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Improving our dictionaries step by step

When we started bab.la in 2007 we had the vision of creating the world’s largest dictionary. We know that this is quite a bold vision but our thinking was and still is: Aim high and see what happens. Looking back it was the right thing to do. We are now at 18 languages and 29 dictionaries which is quite impressive for a little more than 3 years work.

Continuous improvement with the help of our users
Since the launch we have worked on continuously improving our dictionaries. We believe in the wiki-approach, so we started off with letting users add their own words. Later we added a user editing function and a voting button for relevancy. Besides the wiki-approach we included additional functions such as the search filter, pronunciation (for some languages, more to come!), synonyms and so on. We are on our third ‘layout cycle’ and the usability experience has improved considerably. Many of these changes have been triggered by the feedback of our users.

Context sentences help choose the right translation

Some time ago we started to include context sentences for each translation. We do this by letting a computer program automatically match content from multilingual websites such as the European Union or the United Nations. The reason for this feature is easily explained by this example: With five translations on a searched word the normal user might be overwhelmed to choose which translation is the right one for his or her purpose. A sentence underneath every translation helps the user to understand the context in which the word is used and thereby to choose the right translation.

New beta feature to answer even more search queries
Unfortunately we don’t have translations for every search term entered by the users. Partially we just lack the content (we are working on it!), partially the search term is just nonsense (such as ‘asdfghjkl’) and partially the search terms are word flexions such as conjugated verbs. Unfortunately our system doesn’t allow us to search for these flexions and the corresponding translation in our dictionaries as there are many rules (and exceptions to the rules) to be implemented for each language. However, we can search our vast database with millions of sentence entries for the word flexion. This way you will get at least a partial answer to your search query by seeing entire sentences and their translations. As this is an automated function the results might not always be accurate. We chose to make this beta-feature available to everyone because we think despite its limitations it is too good to hide it. Rest assured that we are working on improving the feature as fast as we can. If you have any questions or suggestions in the mean time do not hesitate to contact us.

Andreas

Auffällig unaufällig – the bab.la relaunch

It’s been a while since our last relaunch in June last year. And you don’t really need to relaunch every year as cars do just to be able to sell something supposedly new. The reason for every relaunch so far (OK, including this one it has been only two…) was to increase the usability of the site. Last year, we removed a lot of clutter and put the search box into the centre of attention. We also included additional search functions in the left bar of the search results. We thought this was a good idea and most of our test users agreed. However, when we started measuring how many users actually use the left bar functionality it was a minuscule percentage. Key learning: Don’t think you know the right answer because your gut feeling tells you but measure it if you can.

condition-vergleich-layout
(click on image to enlarge)

So, what’s new? With this relaunch we focused on the dictionary search results as this is the page that most users see most of the time. You’ll notice three improvements:
1. More space for the search results by hiding the left search filter bar (you can still get it by clicking on “show search filters”). Bye, bye search filter bar, it was nice having you around but people just didn’t care that much about you.
2. Simplified and cleaner layout. The search results page is about finding the translation easily and fast so we removed (nearly) all colours, increased the font size of the words and moved most of the additional functions to the right.
3. Our probably most important new feature: New context sentences underneath the translation. We got a lot of feedback from our users saying “Your dictionary is great and offers really a lot of translations. Unfortunately, I don’t really know which one to use.” Unless you are a language expert (which most of you are, of course!) choosing the RIGHT translation can be quite tough. The context sentences help you choose the relevant translation for you. We don’t have context sentences for every translation yet but rest assured we are working on it.

Auffällig unauffällig – as the title suggests we didn’t have any major hick-ups during the relaunch. If you notice anything please let us know. We hope you like the new “unauffälliges” layout and find the right translation even faster now.

Andreas