Thursday, September 9, 2010

Emerging Technology for Community Translation

I have been talking about the changes going on in the translation industry for awhile with MT being a key technology capability needed to manage the increasing volume of content. I suspect that MT will become more important and quite possibly supersede  translation memory (TM) tools in many applications. However, I also believe that the best MT systems will be closely connected to translator feedback which of course requires some degree of integration with workflow and editing applications.

I have felt that it is also likely that other translation tools will also change to accommodate these new market requirements. TMS tools were originally developed and optimized for relatively static content, and have generally existed in isolation in localization departments. Over time they have started to get connected to content management systems (CMS) to increase production efficiencies. Very recently we have started seeing some of these tools becoming more collaborative and reaching out to translators to connect them into the content creation and translation management infrastructure. Automation, becomes much more imperative, as the volume of content that is translated grows. CSA has recently suggested that LSPs without a technology and automation strategy will become an endangered species. While there are a few new initiatives out there that help with these "new" problems, one of the more exciting ones I think is Lingotek.

I had an opportunity to talk to Rob Vandenberg at Lingotek about his translation collaboration platform or CTP as they call it. This is a web and cloud based platform and requires no local software to be installed. This to my mind is a next generation tool that is designed from the outset to incorporate and leverage TM, terminology, various MT systems and both internal and community feedback on translations in one common management framework. Lingotek is to some extent a TMS but much more community focused and content stream focused than any of the traditional TMS tools. Also like many of the best products out there it evolved out of a close collaboration with a customer; Adobe in this case, who by the way also uses a traditional TMS product quite intensively.

This differs from traditional TMS in that it “embeds translation tools within the content view” and is also designed to allow many different user groups (customers, partners, resellers, community and professional translators) to all work together on the same content.

Lingotek is focused on
Community Content  (like Dell IdeaStorm) and facilitates the translation of this content by either community, MT or professional translation and provides linguistic assets and a translator workbench to anybody involved in this translation effort. I have stated before that I think that conversations with real customers and partners is the future of building international markets, so I would expect that Lingotek and others like them will become much more important than the tools that focus on the traditional SDL (software and documentation localization) market.  The graphics below shows what the translator workbench screen looks like and how a user can override an existing translation.
Lingotek is connecting to a growing set of community content creation & collaboration tools like: Jive, Drupal, Sharepoint, Oracle UMC and soon will connect to Alfresco, Telligent and Sales Force. They plan to continue to expand on the supported set of “content containers” mostly driven by the platforms used by their customers.


So content can be categorized as it is flows, by community administrators who decide how particular content needs to be translated by it’s relative value. So for example in the following hypothetical table, 1 is the least important content and 10 is very important content that requires and could only be done by professional translation processes.
Content Value Index Description
1-3 Blog comments
4-6 Blog entries
7-8 Marketing material, Basic documentation
9-10 GUI, Critical documentation, Product marketing materials

So typically an administrator would decide about routing content to the following three translation processes based on an assessment of value and the required linguistic quality of the translation :

  1. Assign to professional translation
  2. Assign to community, MT + community post-editing or
  3. Process through customized MT
The Adobe project in China is an example of how this can work. Adobe user groups in China are creating content in addition to assisting in the translation of Adobe corporate content. Then, in addition to seeing this new and ever expanding translated content on Adobe sites, user groups and partners are also allowed to place this content on their own sites too. This flow of content is generally helpful to anybody who is using these Adobe products. This is collaboration at work and I think this is a very cool of customer/partner engagement. This is an example of a global company talking directly to customers and partners in local markets and making them part of the translation and content creation process. I think that other global enterprises will follow because it simply makes sense. Communities make sense because customers trust voices in the community and anything that facilitates and expands engagement with local customers can only benefit the global enterprise. This is the stuff that builds customer and brand loyalty. 

While I am often mistaken as an SMT evangelist, I am most excited by new models of man-machine collaboration that frees information, knowledge and makes it pervasive across languages. I am excited by the problem that Lingotek is attempting to solve as I think it is the most exciting place to be in the global-business-driven translation market:
  • Making Community content multilingual
  • Making dynamic and continuously updated content streams multilingual
  • Allowing both internal and external professional translation resources to work together with community and crowd (think customer, not mob) volunteers
  • Creating tight linkages to traditional translation tools (MT, TM, Terminology) and providing tools for any capable volunteer to participate
I would not be surprised to see that community-focused initiatives become more important than traditional localization in terms of value to the final customers. The only other tool I am aware of that comes close to what Lingotek is doing, is the new version of Across where they have added many MT hookups and a crowdsourcing module. I think this need to manage the content flow, triage translation jobs and set up flows where both internal and external resources collaborate will grow in importance as the content continues to grow in volume. Here is an investor take on Lingotek and this is a slide presentation on the collaborative translation platform.

If anybody is interested in hearing the actual conversation we had, it is available here but be warned it is 50 minutes or so and was not intended to be entertaining.

I am planning on writing about crowdsourcing soon as I think it is a much misunderstood phenomenon that will become commonplace in the enterprise translation market. While I don’t claim to be an expert on this – I think anybody with an open mind can see it is inevitable and necessary.


  1. I think there is still room for desktop solutions. They will continue to be used along with cloud-based solutions. A light client could sometimes (actually in many cases) be more reliable than web-only platforms, especially where connections are unstable or only available via UMTS devices. Anyway, in a few years span traditional translation environments will be obsolete. Renato is right in foreseeing translation memory are doomed; they will become unrelevant for the way they have been used so far, especially by LSP's to exploit fake leverage (fuzzy matches) to profit from both clients and vendors.
    In the meanwhile, the study on Dynamic Translation Memory, about using SMT to improve TM's fuzzy matches could open a new scenario, while reinforcing the pillars in support of controlled languages.

  2. Another tool for translators collaboration but focused bit more on software localization

  3. The blog u made was really quite interesting and it was really helpful indeed with a good analysis.
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