Content That Travels Well: The Global Content Management Challenge

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Think globally, act locally. While this slogan might remind you to separate your bottles from your cans, it’s also been the philosophy of most companies when it comes to managing content—and that’s a problem. While international marketplaces and opportunities open up to smaller and mid-sized companies every day, most of those companies are still trying to fit traditionally managed content into global work flows. Companies are only as good as the content they deliver, so it pays to go past thinking globally and start structuring content that can play as well in Pakistan and Paris as it does in Peoria.

Managing content worldwide can be a big challenge, especially on the first venture into international waters. For smaller companies with streamlined staff, it might seem like an overwhelming investment to repurpose content for use in the dozens of different languages or cultures they’d like to do business in. For those S.O.S signals sent up by companies drowning in legacy content or real-time Cantonese translations, there’s a burgeoning market in global management systems (GMS) or applications ready to address critical globalization issues like translation, asset management, and formatting.

Ironically, as the world shrinks around us, the importance of individual people in the content management flow only gets bigger. Global content management is about far more than getting the digital package to its destination on time. It’s about imparting them with the same quality that their native-language, native-format parent documents have.

According to language technology company Trados Inc., multinational businesses are now bringing in between 40% and 60% of their revenue from international markets. But those companies can spend up to twice as much globalizing the content as they did creating it in the first place. That’s why it makes sense to keep global management and conversion in mind from the very beginning of the content cycle. Otherwise, your content’s value might wind up lost in translation.

Language Barriers
The biggest problem in global content management is also the oldest—translating it into different languages. The temptation to use a free online translation might be great in this age of instant Google gratification, but those literal word-for-word renderings don’t even pass muster for a high school homework assignment, let alone a high-stakes business transaction. While some language translation tools have reduced the turnaround time by incorporating intelligent automation technology, most still rely on a human translator based in the country the content is being translated for use in. This low-tech technique is an invaluable part of the process, according to Lionbridge, the makers of the language translation tool Freeway.

“All of our [translation] work is being done in-country,” says Lionbridge’s CMO Kevin Bolen. “You need somebody who’s close to the culture, because what you really want is an adaptation.” Freeway is one of several web-based GMS applications that plug into existing CMS outfits, specializing in language translation. “Our customers want to worry about the business of localization, not the nuts and bolts,” says Bolen. As content enters into the existing CMS workflow, users can choose to route it through Freeway. They flag one of 10 languages they’d like to translate it into and indicate the turnaround time required.

Freeway employs translation memory technology, an integral part of most language translation tools. While “VoIP” might not show up in a standard German-to-English dictionary, if the term has been translated for a company once, the system will recognize that term and replace it with the company-approved translation automatically. Another automated time-saver is single-sourcing, which takes blocks of common copy (like instructions for how to replace a battery) and saves the translation for use everywhere that copy turns up—on the company website or the employee handbook, for instance. Trados estimates that companies can save themselves up to 75% on translation expenses by employing a translation memory application before sending it out.

Bolen estimates that, while Freeway’s language translations can take up to a few weeks (for a whole website) at the outset, the turnaround time for daily or weekly updates can be pared down to between 24 and 48 hours. The key, he says, is tools like translation memory, which reduce the amount of primary translating the per-word freelancers have to sift through.

Because business-ready translations of documents or websites can be a big investment, companies find themselves picking and choosing which languages best represent their clients’ needs. Bolen says that while the top Freeway languages are Portuguese, Korean, French, German, and Spanish (especially for American Spanish-speakers), a few clients keep versions of websites in up to 110 different languages. “Mobile companies, in particular, have a very broad language base,” with up to 80 different active versions of manuals, phone settings, and product sites, according to Bolen. Getting a one-size translation doesn’t fit all, though. That’s why localizing content on the other end of a global chain means getting culturally specific beyond mere language requirements.

For instance, according to Bolen, writing the Japanese equivalent of an English word takes up to 30% less space on a website. The German equivalent takes up to 30% more. And Chinese is one of several languages that is read from right to left, instead of up to date. All of these factors have to be taken into account not just during translation, but during website design or document layout—for instance, companies with embedded button graphics could find themselves with the German word for “click here” spilling over either side of the artwork.

Localized translators also provide a valuable cultural interpretation. The Well Project, a global nonprofit HIV-information resource with active websites in 36 different countries, uses Freeway interpreters to help them design a content strategy appropriate for different regions. “For instance,” explains Project co-founder Richard Averett, “there are culturally specific articles, like discussions of how someone handles disclosure of their status, where there’s no point in translating it into French or Vietnamese. But if it’s about the life cycle of the virus, that’s relevant the world over.” The key to making the information on his site as useful to readers as possible, Averett says, was to make it something they could fully understand—language, cultural translations, and even reducing medical jargon for accessibility.

With Freeway, Averett hopes that his streamlined nonprofit staff would only need to add one cultural touchstone per country to create the kind of web resource it wants. “We have the capacity to host and manage a Well Project in Vietnam, Uganda, or anywhere in the world where people want it, if they’ll provide us with a translation and the content that we can’t write,” he says. “We could open up our systems to allow content to be streaming in as many languages as we have people to write it. From a cost perspective, the incremental price is very small to give these countries a new resource.”

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