TYSON'S CORNER, VA. (06/21/2000) - Firms that want their Web sites to reach out to foreign users should take a look at Multicity.com Inc., which last week launched services designed to help companies communicate with users in languages other than English.
The company's MultiChat product is an application that enables instant translation between multiple users speaking six languages: English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Setup is easy - Webmasters can add the chat room to their sites by adding a few lines of HTML code. Unlike other types of chat software, users don't have to download anything - the chat room uses Java applets or HTML on a Web browser to route real-time communications and simultaneous translations through Multicity.com's data center in Vienna, Virginia. The company says there is little delay for users, even those outside the U. S.
"Right now, we're introducing the concept of instant translation, where in the same chat room you can have people that speak different languages, and you can be speaking in English and I can see it in French and someone else can see it in Italian," says Alain Hanash, CEO of Multicity.com. "All of a sudden, the language barriers that exist on the Internet are going to be lowered."
According to Hanash, the new instant translation capability has been incorporated into Multicity.com's successful MultiChat product, which is already used in an estimated 60,000 chat rooms globally. The original MultiChat service had servers in 18 languages, which let Web sites have separate chat rooms for each language group, but no communication between the different sets of users. The new service, which relies on translation software designed by Systran Software in Soisy-sous-Montmorency, France, takes the chat application to a different level, Hanash says.
"The translation engine that we use does not do it word by word; it uses sentence-based translation, which is more powerful than just translating the words," Hanash says. "We're not claiming the translation is perfect. What we're saying is that people who otherwise could never talk with one another can finally communicate."
Hanash says interest in the multilingual chat application has been strong. He names the United Nations Development Program as a client and says a large Internet firm in the Washington, D.C., area has asked Multicity.com to set up a system to let the company's English-speaking customer service representatives communicate with users in other countries. Hanash declined to name the firm.
Jon Wade, a Webmaster who uses the English-only version of MultiChat on the Red Hot Chili Peppers' site (www.redhotchilipeppers.com), says the new features will help the band reach out to international fans, whom Wade thinks are responsible for more than half of the band's album sales. "It would let people in South America communicate with people in English," he says. "[Otherwise] they probably wouldn't have that feature, they probably wouldn't be able to join that conversation."
Included in the chat application is a service that lets companies e-mail their chat rooms to a select group of users for multilingual conversations on the fly. The service, called In The Box, creates a dynamically generated chat room in the body of an e-mail, which can be accessed from users' e-mail inboxes or a chat room already posted on a Web site.
Besides European languages, MultiChat will soon provide instant translation for Japanese and Korean. The application has three flavors: Basic, which is free thanks to banner advertisements but has only limited management features; Plus, which is partially ad-supported, costs $84 per year for 10 simultaneous users and has advanced features such as chat-room transcription, password protection and moderated chats; and Pro, which is ad-free, costs $300 per year for 25 simultaneous users and includes the advanced features of Plus as well as message boards for business Web sites. All versions come with In The Box and can be scaled for more users for an additional fee.
Multicity: www.multicity. com