Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What's the Latest Development?

Härnu, a Web site that launched in August, uses Google Translate and a map-based interface to allow users to chat with each other anywhere in the world (or almost; right now signups have taken place in over 80 countries) in the user's native language. Interested persons sign in with a Facebook, Twitter, or Google account and then indicate in their bio what they'd like to talk about. They can also ask a question for people in a specific country, who will see it on the map as a pin.

What's the Big Idea?

The site isn't the first to use online translation in an attempt to bring people together. However, Seattle-based creator Jason Gowans believes that Härnu may be both a social network and "an extension of social search." His company is also experimenting with country-specific news and music apps, all of which are designed to increase understanding around the world: "A lot of viewpoints come from a place of ignorance, when you don't necessarily really know much about anything and your only source of information is what your local press or media is telling you...We hope [Härnu] is going to create some empathy for other people and other cultures around the world."

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