This is an expansion of a conversation I had with Renato Beninatto which he also blogged on and was also video taped here. I am sharing my opinion here not so much because I am endorsing one event or the other, rather this list is just my personal list of preferences and nothing more. I do not claim there is any special status to my personal preferences and you may notice I tend to like conferences where translation technology is emphasized.
We live in an age, where increasingly marketing and corporate-speak is challenged, undermined and sometimes even seen as disingenuous and false. (Raise your hand if you trust and respect corporate press releases). Today we see customer voices rise above the din of corporate messaging, and taking control of branding and corporate reputations with their own “authentic” discussions of actual customer experiences, while marketing departments look on haplessly. I think this phenomenon is happening on many fronts, including conferences in the localization industry. There are too many events in the L10N industry that seem formulaic, routine, repetitive and engineered based on the same old viewpoints. This, I think affects the ability of these events to really spark dialogue, excitement and generate vital learning experiences that make these conferences must-attend events. While these events remain useful for “face-time”, they often have little value for really engaging attendees at a professional level and providing insights that drive new action plans.
What makes for a great conference or professional industry event? To my mind: high quality content, interactive and engaged audiences in sessions that broaden one’s horizons, interesting people who continue the professional dialogue outside of the sessions and share learning experiences and of course a good location. And if you can offer all of this at a reasonable cost, even better. A great professional event is characterized by learning, the more intensive the learning experience, the better. The best ones leave you thinking for awhile after the event. Intense learning rarely happens at “really big” events because it is hard to scale this, but hopefully you have a few intense one-on-one interactions.
I also really like events that really focus on the customer: the real customer. The real customer would be the management team that runs, handles and is held accountable for success and failure of international initiatives (rarely the localization department of that company IMO). So the real customer would be senior sales, marketing, product management and customer support people who may also fund and direct the localization department mission in the global enterprise. (We rarely see them at any localization conferences because localization is rarely a central focus for them.) The real customer is more likely to focus on market share trends and customer satisfaction / loyalty rather than word rates, fuzzy matching rates, TM ownership, SimShip or vendor management.
The question that Ultan O'Broin posed most recently in Quora was:
He also presents a categorization of these conferences as follows Generalist, Specialty and Geography-focused events. He said that he liked to attend one or two of each category and his preferences are stated in the links above.
I still see myself as more of a pragmatic technology guy, trying to solve meaningful and useful translation problems (hopefully) with technology, rather than an industry insider (not quite a localization professional), so I would organize this a little bit differently but it still has much in common with Renato’s view. For MT especially it is all about understanding and learning how to use it at this point in time.
I think there are 3 or more categories of conferences that touch localization and translation. The following is my very crude categorization. (Hopefully somebody can suggest a better categorization scheme. Please feel free to tear this apart).
1) Traditional Corporate L10N & Translation Focused Conferences
2) Translation Technology & L10N Research Focused Conferences
3) Special Focus & Miscellaneous and
New Opportunities and Events/Industries/Markets to ExploreIf I limit myself to three or so in each category I would select the following events.
Category 1: Localization World and ELIA are the best in terms of content quality and networking value IMO. Localization World is the largest industry insider event (and the only one where I have seen a real customer view occasionally) and ELIA is a great example of sharing and collaboration between peers and competitors. This is the most crowded conference category and my recommendation would be for people to choose carefully amongst the available options (using location and content as a guide). There are some who prefer the LISA and GALA versions of this category and they can also be good and sometimes slightly different like the LISA event at UC Berkeley.
Category 2: TAUS Annual User Conference for MT focus from enterprise customer perspectives, (not the regional meetups held around the world) even though this event has some overlap with the first category.
AMTA for a deep dive on machine translation related issues that covers both the gory details of the technology and its use in public and private sectors, but this event has a very strong US focus.
LRC for broad and innovative localization research and thinking that is truly focused on the next generation of needs.
Translingual Europe 2010: This was a free event held in Berlin that I think shows promise had much about MT and broader language technology initiatives across the world but especially in the EU.
Category 3: IMTT events have great content and a wonderful collaborative and sharing culture and I also think are one of the few events where you really get to see both LSP and translator perspectives engage together.
AGIS to understand the issues in the non-profit world where translation is often linked to national development priorities or alleviation of information poverty. A different perspective and much more ambitious initiatives that involve national policy oftentimes. I am willing to bet that the leaders in the non-profit arena will also be the first to really use technology well and drive standards forward. I suspect that the most interesting crowdsourcing initiatives will also come from the non-profit area and passionate community leaders rather than global enterprises.
tekom is an opportunity for localization professionals to connect to a broader customer community and I hope that more of this happens in 2011. The industry can only grow and gain momentum by becoming more involved with larger broader and vertical market focused shows which are important to real customers.
I think some of the smaller events can also be very interesting e.g. The last LISA Crowdsourcing round table was informative and showed potential and promise but lost momentum because of weak follow-up. I am told that some of the smaller events in Eastern & Southern Europe also have very high quality content and great engagement. Web based events are growing in popularity but very few have found the right mix of content and engagement.
I hope that we will see more events focused on resolving issues around data interchange and exchange standards so that translation data flows much more easily and fewer on process standards.
New Opportunities and Events/Industries/Markets to Explore
Possibly the best and most exciting business opportunities and ability to learn about new long-term strategic opportunities are shows that have been off the beaten path and ignored by most industry insiders.
Some possibilities for translation industry collaborations in future and where I think the best opportunities lie for emerging translation and localization demand are listed below. Again just some suggestions and not a complete list by any means. It would be worth finding out which are the best conferences to meet customers, providers and thought leaders in the following areas and develop marketing communications that interest, educate and engage these attendees, on localization and translation issues.
- Travel & Hospitality,
- Customer Care, Customer Service & Support,
- Consortium for Service Innovation Events,
- eContent Publishers,
- eLearning and Online Education,
- eDiscovery & Litigation Support,
- Patent, Science & Technology,
- Social Media & MarComm / PR as well as
- Open Collaboration type events
I think video content will be a major new opportunity, and will likely cover all of the above segments. I have seen that there are video subtitling/dubbing focused conferences but have not attended one yet and I suspect that this is an area worth exploring as a long-term opportunity. Video content translation is likely to be the fastest growing new sector for the industry as Cisco estimates that 90% of IP traffic will be video related by 2013. If that is where the end-customer is, it makes sense to focus on it. I am sure mobile will also be a growing and strategic area.
Finally, I think we should all be exploring how to get more connected in to BRICI global commerce focused events. (This is more complicated than holding an event in China and/or India.) It is very likely that as the export/import sectors in these fast growing countries expands there will be events and conferences, that will be worth tapping into to really get access into these markets. I would bet that the best events will be organized by locals in these regions who are interested in globalization issues, possibly even government sponsored events.
Please join the discussion on Quora or comment on this blog as this is by no means a definitive or authoritative list. What do you think? And lets hope that we all find “a real customer” at the events we go to.