
Knowledge Creation demoed Voice Delivery System, a web API for synthetic speech generation. The Voice Delivery system adds a "reading out" function to websites and is available in thirty languages without the need to download any software. Specifically created for the elderly and people with disabilities, VDS makes the web immensely more user-friendly and has the potential to be applied in a number of powerful ways. One application that comes to mind is to use VDS as a tool to aid literacy. Another is to use VDS to turn web pages into podcasts. Imagine driving, and being able to access a web page on your mobile device that is then read out to you - essentially turning your web device into a talking Kindle!
If day one is an indicator of what the Geeks will experience on this trip - there's going to be a lot of learning with equal amounts of professional connections and friendships formed on the inaugural Geeks on a Plane tour. Go Geeks!
Presentation 1: The application of NLP to ‘goo' services (by Junji Tomita)
Background and summary:
Ranked at No. 10 in Alexa Japan, Goo is one of the biggest search engines and portal sites in Japan. Presenter Tomita introduced two NLP (natural language processing)-based tools developed by the company, ‘Blog Sentiment Analysis' and ‘Blog Report Card'. The first tool is available to automatically understand emotions textually expressed within blog postings. It retrieves text from blogs, parses it ("This PC comes with a cool display." as opposed to "This cool PC comes with a display.") and then visualizes the processed data on a results page. The report card tool grades your blog after you type in its URL based on four different factors, i.e. influence or diligence.
Full video of the presentation (English and Japanese, 17:18 min):
Presentation 2: Ubiquity - Command the Web with Language (by Michael Yoshitaka)
Background and summary:
The Geeks particularly enjoyed the great presentation delivered by Michael Yoshitaka on Ubiquity, a project launched by Mozilla Labs last year. Yoshitaka said Ubiquity, a Firefox add-on that unites textual commands acting as mashups for web services, helps users accomplish more online by combining the web with language.
The big idea is to use natural language for the commands, to make using Ubiquity as easy as possible. Let's say you write an email in which you invite someone for dinner in the "Cyber Cafe" in San Francisco and want to include a map. Normally you would have to open a new tab, find a map somewhere and copy the link into the email text.
However, users can open Ubiquity right within the email tab, simply enter "map san francisco" in the text box and insert the Google map that pops up into the email text with a single keystroke (or select the name of the cafe and city and let the tool map it). Type the words "yelp cyber cafe san francisco" and Ubiquity offers you a JPEG that can be included right into the email text and shows the Yelp rating for that cafe. The whole process just takes seconds as you don't have to access sites like Google Maps or Yelp anymore. It all happens within the browser tab that you currently work in.
Mozilla Labs itself labels Ubiquity an experiment and is currently working on localizing the tool.
More on that and other Ubiquity-related stuff in Yoshitaka's video (English and Japanese, made by Yoshitaka himself, 9:10 min) or in his SlideShare:
Presentation 3: An online synthetic speech system, Voice Delivery System (by Shinjyou Sunao)
Background and summary:
Another presentation tickling the fancy of the GoaP group centered on VDS (Voice Delivery System), an API for synthetic speech generation developed by Tokyo-based Knowledge Creation [JP]. Targeted mainly at elderly and disabled web users, VDS lets owners of any site on the Internet add a "reading out" button. Press it and VDS makes sure the text content on the page will be read out loud for you. A total of 30 languages is currently supported.
Great stuff and the best thing is users are not required to download any software. Knowledge Creation offers a free version (for pages containing up to 5,000 characters) and several "pro" versions.
Full video of the presentation (English and Japanese, 13:20 min):
Presentation 4: Social Media and Translation - Bridging the Two Solitudes (by Chris Salzberg)
Background and summary:
Tokyo-based American Chris Salzberg, a writer and translator who used to work for international blog network Global Voices Online, spoke about the implications of multilingualism on the web. Salzberg argues that social media on one side and human languages on the other are nothing but materializations of different kinds of solitude.
He argues that community translation is the main key to bridge the gap between these disconnected parts, but couldn't finish his presentation in time (which is why we embedded his slides below).
The video (Salzberg's presentation in English and Japanese had to end after 11:30 min) can be found here.
The lightning talks were held by four Japan-based web start-ups:
Popin's popIn Rainbow (an add-on for all major browsers that lets you search, compare prices, look up information on Wikipedia etc./video), Keireki (a Japanese-only community for "grown-ups"/slides), Eigobama (a site teaching English to Japanese by using speeches of Barack Obama/slides) and MyGengo (a human translation service currently covering four languages/video with MyGengo's presentation starting at 5:30 min).
That was a lot of stuff to digest for the gaijin guests on their first night in Japan, but all the Tokyo 2.0 materials are put together nicely here for everyone to check out.
Tokyo 2.0 organizer Andrew Shuttleworth already announced another event for next month (topic: cloud computing). So please make sure you attend this (non-profit) event if you happen to be in Tokyo on July 13 and want to get in touch with the Japanese tech scene (if not, check out Tokyo 2.0's Ustream page when it's time).