Software’s Next Big Bite: Global-Friendly Digital Content

Because it's been cited so frequently, sometimes with dubious applicability, I almost hate to invoke Marc Andreesen's simultaneously retrospective and prescient 2011 pronouncement on software eating the world, but there really is no better way to describe what's happening in the field of global content creation.

With more than half the world's Internet users unable to speak English, and 19 out of every 20 people in the world natively speaking a language other than English, the opportunity to deliver digital content--whether it's application interfaces, marketing content on the Web, or knowledge bases for product support--to users in their native languages is a tremendously compelling opportunity for any business. And the technology is finally here to help entrepreneurial companies act against that opportunity.

No, I don't mean Google Translate, although that is part of the translation toolkit. And I don't mean the highly specialized solutions translators have been using for decades. I'm talking about a new category of software that connects all the people (and sometimes machines) involved in creating, translating, and delivering digital content in any language, which in turn enables businesses to effectively connect with their customers, anywhere in the world.

Long the purview of a few multinational corporations that had the resources and bandwidth to staff localization departments, engage with translation agencies or language service providers (LSPs), and manage the often complex workflow to deliver native-language content across multiple markets, localization automation aims to democratize the process so businesses of all sizes can leverage those capabilities. Here the key is automation rather than localization or translation, and a more apt term might even be localization management.

So how does automation solve the problem?

First, automation brings digital content into the translation environment automatically. The benefit? No manual tracking of the potential myriad of changes to digital content across a Web site or app; the new content strings are detected and imported to make them available for translation.

Second, automation supports the workflow of actual translation. That means assignment of translation tasks to translators and facilitation of the review and approval process for completed translations; management of team members, roles, and access privileges, including enabling community participation for crowdsourcing of translations; and progress tracking across target languages. It also provides supporting technology tools, such as translation memory (TM), translation glossaries, and style guides to translators, making their jobs easier and more effective.

Finally, automation understands when new translations are completed and approved and pushes them out for publication. That means that software developers can release fully-localized applications in multiple languages without even thinking about the nitty-gritty of the translation and localization steps, and marketers can ensure that their Web sites are fully synchronized across all locales.

And tools at the most accessible end of the spectrum can make this all happen through the implementation of a single line of JavaScript on a Web site, as easy as implementing Google Analytics.

In the end, localization and translation become not free but accessible to a much larger set of Web site owners and app developers. Localization no longer requires an army of people, from localization managers to product managers to specialized developers, to manage what has been complex, labor intensive, and expensive. People, even lots of people, are undisputedly still involved in the process, but their focus is to enable the connection of users through a high-quality common language experience.

Software ate publishing; it's in the process of eating healthcare; it's even starting to devour driving. The brilliance of Andreesen's comment is, of course, that it's true. And when software starts to eat entire industries, it makes them better, more efficient, and wider reaching.

As software starts to solve globalization issues through better, faster, more accurate and more accessible translation small companies, and even individuals, can start to see the same advantages as large ones, and true democratization of the ability to deliver quality customer experiences globally will be achieved.

Amy Hawman is vice president of marketing at Transifex, maker of a translation management software platform.