Moravia and new directions

Common Sense Advisory had an insightful post about Moravia’s recent change in ownership to now-majority shareholder Clarion and influx of $100 million in revenue. Don DePalma notes that “Investors love software, but the reality is that somebody has to assemble the pieces,” and suggests that we may see more LSP acquisitions such as this in the future.

This may mark a turning point in how our industry is perceived. Even here in Northern Idaho, I’m running into the situation where more and more local friends (who have no idea what I do exactly) talking about their companies’ attempts at global expansion. Investors are starting to pay attention to our industry in ways they were not before; startups are still struggling to make sense of it all, more of them all the time.

As Moravia is now well aware, startups can become full-fledged global businesses with the right direction. Our industry is finding new ways to provide that direction, and it’s exciting.

How does the future look and how do we feel about it? The emotions and technology of the language industry

A guest post from Roberto Silva, Technology Solutions Manager, Conversis

At the beginning of a new year, many people take a look at the past and make plans for the future. Luckily, I would say, most of these plans are never finished. On an enterprise level, the situation is similar, although usually centred more on economy than emotions. I have penned these lines about the emotions in the language industry as we experience a period of change and uncertainty.

Our industry is evolving, but not fast enough to accommodate current and new demands. Content is being generated at an incredibly fast pace, in particular on social networks. And most of that content is not being translated. Some translation companies are targeting short text translation instead of the traditionally larger projects with a start and end date. But they are certainly covering only a fraction of the information available. Reports show us that users demand content and like to read and buy in their own language, even though they might speak the source language. Only a fraction of web sites are available in more than one or even two languages. The need for linguistic services in areas like medical, entertainment, immigration and legal (to name a few) are potentially much higher than the number of current translators, interpreters and language service providers can cover.

Statistical machine translation (SMT) and its fast domain and language adaptation has brought hope to many companies and NGOs that language barriers to written language could finally be overcome in the near future. It has also brought fear and frustration to many translators as translation agencies turn to MT, imagining that they could lose their jobs, that their income may be reduced, that the quality of their work might be negatively affected and that their influence on the final results of the translation may be highly reduced. Part of this has happened, but on a much lower scale as expected and not exactly for the reasons originally argued. SMT is following a similar emotional curve to Rule-based MT before it, going from high assumptions to deception, as users and developers realise that it cannot fulfil the promise of quality instant automatic translation under most scenarios and language pairs. However, if your goals are realistic and you define your target audience expectations, SMT, hybrid MT and hybrid CAT-MT configurations properly setup and maintained can deliver surprisingly good results under certain circumstances, and may allow faster delivery and higher quality translations when combined with well-trained smart post-editors.

On the subject of quality, we are seeing exciting initiatives and studies to tackle the very complex notion of translation quality. As an example we have the QT Launchpad project, TAUS dynamic quality framework and the Quality Triangle Methodology, besides ongoing norm developments such as ISO17100 (if it ever sees the light). The problem I spot in most approaches to quality in our industry and what disappoints me most is that we seem to be more worried about how we measure quality as an isolated element, instead of how we identify and deliver the various levels of quality that the different customers require. The notion of placing the customer at the centre of the quality efforts is not new at all as you may expect. We can certainly learn from other industries or companies that have already been in our dilemma and have successfully applied methodologies like QFD (Quality Framework Deployment) and ethically implemented Corporate Social Responsibility in order to have happy stakeholders as well as sustainable enterprises. Have you ever wondered who the oldest companies in the world are, and why they have subsisted?

Outside of our industry, big data and machine-to-machine interactions are leading to a new type of researcher and the rise of analytics, but mainly for a single language. A very poor understanding of the world. And cross language information retrieval cannot provide the full answer even if it were extensively available.

I am amazed at the speed at which we are seeing all kinds of new devices show up every year. New ways of interacting with these devices will allow professional translators and all kinds of potential users to take better advantage of existing technologies such as voice recognition, large touch screens, eye tracking, and many other developments to increase current translation performance and make our work easier. Our wish may be to have that in place already, but we are not there yet. On the more distant horizon, all this might be replaced by direct brain to computer interaction (BCI) combined with other types of input to correct errors or to solve difficult formatting issues, which will be perhaps a much more natural way to translate.

