Facebook Speech Recognition: 4 Predictions

Facebook's acquisition of Mobile Technologies suggests translation and speech recognition might be coming soon. Here's how users and brands could benefit.

Kristin Burnham

August 14, 2013

4 Min Read
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Facebook's latest acquisition could mean that speech recognition and translation capabilities might soon come to the social network. Tom Stocky, director of product management at Facebook, announced the acquisition of Mobile Technologies earlier this week on his Facebook page.

Mobile Technologies, a speech recognition and translation startup, developed the app Jibbigo, which launched in 2009. The app is a speech-to-speech translator used on a phone that runs both online and offline, independent of the Internet. Users can record or type sentences and translate them to one of the 25 languages it supports.

According to Mobile Technologies, Jibbigo is used most frequently by travelers in foreign countries and by healthcare workers who face language barriers in humanitarian missions. Facebook's Stocky said that voice capabilities support the social network's mission to be more open and connected.

"Voice technology has become an increasingly important way for people to navigate mobile devices and the Web, and this technology will help us evolve our products to match that evolution," Stocky said. "We believe this acquisition is an investment in our long-term product roadmap as we continue towards our company's mission."

[ Facebook is branching out. Read Facebook Mobile Does Restaurant Reservations. ]

Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst with Altimeter Group, says that Facebook's acquisition of Mobile Technologies will promote Facebook's continued growth and mobile mission.

"If you look at where Facebook is today with more than 1.1 billion users, growth won't necessarily come from new users, but convincing existing users to share more information. That's what advertisers want," Etlinger said. "They want to see growth in time spent on the platform and growth in sharing. Mobile has been a huge piece of the monetization strategy, and the acquisition of this company gives them many opportunities to do just that."

Here are four reasons Facebook might want to integrate speech and translation capabilities.

1. Easier Updating and Sharing.

Speech-to-text, text-to-speech and voice commands can make posting status updates, sharing content and consuming content easier for on-the-go users, Etlinger said. "One of the things that becomes an issue is the inability to type when you're driving or when you're in the middle of something else and you want to post an update but you aren't hands-free," she said. "Reducing friction by enabling speech-to-text is something that is inevitable, and it makes the user base more loyal."The problem with a speech-to-text capability is its accuracy, Etlinger said. With a global audience, Facebook needs the ability to accurately understand accents.

2. Translation Capabilities For Users.

Mobile Technologies' translation capability can be a really important feature for Facebook, which continues to expand its global presence. Connecting users who don't speak the same language supports Facebook's mission to be more open and connected.

"I have Facebook friends who post in Japanese and sometimes I can intuit it from pictures or emoticons, but I don't know what they're saying," Etlinger said. "Removing that language barrier would be huge."

Etlinger says she can see Facebook launching an automatic-translation feature for both your posts and posts in your news feed.

3. Translation Capabilities For Brands.

Perhaps most valuable for Facebook would be offering brands the ability to translate their posts to different languages to better reach global audiences, Eglinger said. Not only does this have positive customer satisfaction implications for brands, but it's a plus for advertisers, too.

"If it works well enough, you can see businesses getting very excited about not having to do as much work," she said. "If you're a multinational company, the idea of being able to create one post and translate it to every language is valuable. Cost is something that would have prevented them from doing that before. The idea that you can remove some of that friction is interesting."

4. Better Social Media Monitoring For Brands.

Social media monitoring is essential to brands for reputation management. The ability to translate public posts -- especially in conjunction with new features such as Graph Search and hashtags -- makes it easier for brands to understand public sentiment, Etlinger said.

This would be a value add for many brands, especially if Facebook can improve the accuracy of translations. Traditional social media monitoring tools are notorious for translation inaccuracies, Etlinger said. These tools have a 60% to 65% accuracy in translating the English language, but that rate drops to just 20% for languages like Japanese, which is ideogram-based, she said.

How Facebook integrates its newest acquisition into its product will be interesting, Etlinger said. "There's a lot of dreaming we could do about what Facebook will do, but if its history predicts its future, we'll probably see something out not too long from now."

About the Author(s)

Kristin Burnham

Senior Editor, InformationWeek.com

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