John Gruber discussed last week on his podcast, The Talk Show, about the democratization of services thanks to the Internet. His specific example was the news publishing industry; their former monopoly on classified advertisements that once supplied them with unparalleled profits has been replaced with the likes of Craigslist. The Internet has democratized the advertisement industry so that anyone can post an ad online for a very low cost, or even for free.
In other ways, too, the Internet has democratized things. Denizens of the Internet can now communicate instantly across continents and oceans for free. This was unheard of twenty years ago when the phone company held a monopoly on the communication medium, telephone lines.
The Internet is democratizing more than just industries that existed before its widespread adoption; I read an interesting post this morning about solving a computationally difficult problem by paying someone 50 cents to do it for you via the Mechanical Turk project. You would be laughed at 15 years ago for offering someone 50 cents to solve a very simple jigsaw (or even asking someone for 50 cents in return for the work).
The particular case I want to talk about is translation (or localization) of software. I am an independent app developer in my spare time so I don’t have a lot of time or money to drop into my projects, but I do what I can. My biggest seller is the Solar System Simulator available on iPhone and iPad. If I had wanted to have this app localized into new languages 10 years ago,, even, I would have had to pay a translation company hundreds or even thousands of dollars and it probably would have taken weeks.
Friday night, not even 48 hours ago, I decided to localize my app into at least 7 new languages. I asked my friends online to help, and now 4 of the languages have been completed with the rest are nearing completion. When I couldn’t find someone to help me translate Japanese, I paid a whole $11.70 to have it done online.
The Internet helps individuals and small business reach an entire globe of people to make friends, sell services, and buy products. It has lowered the barrier to entry for almost every industry in the modern world. While the publishing mongols and translation bureau tycoons rue the Internet’s widespread adoption and the devastating impact on their respective industries, I’m not losing any sleep over their lost profits. The Internet has changed the world of business and is continuing to do so, making services cheaper and more efficient. I couldn’t be happier.