Regarding software, we have more options than ever and the technologies are converging. Online tools, offline tools, SaaS options, smart technological platforms. It is all in the mix and this is encouraging. However, most translation tool designers and software reviewers seem to be particularly interested in the feature battle and perhaps prefer small increments in productivity instead of improving the overall user experience and including really disruptive technologies. Easier, perhaps, but the wrong way to go, in my opinion. A recipe for disappointment. There are advances in integration but have there been any really significant advances in translation and localisation in the past few years compared to the changes in other industries?

The coming years will surely bring many novelties that will modify more or less dramatically the way we work, in a similar way as Agile methodologies applied to the translation service industry have changed the way we understand and manage projects and engage with our customers. A review of our workflows and the way they interact with technology may bring greater improvements than a new tool alone.

We should not be scared of technology – it is here to help us. We decide how to use it. And in this respect it is important to keep in mind that we are social individuals and that we, generally, like to relate to each other. Not many decades ago, computers, devices and software programmed to play chess provided hours of fun to many, though never really replaced the flexibility of a human player, not to mention the option to have a drink with your opponent afterward. Gaming online today is oriented to playing with other real players, because we seem to enjoy this more than playing against machines. In a similar way, we prefer a human to answer a call to an annoying automated call centre that can be completely useless if the person that is enquiring has a particular accent and is required to input voice commands, or does not fully understand the operator’s language. Technology is an invaluable tool, but in adequate combination with us. Despite all these technological advances, human translation and human interaction in language projects is and will continue to be a key central point for many years to come. Enjoy the future.

RobertoRoberto Silva
Technology Solutions Manager
With over 20 years of experience in the translation and localisation industry, Roberto brings a balanced approach to his role, ensuring that the use of best in class technology assists Conversis staff in delivering even better customer service and efficiency.  He is spearheading the implementation of workflow automation technology at Conversis and his brief stretches across the range of localisation based tools. Roberto also has a Masters in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.


Smartling: Developing the Cloud Translation Experience

Smartling Logo

After meself and himself of Smartling met at the Websummit, I wanted to look at a forthcoming Smartling self-service offering suitable for software developers. When Jack Welde (@jwelde) (i.e., himself) gave me the nod, I got to it, taking the opportunity to reflect on the developer experience and enterprise translation, generally.

Offering translation “as a service” for developers faces two related issues: how to make it easy for busy developers to get stuff translated without disrupting their core activity, and how to build a business model out of all that. My main concern is the developer experience, but it’s obvious the Smartling startup puck is heading towards the enterprise.

Exploring Smartling

Smartling is a rising star, with 65 million USD in funding; regarded as the industry disruptor to watch in 2015.

Smartling packs a REST-like API to integrate with, and connect to, development environments for software resources of all sorts, web-based content, documentation, and so on. From a developer perspective, a PaaS ability to use APIs to hook up translation to IDEs, dev environments and source control systems, is a must-have feature. Eliminating on-premise hardware and consulting set up time offers more ROI and productivity.

It was easy for me to get going in the Smartling browser-based UI, uploading a Java properties file, and exploring the features.

Smartling uses a very cool Context Capture API to associate visual context to HTML content for translation. Connecting a rendered UI to translatable resource string IDs (offering a preview of the translation into the bargain) makes for a better final deliverable. Behind-the-firewall HTML content can be similarly contextualized using the Chrome Context Capture extension.

Previewable source and target strings shown in context during translation

Previewable source and target strings shown in context during translation

Externalization of content from code is key to having developers on your side. Most IDE and file formats have i18n/L10n support to abstract away translation risk, so Smartling has a great baseline to enable quality translation and development productivity alike, the translator UI protecting valuable coding goodness from damage during the source-to-target language change.

