Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Annual Review–Most Popular Posts of 2013


“Disruption is not something we set out to do. It is something that happens because of what we do,” stresses Brian Solis. Disruption changes human behavior (think: iPhone) and it’s a mixture of both ‘design-thinking and system-thinking’ to get there. So as an innovator, where do you begin if you don’t start with attempting disruption. To boil down Solis’ message into a word: ‘empathy.’

That’s right, empathy. Empathy drives the core of your vision as an innovator, or so it should says Solis.

Solis says that there are only two ways to change human behavior, by manipulating people, or by inspiring them. If you choose the former, good luck on your journey, but if you would prefer to attempt the latter with your innovative attempts, then you should start with empathy: the why of your product or company. That is how you will capture attention, and hold onto it, especially in the technologically, socially-driven world today.”

The excerpt above is from this post on The future of innovation is disruption (emphasis mine).

“The end of business as usual takes more than vision and innovation to survive digital Darwinism however. It requires a tectonic shift from product or industry focus to that of long-term consumer experiences. Businesses that don’t are forever caught in a perpetual cycle of competing for price and performance. It is in fact one of the reasons that Apple can command a handsome premium. The company delivers experiences that contribute to an overall lifestyle and ultimately style and self-expression. Think about the business model it takes to do so however. You can’t invent or invest in new experiences if your business is fixated on roadmaps and defending aging business models (SDL & LIOX?).”

This excerpt is from a fascinating article on the collapse of the Japanese consumer electronics industry and especially Sony, Panasonic and Sharp.

These quotes I think are particularly prescient for the professional translation business which is changing quietly and dramatically as we speak. Technology, new production models, changing buyer requirements and open collaboration models are changing the business in both very subtle and obvious ways in an increasingly global world. While many feel discomfort, very few feel like they understand what is going on, or have a clear sense for what they could do to deal with these changes. (It is more than: “I have to use MT “.) This blog claims to focus on these broader issues even though much of what I cover focuses on the translation technology impacts of these changes. These broader supply and demand forces are the primary forces behind many of these technology changes and adoption and it makes sense to try and unravel this through discussion and closer examination.

Thus if we look at the big themes of the year (not just in this blog, but also at conferences and the broader internet discussions) we see how the industry in evolving. Here are the most popular posts on this blog in 2013 (in order of popularity) around these key themes:

