A Case of Bridging the Language Gap

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The Problem in Depth
While hi5 first launched as an English-based social networking site, co-founder and CEO Ramu Yalamanchi says, "We saw what was happening in social networking, and going international was interesting to us." Upon noticing the high rate of international traffic that was occurring on its social networking site, the hi5 team decided that the best solution for reaching these site visitors was to offer a plethora of international languages so that nothing would get lost in translation. Adds Yalamanchi, "If you look at internet users today, about 80% of them are outside the U.S. Based on those numbers, we think it’s safe to say that more of the internet users going forward in the future will be outside of the U.S., rather than inside. So, we made international social networking our niche."

The company started off by adding German, French, and Spanish in the fall of 2006, and by that December, the company had also added Portuguese, Italian, and Dutch. By the following summer, hi5 offered Romanian, Polish, and Turkish language options.

By September 2007, things were going well for hi5: The site was achieving 10 billion monthly page views, and it had become the third most-trafficked site in Romania upon adding the Romanian language option. Notes Mukund Bhagavan, director of strategy and operations for hi5, "From the beginning of 2007 to the end of the year, our raw traffic went up three times in size."

And yet, the company wasn’t completely satisfied with its existing translation vendor, a company Yalamanchi chose not to mention. Bhagavan says, "Our other vendors weren’t providing some of the requirements we were looking for; we wanted high-quality translations and enhancements, and we wanted them done quickly."

The Solution
In September of 2007, hi5 turned to Lionbridge for help. hi5 chose Lionbridge as its translation vendor for several reasons, explains Yalamanchi: "When we met with [Lionbridge] initially, they had a good client list; a lot of the companies they were working with were web-based companies, like us. One thing that was important to us was the turnaround of translation. We wanted a vendor that could provide good coverage across many different languages, and quickly. We were happy with what Lionbridge could offer, so we decided to go with them."

The way Lionbridge’s translation process works certainly allows for speedy translations, says Sara Buda, head of corporate communications for Lionbridge. "When a client comes to us, we already have a network of translators set up around the world who are in-country. We send our translators the content our client wants translated, via the web and our Logoport technology, and as they translate, we capture that translation in real time for our client." Using Lionbridge’s Freeway technology, clients are also able to communicate with Lionbridge in real time by linking to content that needs translating.

The Freeway platform manages the authoring, editing, and reviewing of multilingual content through an integrated set of features, which includes a portal where Lionbridge clients—including hi5—can submit and track translation projects. It also features collaboration tools, workspaces, and Lionbridge’s Logoport language management tools. Logoport is the internal engine that Lionbridge uses to work in real time with its translators. It stores translation memories and glossaries in a secure, central repository and supports thousands of translators using the system concurrently.

Through Freeway, hi5 sends Lionbridge a multilingual project that requires translating. Upon receiving the content, Lionbridge sends its translators materials that need translating through Logoport. Once translated, materials are sent back to Lionbridge, again, using Logoport. Then, translated materials can be shared and collaborated on with hi5 via Freeway. These collaboration platforms that Lionbridge offers allow translators all over the world, Lionbridge executives, and hi5 executives to always remain active participants in an efficient translation process.

Speed in translations was not the only factor of importance for hi5 when the company chose Lionbridge; quality mattered too. Says Paula Shannon, senior VP and general manager of Lionbridge, "It’s not just about translation for us; there are other things that have to happen before translated works get published. We perform quality checks, we change the user interface so it looks consistent with our client’s, and we make sure everything is culturally specific. It takes us from one day to just a few days to make sure that content is of the absolute highest quality. We care about how the end result looks."

hi5 was particularly impressed with Lionbridge’s commitment to quality and timeliness, and it approached the company about performing a Japanese translation. This translation would turn out to be a test for Lionbridge—one that the company would pass. Yalamanchi explains, "Japanese was the first language that Lionbridge did with us. At the time we decided to work with them, we were looking to see if they could provide us translation services across many different markets. But first, we wanted to make sure that the product we got from them was up to par, and based on their performance on the Japanese translation, we decided to continue working with them."

Within the course of about a month, hi5 chose Lionbridge to manage a number of other translation projects, and Lionbridge got to work on providing complete translations of hi5’s website in Greek, Hungarian, Thai, Russian, Czech, and Chinese, among others. In total, Lionbridge has translated 12 languages for hi5 in the 8 months since the relationship began.

Beyond complete translations, Lionbridge also provided hi5 with independent audits—known as Language Quality Inspections—in order to better maintain the other languages that had been translated prior to Lionbridge’s involvement. In that process, Shannon says, "we discovered that three of the languages were in need of an overhaul … the tone was just off; it wasn’t speaking to the audience that hi5 had." Today, hi5 and Lionbridge have an ongoing relationship in which Lionbridge maintains hi5’s website in multiple languages, so that as content changes in English, it is also quickly updated in the 22 other languages that hi5 offers its end users.

The Outcome
"hi5’s international growth has far outpaced their English-language growth, which proves that they have done a great job at staking out the global community," says Buda. "Consistent language translation is crucial for hi5’s continued success, and Lionbridge provides that." To keep up with the constant updating that maintaining hi5’s website requires, Lionbridge has since embedded new features into its technology to help hi5 manage quick turnaround of content. Notes Shannon, "hi5 wants to continue getting more content out to more markets, while also maintaining quality, and we help them do that."

In the future, Yalamanchi envisions involving hi5’s members in Lionbridge’s translation efforts. "Going forward, we are working to make it possible for our members to actually participate in doing translations for the service," he says. "The program will enable hi5 members to translate the site into different languages that we don’t have so far. People will be able to visit hi5’s site and select text that they can individually translate. Lionbridge will then be reviewing and approving those member translations for us, as well as continuing to update hi5’s glossary and other content." Adds Bhagavan, "By enabling our members to become part of the translation process, we are able to get into different dialects and into smaller populated countries that we can’t reach now. There are multiple flavors and nuances of each language, and we want to reflect that."

Today, hi5’s global presence in the online social networking market is evident by its 40 million new users and 20 billion page views per month. "We think a result of our huge growth in the past five years is that we are able to provide a social network to different people across the globe," Yalamanchi says. "Lionbridge helps us speak to those people."

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