Recreating a Rialto

Can the global village be saved from monotony?

Net brand-building overseas can become extremely lucrative; some American content companies are finding that licensing their brand abroad is "found money," in the words of one online mag's CEO. Nerve magazine ( and SonicNet (, for instance, are well positioned to capitalize on their content— sex and music, respectively— because it has universal appeal that is contingent on neither time nor geography. Translating the content can be almost as expensive as assigning original copy, but there are other key issues for U.S. content providers. SonicNet— which licenses its brand, content, and platform to publishers in Japan, Switzerland, and Australia— is finding partners who will provide local infrastructure and traffic and develop relationships with local advertisers.

bbb All international endeavors, especially one as inherently expansive as iAgora's, could be vastly facilitated by translation software that is in the works from companies like Lernout & Hauspie ( But the software comes with its own critical issues, including the question of whether it will contribute to the death of dialects. Some Eastern European cultures feel threatened by Internet software that doesn't support the special characters in their languages, and by aggregate communities online that may eventually opt for one default language and rub out specialized dialects. Alex Fowler, Director of Public Affairs at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (, brings up the "Gutenberg effect": "During the long transition from oral to written traditions, languages that didn't develop a written form died out, but that transition was also crucial for language development."

Paige Imatani

The technical dilemmas that translation software raises apply not only to written language but to translating interfaces, system software, programs, icons, and cultural convenations (reading right to left, for example). A trend toward global homogeneity may be an inevitable consequence of the Internet, but iAgora will do all it can in the meantime to stave off the Gutenberg effect. "For us, globalization means that more people are in more contact, more people understand each other within and across boundaries," says Negre. "It's not about the same culture spreading until it dominates the rest of the universe." That is, of course, if they can keep the secret sauce from dousing everything.

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