Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Google Releases Useful "April Fool's" Tool: IM Translation Bot

Okay, so it's April Fool's Day...

You've no doubt heard laughter and groans through the day as we sift through news reports, blog reports, and emails with an extra-cautious filter knowing that many of the obscure and questionable posts are just another attempt to pull your leg. Some funny, many not. (I personally gave up on April Fool's Day pranks years ago after one too many failed to be funny.)

Google today brings us a series of pranks from many of their teams -- some funny, others amusing. One, in particular, has the potential of being, IMHO*, somewhat useful.

Text messaging on a mobile phone is limited to 160 characters or less, forcing users to creatively squeeze correspondence under the limit. This, coupled with the often difficult task of entering more than 26 characters on a 10 button keypad, has led to a sort of SMS shorthand common amongst the (often younger) text-savvy set. It is widely used in instant messaging conversations, chat rooms, text message conversations and even emails.

Some expressions, "LOL" for example, are commonplace and understood. Others may be more challenging and evasive for parents trying to figure out what their kids are up to or law enforcement trying to translate the latest "net speak". (Though the last one is certainly a stretch, I'd hope our police forces aren't hung up on abbreviations and IM jargon to fight crime!)

Two years ago, on Portland's Morning News (Newsradio 750 KXL), I presented (Listen/MP3) common expressions and how parents can bring themselves up-to-date with the latest online slang.

Now, thanks to Google's April Foolin', it just got a whole lot easier...

Google's Talk Blog today announced plans to "Go Green" by shortening IM conversations over the Google Talk network in an effort to, "Reduce the number of characters we send when we chat with all our friends." (The blog claims that each character (byte) of traffic sent increases energy consumption, thus a reduction in characters sent in IM messages lessens our carbon output.)

Okay, so I realize it's a joke and doesn't actually save the planet. But what this does offer is a simple way to translate IM speak into plain English.

The companion tool to translate IM chatter from full-sized English to shortened IM/SMS-friendly jargon also works in reverse. Add en2im@bot.talk.google.com to your Google Talk contacts and the next time you're wondering what "LOL CUL8R" means, the translation is a merely a quick chat with a bot away...

...now the next sound you hear this April Fool's Day will be a collective sigh of relief from parents finally able to translate their teenager's secret messages.

Happy April Fool's Day!

* IMHO = In My Humble Opinion

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