Localizing Your Content

Oct 03, 2006


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In a past column, I looked at content globalization, which includes internationalization (getting a site ready to handle multilingual content), localization (adapting to the culture and language of each locale served), and translation (including workflow tools to manage the translation process).

Since that time, I've gotten involved in the fine details of publishing content to many locales. A locale is a combination of language and country, for example French in Canada, Portuguese in Brazil, or the really huge content market frequently overlooked by American businesses, Spanish in the United States--referred to as Spanglish by Ilan Stavans, the great commentator on Hispanic-American discourse.

There are two driving force for my interest in locales: my continued study of DITA topic-based structured authoring and a Summit meeting of CM Professionals that will be held in November, which has Globalization as its theme.

DITA is delivering a significant return on investment for technical documentation publishers, but especially for those who publish in many languages. (I'll look at the connection between DITA and translation.) But DITA may also make inroads into corporate marketing, including customer service and support, for enlightened companies that want to control their business message and not just their logo.

Reuse it or Lose it
Reuse is the key. For example: No one writing for a company should write anything that uses anything but the very best version of their marketing message. Central topic repositories are the key to making this kind of consistency happen.

An amazing thing about short topic messages is that they are ideal for translation. Adobe says that its Creative Suite--a package of their leading tools from Photoshop and Illustrator to InDesign and Acrobat--was delivered to the market in record time and for dozens of locales, because Adobe used DITA and a topic-oriented content repository to share the best documentation verbiage among all the products and have it all localized simultaneously.There is a big lesson here for companies looking to compete in the global market. Several software companies are developing specialized content management systems that manage the complete localization process, detecting content changes in the source language, and then scheduling the workflow through translation agencies and on to the lowest cost translators around the world. They call these tools Translation Management Systems (TMS) or Global Content Management Systems (GCMS). Did I mention they analyze the content and dynamically generate a budget for each translation project so you can approve it knowing the overall costs?

Translation industry leaders like SDL (which acquired TRADOS and consolidated 90% of all the translation memory "seats") and L10nBRIDGE (who pioneered a web-based version of localization tools called Freeway) find several competitors nipping at their heels with multilingual content management systems, including Idiom, Sajan, Transware, Convey, and across.

Big Need, Small Firms
Needless to say, these powerful systems are affordable only for a large corporation with significant amounts of multilingual content. What is the webmaster of a small organization to do to provide access for users who speak another language?

This is where tools based on DITA and other Open Standards from OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) and the Localisation Industries Standards Association (LISA) are going to make a big difference. Large companies have already made significant investments in localization. They probably have large collections of translated sentences in a translation memory database. It is most likely in a proprietary format which might be difficult to port to modern lower cost tools based on new standards like TMX (Translation Memory eXchange).

But anyone just starting in on globalization today can reap the advantages of these Open Standards. I am acting webmaster for our CM Professionals organization and we want to translate the navigation labels for our website into eight or ten locales. Forty percent of our members are outside the U.S. and English may not be their first language.

We bought a suite of TMX-based translation tools from Heartsome. They cost a fraction of tools I have bought in the past including SDLX and TRADOS. We now have a small database of our navigation labels in French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Dutch; in one double-byte Asian language, Japanese; and in one right-to-left language, Hebrew. We are also working on Arabic. There is no translator cost, because the labels are being translated by CM Pros in different countries.

CM Professionals is devoting its Fall Summit in Boston to Globalization; the theme is Content Management and the World Enterprise, with round tables and workshops on Simplified English (perfect for translation), managing DITA and other XML content meant for globalization, and creating content for the emerging Latino market.

And I am collecting all my learning about Global CMS into still another resource site in my network of CMS Review websites. Called CMS-Global.org, it is freely available to content management professionals everywhere. It has glossaries of terms and sources for globalization, internationalization, and translation including automatic machine translation. There we are trying to build a multilingual dictionary of popular web-related jargon.

Whether you are a small organization like mine or a giant company looking into sharing your corporate message with the world in the near future, you owe it to yourself to study the new open-standards based translation tools now available for localizing your content.