Saturday, February 16, 2013

what happened to ESL Assistant?

Two years ago, at a presentation in New Orleans, Microsoft's ESL Assistant was up and running, I believe. This would have been 2011. Today Microsoft maintains a site where they explain that it's no longer online, but all other evidence of it is gone. They no longer mention it on their blogs, or their discussion of their research. They don't explain why they took it offline, took all discussion of it offline, or what.

It was never really clear to me what was in it for them; they seemed to be doing research just to see if they could correct any errant English for anybody, perhaps with the intention of working this knowledge into Word's grammar-checker or Word's spell-check. It also was not clear to me if the research team that worked on ESL Assistant was even connected to the one that, presumably, continuously updates Word grammar-check.

What I've found is general tight-lippedness about the whole topic. It's as if people were coming in the back door, stealing their secrets, and then going off and selling them as "grammar correction." I remember that the new generation of grammar correction was supposed to take concordance technology and fold it right into the analysis of errors. Looking back at the sites that do still discuss ESL Assistant, I can see that this process had mixed success. I remember thinking, ok, this is interesting, this will put a twist in the business. Now, I have no idea what happened. Did Grammarly pick up on this use of concordance technology? Did other people successfully notice how they funneled input into the concordance database and then turned it into advice? Was this a secret worth jealously guarding?

I'm not sure what Microsoft is up to, because I'm not sure if they ever intended to make money on this service or not. Would it be possible they just did it for their own research? They aren't saying. Or, maybe I'm not looking in the right place.


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