In The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman divides modern history into three periods. Globalization 1.0 occupied the years between Columbus’ 1492 voyage to the Americas and the 1800s. It is characterized by collaboration at a country level. That is, things were generally accomplished within a national scope, and people were concerned with how their country fit into the world.
Between 1800 and 2000, we graduated to Globalization 2.0, where companies became the primary vehicle by which we experienced the world. More recently, we progressed to Globalization 3.0 and now have the ability to experience, work and collaborate with the world as individuals apart from the companies or countries to which we belong. This is a big change and is greatly influencing both our personal and professional lives.
The growth of open source illustrates this change. Open source solutions are becoming increasingly popular, even more so than their traditional counterparts. According to the book Wikinomics, 2006 was the year when Flickr beat Webshots, Wikipedia beat Britannica, Blogger beat CNN, Epinions beat Consumer Reports, Google Maps beat MapQuest, and Craigslist beat Monster. About half of all web servers are now powered by Apache, and 1.2 million people download OpenOffice every week. The number of open-source projects doubles every 14 months. By 2012, according to Gartner, 90% of companies with IT services will use open-source products of some type. Clearly, a lot of energy is associated with collaborating to provide products that are more interactive, higher quality and less expensive if not free.
In our own industry there are collaboration groups and associations such as TAUS, LISA and even LinkedIn groups. While these organizations serve important functions, we will demonstrate that there is also a need for a peer-to-peer network where experts are voted into place by the community and that authority is earned based on contribution, sharing and the quality of interactions.
Social networking and collaboration in particular are often confused with each other. Social networking is concerned with creating and maintaining relationships, getting people together and coordinating their activities. Collaboration is concerned with accomplishing a task, project or goal. Of course, accomplishing anything usually requires people, and any time people are involved there is a social aspect to their interactions. Therefore, collaboration solutions usually include social networking features to help the work along.
Collaboration can happen either synchronously or asynchronously. Phone calls, meetings and webinars are examples of synchronous collaboration where everyone is working together at the same time. E-mail, blogs, wikis, lists, documents and workflows are examples of asynchronous collaboration where people participate at different times depending on their location, availability and priorities.
Internal collaboration refers to intra-company interactions or working with other employees of the same organization or company. Organizing the knowledge of people “owned” by the company is a natural step towards more open collaboration. Some of the fears and obstacles associated with open collaboration are avoided by working exclusively with others who are bound by the same rules and organizational culture. However, many are realizing that no matter how smart or numerous their employees, ideas and opportunities exist outside their companies. To avail themselves of this external knowledge and creativity, companies have begun collaborating on specific initiatives with select partners — a few companies that share similar goals, rules and culture. Many choose to continue collaborations after the initiatives that instigated them have ended and are turning increasingly towards more open or external collaboration.
In the past, if you asked people what collaboration tools they used, most would mention e-mail and the telephone. Though these tools still reign supreme, blogs, microblogs and the like are becoming more common. It seems almost everyone has a blog now. Many of us are tweeting, and wikis are prevalent as well.
Today, robust collaboration platforms contain a growing list of features including blogs, microblogs, wikis, versioning, alerting, rating, RSS, metrics, user management, security, podcasting, search, mobile support, chat, polling, user profiles, dashboards, workflows and calendars. Integration with e-mail, online services and the ability to add external widgets from sites such as Flickr is important. Project management features such as task tracking and sharing are becoming more important. For example, Microsoft is strengthening the tie between Microsoft Project and SharePoint for its 2010 release.
The better platforms can also manage web pages, documents, graphics and videos along with their source files. They also integrate with content creation tools. Unfortunately, the ability to schedule, host and document web meetings with desktop sharing and telephony usually requires using multiple services. While this is an obvious gap for many platform providers, plenty of vendors specialize in these services. Some even offer free internet meetings for small numbers of people. Knowledge management is a newer area to emerge and includes expert location, knowledge networks, idea management, talent development and information organization.
With Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, we have become familiar with social networking and its associated features of finding people and establishing networks. Some platforms emphasize these features while others emphasize collaboration features. The large platform vendors have seen the need for both and are moving to shore up weaknesses in both areas.
