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While GuruNet is for the basically curious, Babylon.com aims to satisfy the rapidly growing subset of Net users who know little English. Like GuruNet, Babylon.com, an Israel-based subsidiary of Mashov Computers, turns every word on the screen into a hyperlink. But Babylon’s primary function is translation to and from English. The premise is that anyone using the Internet is likely to know roughly 1000 basic English words; Babylon’s job is to translate the other 3 million or so words.

The translation database is downloaded during installation into the user’s computer, and so, unlike GuruNet, the software works even when you’re not online. Someone might, for example, use Babylon to decipher a downloaded Web page or a piece of English-language e-mail. Translations are provided between English and eight other languages: Spanish, German, Japanese, French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and Hebrew. The free Babylon software already has about 2 million registered users around the world, says CEO Shuki Preminger.

GuruNet and Babylon both extend the power of hyperlinking to documents that were not structured that way to begin with. Given that only a tiny portion of the world’s literature has been coded to include Web-style linking, that’s a far-reaching concept-and it could change forever the expectations people have of words on their screens.

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