  • Post-editing compensation and practice
  • Clarifying new waves of misinformation on MT technology and practice put forth by alleged experts
  • Different views on the changes in the professional translation business
  1. Exploring Issues Related to Post-Editing MT Compensation: This article continues to get attention today even though it was written early in 2012 and it still shows up regularly in the top 3 posts, virtually every week. The post has links to several interesting posts on post-editing and I think this is possibly one of the reasons why it continues have long-term value, as it gathers different opinions and viewpoints in a useful and unbiased way. The popularity of this post suggests that this is an important issue to resolve in a fair and equitable way to enable broader MT adoption. All parties involved need to work together to establish trusted and equitable compensation as this could be a key driver or obstacle to broader MT deployment. It would be useful for translators especially to step forward and suggest ways to do this more efficiently and accurately. For example this post by Jason Hall shows that simply equating MT output quality to TM matches may not make sense, and that leveraging MT is entirely different from leveraging TM. However most observers still continue to miss the fact that MT output is the result of engineering efforts and can be managed to a great extent.
  2. Emerging Language Industry & Language Technology Trends Much of what I said about the overall trends in the industry in this post still hold true for the coming year. I was surprised at how little progress was made in understanding MT and how the glib talking and over promising just never seems to stop. MT is difficult to do well but increasingly easy to do badly, so I suspect we will see many unhappy translators who will  be expected to clean-up after incompetent MT practitioners for a pittance.
  3. Translation Pricing & PEMT Process Management This post documents ELIA Munich conference sessions that describe the huge variance in pricing for translation services, which I found quite shocking and was probably quite unsettling for many buyers of translation services. A discussion here also helped me to realize how tenuous many agency to customer relationships are and how easily they can be displaced by competitors. Finally, some good discussion on PEMT from actual practice. I think I saw clear signs that the day of the generic translation services agency are coming to a head and that specialists will rule in future. I predict that trust will be the most effective differentiator in the professional translation business and that this is earned by demonstrated competence and real expertise in specific subject areas. 
  4. Dispelling MT Misconceptions This was my response to a article in Multilingual magazine that I felt was filled with half-truths and gross generalizations that I believed were more a product of ignorance than malice. There is a some spirited discussion in the comments as well which I never censor unless they are clearly SPAM or personally malicious. These comments are helpful in getting opposing views also aired.
  5. Understanding ROI with Machine Translation Technology This post focuses on the issues that matter most for maximizing Return on Investment for MT. In a nutshell it can be stated as 1) Domain Focus, 2) Ensure the MT quality is the highest possible as “good” MT produces the highest productivity and least amount of translator backlash and discontent, and is harder to duplicate by instant DIY means, 3) Use these good MT systems a lot across multiple customers which also means you start developing real expertise in selected domains.
  6. Translator Strategies For Dealing With PEMT This was an attempt I made to provide some basic guidelines to translators to identify PEMT projects that are worth considering versus ones that are not. There is a very interesting discussion in the comments as well and one that I think might be worth a close look for anybody who wants to get a better sense for the human factors involved in automation and MT deployment. This is an area that I think deserves much more attention by MT vendors and all practitioners who wish to create win-win scenarios.
  7. Understanding MT Customization This was a post whose intent was to provide clear differentiation between an expert managed system and a typical DIY system. It evoked strong reactions from several MT vendors and perhaps ended up as a kind of a MT vendor brawl (definitely not my original intention) in the comments section. However, still useful if you want to see how different MT vendors approach the market. My bias/position is clear, most people who try DIY will produce sub-optimal results and and most DIYers don’t know how to do it themselves. MT is difficult even for experts, and if you cannot produce systems that are better than the public systems why bother?
Solis says that innovating for the next ten years will be part problem-solving, part design-thinking. But there are four aspects you should apply when you set out to create something, in order they are:
    • Empathy (the why)
    • Context (the connected world in which you are building something)
    • Creativity (in your approach to problem-solving)
    • Logic (the rationality to test what you have created)

I think it is quite possible that the business of translation is moving towards new business models to a kind of platform based approach.  Solis and others believe that creating this  platform is way disruption will come. The closest that I have seen in this business is that provides an example is Smartling but others like Gengo, Cloudwords  also point to directions of how this might evolve. They all change how customers buy and how the work gets done.

In considering one of the finest examples of how change can be brought about by inspiration rather than manipulation I think we must look at Nelson Mandela. I spent my childhood in Rhodesia under a government where institutionalized racism was the law of the land. I always felt as I grew older  (12-13) that the future was going to be bloody and violent. How could it not be? I saw what looked like innocent African men to me being beaten to the ground by policemen, and learnt how to cope with tear gas in my bedroom as a basic childhood survival skill (cover your eyes with wet towels).  I was thus astonished and amazed that one man could have so much influence when power shifted. Nelson Mandela though far from being a perfect saintly man, is a shining example of how a man can face adversity and oppression and still be graceful, joyful and civilized. In a speech in India he said: “I could never reach the standard of morality, simplicity and love for the poor set by the Mahatma, while Gandhi was a human without weaknesses, I am a man of many weaknesses.”

Mandela dancing and at peace with the world

For those who are not familiar with the man here is a wonderful tribute on the Brain Pickings site that includes his inaugural address in full.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

An Indian mystic’s viewpoint on the man

I wish you all Happy Holidays, Merry Xmas and a joyful, healthy and prosperous New Year.

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