I like web discussion groups. Yes they are intelectual slums. Yes they are slow and ungainly. But still I like them, and here's why: Bablefish.
Remeber way-back when AltaVista put the BableFish translation service online? That was cool. I was in the midst of planning a six-week trip to Europe at the time, and BF helped me correspond with the owners of inns and travel bureaus. Once the trip was over, I didn't think much about it until a came accross discussion groups using the technology to auto-translate posts into the reader's language, regardless of the post's original language -- wow.
Simple? Yes. But still amazingly cool.
I can talk to almost anyone, anywhere in the world using these forums. That is a very good thing. Wonder how Afghans see the conflict in their country? Try th is (keep in mind that the translation technology isn't all that good before assuming someone is an idiot) and see Germans, French and Americans posturing and puffing in a language agnostic forum.
Mr. Kirk's universal translator is closer than it seems.