An experimental new feature in Google's Gmail service crept out into the icy glow of the moon last night. It's a message translation service that detects whether an email is in a foreign language and automatically translates it for you within Gmail..
You'll need to activate it under the Labs section of Gmail's options page. We gave it a spin this morning and emailed ourselves a pile of French words (originally an, which Google kindly Frenched up beforehand).
When our French email showed up, so did a little translation bar. "Translate message to English?" it asked kindly. One almighty click later and Rich was back in his native tongue, talking about movies or something.
It seems to work with any language Google Mail is available in, too, which at the time of writing this was around 50. We translated the same French email into Japanese, then into Hebrew, which seemed to work fine, although we can't read either of these languages so it could have been gibberish.
Which brings us onto another point. The accuracy of translated text relies on Google's translation algorithms. Certainly text becomes French, but whether it comes at the cost of making absolutely no sense any more is another story -- machine translation is hit or miss at best even today.
So the question is, providing translation doesn't garble meaning, is this going to be useful? We can't remember the last time we received an email in a foreign language that wasn't spam. So we're interested in hearing your views on this feature, and whether you'll find it useful. Let us know in the comments below.