To Bot or not to Bot (IM Translation)

Did you know that MSN messenger recently became* is the number one instant messenger in the world? Last summer, thanks to the efforts of Helvecio on our team, the MTBot prototype project quietly launched – to provide a glimpse to the community of 28.6 million unique messenger users what might be possible when you combine machine translation technology with instant messaging.

The MTBot prototype project was released in May 2007 with the main goal to try to understand how useful  machine translation would be in IM conversations. The bot acts as a human translator, participating in conferences and translating messages as they are sent by all parties.

A typical usage scenario would be something like this: let’s assume you have a friend in Japan that does not speak English… Well, you would add to your Live messenger buddy list, wait until the bot accepts your request (by switching status to Online) and then you would start your conversation by sending the “Hello” message… The Bot is going to wake up, and display a list of languages – enter “ja” for Japanese. Once it gets a valid connection the Bot will tell you to invite your friend to join the conversation. That’s it… From this point on, everything you type will be translated from English to Japanese, and everything your friend types will be translated from Japanese to English.

Another typical use is as portable translator: using Messenger from any Smartphone a user can translate simple sentences when traveling to other countries.

MTBot conversation screenshot

MT bot prototype screenshot

As with any prototype effort, do keep in mind that this is experimental and there is a possibility the bot might be offline from time to time. The usual caveats about the quality of machine translation also apply.

We always appreciate your feedback and suggestions – so feel free to do so on this thread.



 * Update: The link pointing to the data on Messenger becoming the most used IM client is from around when (2003-04) it first claimed that crown. Messenger has continued that trend since then. (Thanks to our keen eyed readers for catching that one!)

Vikram works on Incubation Strategy for Microsoft Research Machine Translation team

Comments (27)

  1. vasudev says:

    Thanks for this translation Bot , will remove any language barrier on IM.

    Trying it out.

    The link for ‘number one’

    seems to be of the year 2004 ?

  2. vasudev says:

    Very Nice work.Very useful, Just tried it.

    And also blogged about it :

  3. Did you know that MSN messenger recently became the number one instant messenger in the world? Last summer,

  4. Hosam Kamel says:

    Did you know that MSN messenger recently became the number one instant messenger in the world? Last summer

  5. Brandon Clinger says:

    Why should I use this over Google Talk’s bots, they are near perfect…. is great stuff..

  6. Slimy says:

    The MTBot prototype project was released in May 2007.

    So why the blog post now?

  7. Windows Live Messenger 翻訳BOT登場

  8. Tony Winslow says:

    It does the so-called `translation’ word by word!!!

    It needs improving…

  9. RS says:

    Nice work, but there are better other bots

  10. barlog says:

    Microsoft Research Machine Translation (MSR-MT) Team Blog お馴染み Research 部の成果物として…

  11. vasudev: Thanks for your post and also pointing out the date on the IM data, I updated the post to be reflective of the most recent numbers I could find

    brandon: Glad you are liking using machine translation – there are multiple implementations and I am glad you found the one you liked. If you have suggestions for improving the user experience of the messenger bot – I am sure Helvecio would love to hear them

    slimy: As i mentioned in the post, this was a small side project by one of the members of our team – and he had posted it in May on the spaces blog. This blog launched only recently and i only just got around to getting a post about this up here. We can blame it on my not finding as much time as I would really like to post to this blog 🙂

  12. Chyan Yee says:

    凄い。I tried the Japanese to English translation and it works pretty well. Good stuff!

  13. luca says:

    hi, how I can change the leanguage to translate?


  14. luca: Just start a new conversation with the bot and choose the language you want to use.


  16. tabuto says:

    This idea has been implemented in a more interactive way by

    It is worth the visit because it integrates its plug-in in messenger directly, it is transparent as it does not involve a third party connection. You’ll be amazed by having both languages displayed. That helps so much to see my translation and the one of my foreign buddy.

  17. 微软机器翻译研究组的各位好,我想提个建议,可以在英译汉网页翻译时也提供“与计算机内容相关”那个选项吗?谢谢,因为我觉得计算机相关内容翻译是你们的强项。如果能提供的话,就太棒了!

    Hi, the MSR-MT team, thanks for your proving computer-content-related translation,it’s terrific. But could you plz provide english2chinese translation of web page which is also related to computer content? If you do, that will be perfect, thanks.

  18. Jamie says:

    I have been using the translator for several weeks now and its worked great! Until recently. Now when I open the bot message window and then add a contact to chat with I repeatedly get a message saying "mt bot has left the conversation". I have tried uninstalling MSN messenger and deleting and re entering the bot as a contact but with no success. Has anyone any idea whats going on?

  19. rjv says:

    Trying to figure out how to use mtbot,I have received  a email in spanish.. The directions say just add mtbot to your contacts,but where before after on my contacts adress book where do i add it.   if you give a example.  ON the email it self.

  20. rjv,

    Tbot is only available for IM conversations.  For now at least, there is no direct email integration.  However, you could try installing the Windows Live Toolbar and downloading the translator button – if you view your emails in a web browser that MAY work as an interim solution.  

  21. henry jordan says:

    Thank you for this opportunity and flexibility better understanding people from different languages

  22. computerproducts says:

    The IM Bot for Live Search messenger is a great addition that makes chatting user-friendly.

  23. Since MSN Messenger is the number one in the world, adding IM Bot to it makes it to really stand out among the crowd.

  24. jh7takechan says:

    why mtbot not on-line?

    can not use.

  25. jh7takechan says:



    加了mtbot 不过脱机,不能使用了,






  26. Debkant Sahu says:

    When i am using, how i use my cam and how i see my friend?

  27. william says:

    how can i change the languge?