Who are the major collaboration platform vendors? According to research conducted by Gartner, of the hundreds of providers, only three are considered to be leaders in the platform space for the workplace: Jive Software, IBM Lotus Connections and Microsoft SharePoint. Most of the smaller vendors focus on niche areas, such as WordPress does with blogs or Zoho does with online meetings. Though many of these services provide plug-ins or APIs to offset their weaknesses, putting them together in a coherent way that provides security and interoperability is nearly impossible. That’s why most companies opt for a collaboration platform that provides the most desirable features along with a framework that ties them all together for security, search, maintenance and so on. While small vendors work to make their products integrate with the platforms, the platform providers are working to include the goodness of the smaller vendors into their own products.
While social networking is often free, collaboration tools usually are not. There are many ways vendors can charge for and provide these features, including software as a service, hosted service, on-premise installations as well as pay-per-use or pay-per-user subscriptions. The communities using these platform tools are often internal to a specific company. This is because the collaboration platforms have been cost prohibitive for external, grass roots communities. However, free, open and less expensive options are available and improving all the time.
Why do we collaborate?
First, there are internal, self-motivating reasons for collaboration. For example, we enjoy the recognition and validation we receive from peers for our ideas and our work. After all, our peers are often more capable of appreciating and valuing our accomplishments than our employers. So, collaboration fills an emotional need. It also provides an outlet for our causes or at least a vehicle through which to accomplish them. Most of us have our causes — special topics or issues we are passionate about and want the world to better understand so that others will value them more as well. Collaboration provides a way of accomplishing that — a way to get the word out, educate people and gather like-minded people. Once gathered, these people can be mobilized to aid the cause. These causes might be anything from helping people with rare forms of cancer to organizing an industry to better tackle its challenges and fulfill its purpose.
Current trends toward increased collaboration are at least partially due to generational differences. Generation X, those people born between 1961 and 1981, tends to value loyalty, seniority, security and authority. However, Generation Y — also known as the “Next” or “N Generation” — values creativity, social connectivity, fun, freedom, speed and diversity. These values make Generation Y more collaborative by nature.
There are also external reasons for increased collaboration, as noted earlier. Consumers benefit by getting software for free or at a much-reduced cost. A motivator for companies is profit, especially profit via cost savings. Companies that have switched to open-source software such as Apache, Linux and OpenOffice claim to have eliminated most of their costs in these areas. Some companies with competing products have switched from duplicating competitors’ efforts to joining open-source communities and contributing to foundation code that is shared by all. They then create software to enhance the foundation code and sell that as a new way to generate revenue.
Here are some common issues and fears relating to collaboration in the Globalization 3.0 world along with their common counterpoints.
First, it is increasingly difficult to monitor all the communications, tweets, conversations, Facebook statuses and text messages of employees. Companies fear employees may compromise their intellectual property, disclose release dates or disclose other confidential information. However, this risk can be mitigated by educating participants and other means. Also, some of the less confidential information companies protect might be exchanged for knowledge that is more valuable to them, such as something they don’t already know.
Second, increased collaboration, especially in regard to open-source initiatives, will result in more things becoming free. This is great for consumers but not for developers who are unable to secure rewards for their creativity and hard work. On the other hand, these efforts often serve to standardize platforms that minimize the duplication of platform work and integration issues. Developers can make money building and supporting add-ons to the standard platform.
Third, collaboration fosters a sort of collectivism that places the needs of the group over the needs of the individual. While this is how some cultures operate, some Western cultures fear anything that hints remotely of socialism or communism. This may be answered by taking it slow. Though it is difficult to predict the future or to assuage political fears, we can take one step at a time.
Fourth, you can’t be sure of what you will get from strangers or crowds as they contain experts as well as opinionated non-experts. It’s a mixed bag. The counterpoint to this is that with the right process, technology and oversight, you can corral the efforts and knowledge of the crowd to produce a quality product, in many ways better than any subset of people could create. Wikipedia, Apache, OpenOffice and Linux have proven this.
Current Industry Collaboration
We have seen the first few examples of crowdsourcing translation in the last two years. Common Sense Advisory defines collaborative translation as an emerging approach to translation in which companies use the elements of crowdsourcing in a controlled environment for working on large corporate projects in short periods of time. Common Sense also talks about an experience that mixes community, crowdsourced and collaborative translation to offer a translation that is quick, of good quality and in tune with users’ experience. It can involve professional translators or not. We see that the lines between internal and external get much less clear, and collaboration and cooperation become an imperative. Recently, we have seen success at Facebook and many others, and some uproar at LinkedIn. But this formula of community, open collaboration platform and a common purpose appears to be gaining momentum, and it behooves us to try to learn how to best leverage these emerging models to further our professional objectives.