Smartling provides automatic extraction of a glossary for review, a way to include style guidance, and offers features in the translator UI to define and move about patternized placeables, dashboard reporting, and so on. Mucho flexibility, if you need it.

Extracted glossary entries

Extracted glossary entries

Smartling also enables customization of the translation workflow to suit business needs. For example, different translation workflow steps might be tailored to involve particular stakeholders before the translation is finalized (enterprise stakeholders, beyond end users, are that “political third rail”; forgotten with disastrous results).

Easy customization of translation workflow steps

Easy customization of translation workflow steps

I conjured up my own translations, but Smarting integrates with human and machine translation for a quality result.

What developers care about is a productivity solution in the cloud that resonates with their world of work, and that worked for me. I liked the Smartling approach. It was easy to set up, to integrate into processes, to see stuff translated in context, and to get valid translated files back for the build or deployment stage.

Understanding Developers

The “translation as a service” model is not new. GitHub, APIs, Python, Ruby, Node.Js, PaaS, and so on, are now standard parts of the developer lexicon. Yet, the localization industry continues to play catch up with developer community happenings, whether they be FOSS-based or corporate.

Developers are not translators, and don’t want to be. Empathizing with the developers’ world is the foundation for ideating together on smart solutions. Smartling has already done some awesome developer outreach such as the LinguaHack event in Kiev (others, please take note).

LinguaHack 2014 from Smartling on Vimeo. Click to launch.

Smartling LinguaHack Hackathon in Kiev, 2014

So, Smartling looks like a fine solution from the developer perspective; one for builders to get apps, websites and documentation translated easily and out there into the global market. It is, of course, an on-going story.

Smartling nails the notion that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to translation for developers, and from my explorations the solution hits the mark with cloud-based developer productivity and usability.

To use all Smartling features optimally is really an enterprise-level undertaking. Developers will never rush to attach contextual images or add descriptive notes to strings. Reviewing glossary extractions, creating translated terminology, and so on, are not developer competencies. Such things require a team: localization managers, translation coordinators, terminologists, information professionals, and others working further upstream in the software development lifecycle.

Enterprising Solutions

Enterprise translation requirements now go far beyond app resources, HTML sites, and documentation. It’s a complex business, and comes with critical performance, scalability and security prerequisites. Sure, it’s unglamorous, but as Oscar Wilde says, it’s better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.

Enterprises need to see real ROI and have incentives to move from current solutions. This is true of on-premise to SaaS adoption generally; there are other constraints too. Like user experience generally, making that decision “depends”.

So, I’ll be watching where that enterprise translation puck goes in 2015 for Smartling, and for others.

Going Native: Chinese Mobile UX

Shout out for a great article by Dan Grover (@dangrover), writing about Chinese mobile app user interface trends.

Chinese Mobile App UI Trends. Image via Dan Grover.

Chinese Mobile App UI Trends. Image via Dan Grover.

Dan relocated from San Francisco to China, and used this move to document and share some great insights into Chinese user experience that are invaluable for localization too.

Check out the examples. I love the sections on how discovery is the new hamburger menu and how chat is a universal UI in its own right.

And you thought QR codes were dead?

In keeping with the inspiration for the article, it is now available in Chinese too:  中国移动应用设计趋势解读

Let’s see more articles like this!

The Importance of Translated Public Health Information Comes Home

Spotted these notices in the arrivals area at Dublin Airport as I returned from abroad. The information is about the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease. These notices are in Gaeilge (Irish), English, and French, and are published by the Irish Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

Ebola health protection signs at Dublin Airport in Gaeilge, English, and French.

Ebola health protection signs at Dublin Airport in Gaeilge, English, and French.

A reminder that we live in a globalized world, sure. Not that disease ever respected national boundaries.

But, it’s also a reminder of the importance of translated public health information.

In this case the information was translated by the state, but there are plenty of places and situations worldwide where translated information is not, or cannot be, done that way for the local audience. So, you help deliver important translated public information by contributing to Translators Without Borders (@TranslatorsWB)or by seeking some other way to use your translation skills, or some of your hard earned money, for humane causes.