Monday, February 15, 2010

Learning to Share in Professional Forums: Collaboration

I read an article that I thought was striking and worth sharing. When I look back at how I started this blog, I recall the first few entries were about censorship and a discussion about how we as an industry produce too many similar conferences which dilutes the consolidated effort and marginalizes localization professionals in the general corporate landscape.

I think that perhaps, one of the reasons the professional translation industry is so fragmented, is that there are very low barriers to entry and competition is reduced to price in most cases. This creates an environment where the level of distrust is high among the various players in the supply chain and the level of collaboration is minimal and guarded if it exists at all. This is quite visible in the translation technology (too many trying to do exactly the same thing), the relationship between freelancers and LSPs and even in the general status of localization managers in global enterprises. 

While I don’t really have any definitive answers, I do think it is worth asking some fundamental questions to see if there is a way to get the disparate elements working together. Why is the industry unable to build greater mass, visibility and momentum?

It is interesting to see that many of the most exciting things happening in the world of translation are happening outside the realm of control of the professional industry. Facebook, TED, dotSUB, Ushahidi, Global Voices, Meedan are all initiatives that have learned to harness motivated and willing crowds. These are exciting initiatives that are changing the world. Google Translate, a vibrant open source SMT movement (Moses) and upstarts like Asia Online and others are making the most waves in the translation automation sector. In contrast, most of the news about our industry trade associations (GALA, ELIA, TAUS, ProZ, ATA, LW, LISA etc..) has to do with continuing communication problems, fragmentation and difficulties in developing meaningful collaboration models.

We have seen massive change in the music, newspaper, customer support that is driven by collaboration, open technology platforms and open knowledge sharing by motivated communities in social networks. It would not be surprising to see that these same Web 2.0 dynamics and forces could bring big changes to the world of professional translation. A study by Deloitte describes this "Big Shift" where IT infrastructure development, free knowledge flows and public policy support together are fundamentally reshaping the economic playing field.
One of the keys to connecting to the energy that these new collaborative movements foster is learning to share openly which brings me back to the article that triggered this entry.  I think it starts with just how we as individuals share what we know about our business and expertise. The industry needs to develop stronger collaboration models. From my vantage point, I see that there is some sharing going on between translators but very little between all the key players and levels in the professional translation supply chain. The first step in building strong peer-to-peer networks and collaboration culture is learning how to share. The chart below shows how the Ogilvy PR group has mapped some of the drivers of influence and persuasion to a social media context, where sharing is a primary action and modus operandi.6a00d8341cb26653ef0120a8989ca3970b

The study referenced in the article talks about awe as a key ingredient driving sharing behavior. Apparently human beings like to share awe and humans who share awe can bring about change. They say:
“Awe-inducing experiences encourage people to look beyond themselves and deepen connections to the broader social world (Shiota, Keltner, and Mossman 2007). All of these factors suggest that awe should lead people to want to share."

I also saw another article that again made me think about the unrealized potential we as an industry have, if we learned to walk together. We need to evolve from standard command-and-control views to developing strong collaborative cultures.

I found a few more tidbits from the CSI site that attach to this thread and suggest a new model that we can adopt:
If information is to function as a source of organizational vitality, we must abandon our dark cloaks of control and trust in its need for free movement, even in our own organizations. Information is necessary for new order, an order we do not impose, but order nonetheless. All of life uses information in this way” – Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science

“The open society, the unrestricted access to knowledge, the unplanned and uninhibited association of men for its furtherance—these are what may make a vast, complex, ever-growing, ever-changing, evermore specialized and expert technological world, nevertheless a world of human community.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1954

There are some signs of collaboration culture beginning to take root: The L10NCafe is one attempt I know of, I also believe that the Open Translation Tools summit will lead to something of substance even though they have humble beginnings. I am sure there must be others that I do not know or have not mentioned.

I sense that the translation industry is poised for dramatic change, not all of it comfortable and welcome. However, I think that translation will increasingly be a  force driving change in the world, not just for developing new commercial markets, but also to raise the quality of life for millions. And for me that is a truly awesome and wonderful idea. I hope that you too can find things that are worth sharing.


  1. great blog entree - so true regarding awe - it is contagious

    Michael Smolens

  2. I do think that more sharing and collaboration would be very good for the industry. It would help to get better and faster translations, large projects will be easier to handle and less training would be required for freelance translators. Thanks for sharing all the links to those really useful sites and interesting articles, by the way.