Once a functioning and active community is assembled and organized, there are significant benefits for all. We are beginning to see several examples from outside the professional translation industry that are now driving the development of collaborative communities and platforms. It is not improbable that these outside initiatives could eventually bring about fundamental and enduring changes to the professional translation industry as well.
Some examples clarify this and show that this combination of community (paid and/or volunteer), collaboration platform, increased automation and common purpose can exist both inside and outside the enterprise.
-- The TED Open Translation Project has translated over 4,200 talks into 63 languages in just six months after building a platform and issuing an open call for volunteers. Another 4,000 more are in progress, and new languages are added constantly.
-- IBM is using bilingual employees to develop and improve the quality of statistical machine translation (SMT) systems designed to make cross-lingual chat communication easier and more effective.
-- Yeeyan in China has steadily translated whole issues of the Economist and the Guardian on a regular basis into Chinese, using a network of 8,000 volunteer translators and a larger community of reviewers around a collaboration platform. In spite of occasional skirmishes with censors, it continues today. They do not use translation memory (TM).
-- Adobe, Cisco, Symantec and others are similarly exploring translating high value customer support content.
-- EMC, Symantec, Facebook and others are expanding their localized language coverage using the community in carefully managed and administered collaboration platforms.
-- Meedan regularly translates news content between Arabic and English to promote understanding and are even giving away a one-million-word TM to anybody who wants it.
-- Microsoft is having highly motivated Most Valuable Professional partners edit and improve its machine translated knowledge base content to continue to improve the customer support experience.
We can expect that the processes and tools will get better. The forces that are driving these initiatives are not based on cost savings, as many believe. LISA recently conducted a survey showing that increased language coverage and deeper engagement with customers motivated many global enterprises into exploring community collaboration projects.
The global enterprise faces an explosion of content. It is increasingly recognized that product-focused community content often has higher value in terms of building customer loyalty and is useful to translate. Some say the increase in the volume of translation-worthy content is at least tenfold and possibly as much as a hundredfold. Clearly, the old model cannot be the foundation for all of this new content in future, either in terms of process or cost.
Last summer, the Open Translation Tools Summit held in Amsterdam was attended by tool builders, translators and publishers motivated to make more information available across languages. Open source initiatives and tools now exist for many linguistic data management tools. Few from the professional translation industry were present at this conference, and it is yet to be seen if the initiatives from it will gain real momentum.
Some in the professional translation industry are waking up to this changing model. Lionbridge, GlobalSight and Lingotek come to mind, and hopefully we will see others embrace openness and standards. Already, the open-source Moses-based statistical engines are outperforming machine translation available from Google and other vendors.
These emerging trends present an opportunity for the most agile translation industry companies, who will lead the change rather than resist it. It is important for us as a community to begin to collaborate and explore how to leverage these trends. We need to understand how to evaluate and use collaboration platforms, when and how to expand our use of automated translation technology and when, where and how to engage invested and willing communities whenever possible. These are the needs that new platforms such as the L10NCafé are hoping to fill.
Clearly, our industry is in the early stages of organizing itself for productive collaboration. The suggested model to develop this is to implement a collaboration and communication platform to improve and multiply our interactions. The community using such a platform could be much larger than any single organization, company or group. This seems unlikely today with the large number of associations, conferences and fractured interests that we see, but our industry perhaps more than many others is actually well-suited to develop effective collaboration models in an online community. In an open and trusted community, experts would emerge over time for all to see and consult with. Many of these experts would be people you will never meet at a conference.
Business author Peter Drucker has his own way of reconciling the past and future. He believes the acquisition of knowledge will supplant the acquisition and distribution of property and income that dominated recent centuries. That pursuit is all about who can assimilate and make use of the most relevant information the fastest. Collaboration, especially the open/ external type, provides an efficient way to assemble, filter, validate and disseminate knowledge. We can therefore expect to see much more of it in our future.
I have written previously about collaboration, actually inspired by this article, in an entry titled Learning to Share in Professional Forums: Collaboration
Michael W. Cox, a project management professional, has worked as a Chinese translator, localization engineer, resource manager, localization strategist and GMS/TMS integrator. He is now now at the Worldify Consulting group. He is also responsible for the L10NCafe site – a perfect example of a growing collaborative knowledge sharing community