Content Goes Global: Communicating With Customers in Their Own Language

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The issue of scalability for externally generated content is even more daunting. Particularly for companies that depend on large user communities to generate valuable content, such as user guides and FAQs, the notion of how to approach those translations is tricky. Fenstermacher says, "We're really in an experimental phase with regard to localization of user-generated content, as companies try to figure out their role." One of Glotzer's worries is that someone might one day disparage his company's reputation in a foreign language on a social media site-a situation that would be addressed quickly if it were to occur in English but that could linger undetected if in another language.

Finally, flexibility is a must to address the unanticipated challenges and opportunities brought on by globalization. A website optimized for a U.S. user with video and photos may be a nonstarter in a country where internet access remains spotty or expensive; companies can get around that by designing pages that can be localized with less graphic-intensive components.

Sharples shares an example from Allrecipes.com's efforts. "We thought a lot about language, but it wasn't until we really got into the project that we began to think about how the language could affect page design," she says. For instance, the tabs at the top of the page had to be designed such that a 30-character German word and its two-character Chinese translation could both be accommodated, without throwing off the page's balance.

On the other hand, Allrecipes.com's assumption that it would eventually locate managers who would be responsible for the content of each county's site in the local markets, instead of at its headquarters, went by the wayside when the company realized how well the global team worked together in one group. "We've gotten ideas for the U.S. site from our international team, and we've had some great collaborative ideas such as an exchange of top 10 recipes between sites," she says.

A Range of Approaches
When undertaking the challenge of presenting content optimized for the local market, the most obvious solution is to work with an experienced language services provider (LSP) who can shortcut the localization process. Roth says, "This is probably the one arena that I track where not doing it right from the beginning isn't necessarily a recipe for disaster, simply because the vendors are really good."

Lionbridge, SDL, and Globalization Partners International (GPI) are leaders in the field, offering services from single-document translations to design and development of multilingual websites. Other companies, such as Translations.com, specialize by vertical industries or regions. Virtually all these companies offer some level of technical integration with clients to streamline the translation process.

Despite his lauds to industry vendors, Roth does say that relying on them to lead the way in the globalization process can result in higher costs and a slower time to market for companies. At a time when a focus on cost savings remains part of the general economic climate, designing the internationalization process right from the beginning can yield financial benefits.

Another cost-saving approach being utilized, particularly in conjunction with user-generated content, is machine translations. Still not quite ready for their close-ups as stand-alone solutions, automated translation tools have certainly come a long way. "It's not an instant magic button," says Fenstermacher. "But as a tool for companies who want to speed up the localization process, or for those who have so much data to translate-via user-generated content, for instance-that human translations are unwieldy, it can be valuable."

Another approach finding some favor is crowdsourced translations. Under this model users contribute their own translations and expand the available vocabulary. There are some fairly obvious prerequisites, as articulated by SDL founder Mark Lancaster. "You have to have a crowd," he said at his company's recent conference. "It works well where people feel ownership, as on a user group or a sharing site." And any crowdsourced translation efforts should be kept entirely separate from enterprise assets, with a heavy-duty quality assurance process in effect. But used as a first pass for a localization effort, crowdsourcing can speed time to market and give users a stake in the final result.

Beyond those methods, there are still other alternatives. Though eTouch SamePage has worked with GPI to produce French, German, and Polish versions of its products, Szinergia, the prospective Hungarian client, offered to undertake the translation itself as part of its contract. Lipi says, "It's imperative to have a native speaker do the translation. If you hire an American who's spent a semester in Hungary and thinks [he or she] can do the translation, it can have terrible results. Users would rather work with a good English version than a badly translated Hungarian version."
Mehta's team provided a discrete resource bundle (there's that repeatability) to Szinergia, which performed the translations and returned it to the vendor to incorporate into the next build. The process worked so well that Szinergia is now a reseller of eTouch technology in the Hungarian market.

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