Monday, December 20, 2010

Finally, proof of the connection between language and revenue

For the past several years, I have been talking about the connection between international trade and translation. I have also characterized language as an enabler and a multiplier for business. An enabler because it allows more consumers to learn about products, and a multiplier because companies that start localizing to sell abroad tend to grow faster and never go back to selling in one language only. I have been saying this based on empirical information, logic, and common sense; as I never had the time to make a more detailed study of data.

However, I was recently referred by my former colleague Anne-Marie Colliander Lind to the work of Professor Ingela Bel Habib, a Swedish PhD and Independent Researcher who published a fascinating paper called "The effects of linguistic skills on the export performance of French, German and Swedish SMEs."

Her study demonstrates that multilingualism and economic competitiveness are closely linked. Swedish, French and German SMEs all use multilingualism as a strategy for exports to varying degrees. Only 27% of Swedish SMEs have a multilingual export strategy, compared to 68% of Danish SMEs, 63% of German SMEs and 40% of French SMEs. The study shows that there is a correlation between language and export performance.

Another conclusion from the study is that, contrary to popular belief, English does not suffice in economic relations as many tenders are lost through lack of skills in local languages. In fact, the percentage of companies that declare they have missed out on export contracts due to a language barrier were much higher in Sweden (20%) than in Denmark (4%), Germany (8%) and France (13%).

This study is relevant on multiple levels. First, because Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France have a similar industrial structure and compete for the same international markets. Second and most importantly, because the study is based on economic data, which provides a better platform for the continuous quest by the language industry to establish the Return on Investment (ROI) of translation.

I found this information to be so important and unique to the sales and marketing efforts of LSPs that I invited Professor Bel Habib to speak at ELIA's upcoming Networking Days in Stockholm in May 2011. Don't miss it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What I expect to see in 2011

This is the time of the year when people start making predictions for the next year. Well, as I have already been asked several times what I see in my crystal ball, let me share it with you.
  • Content. Let me start with a quote from futurist Ray Kurzweill in a recent interview for Time Magazine: "Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential, and that makes a profound difference. If I take 30 steps linearly, I get to 30. If I take 30 steps exponentially, I get to a billion."

    So content is growing exponentially and that's not news, but for the language industry there will be two trends that will accelerate in 2011. First is the atomization or chunking of content, i.e., translation projects will come in smaller sizes (in line with the trend in the software industry to move to apps). Second is velocity of content, i.e. clients will want these projects faster. These two trends will drive increased demand for productivity gains.
  • Voice. I believe that there is going to be an increase in demand for voice translation. Not only on-site and over-the-phone interpretation, but also dubbing and subtitling. Everybody talks about the ascendance of video, but video means very little for the translation industry; what needs to be translated is what people say, hence the increase in video will lead to an increase in the demand for voice-based translations. (Note to translators: Learn interpretation skills).
  • Languages. Be prepared for increased demand for Indonesian (Indonesia is right after the U.S. in numbers of Facebook users), Vietnamese, and African languages. I also expect increased demand for Brazilian Portuguese as the predictions for growth in the Brazilian economy are very positive.
  • Business. Acquisitions will happen. Expect several announcements and some consolidation at the top. The main discussion will be once again the fair valuation of companies. Naturally Welocalize will lead the charge, but I expect to hear from SDL, Moravia, CLS, HiSoft, and the Scandinavian companies like Semantix, AAC, and LanguageWire. Either as aquirers or targets of acquisition.
  • Pricing. It is true. Price pressure is really a fact now. Mature clients are shopping around for better prices in order to translate more with the same budget. For many years I have said that prices had been stable in the industry, but I believe that in 2011 companies will succumb to the haggling of the big buyers. The only way out of this is to dramatically increase productivity using technology at levels never seen before. This will be especially important for Single Language Vendors. Freelance translators should think about measuring their income per hour or per month, instead of their price per word.
  • The year of interoperability in the cloud. All this talk about privacy and how Google Translate breaches confidentiality clauses will disappear. Translation memories will be shared in the cloud and the chatter of the last two years will become just that; chatter. The big winners in technology will be  the MT solution providers and Kilgray, with its MemoQ technology (that works very well with files generated by their competition and thus achieves de facto interoperability). It is not surprise to me that MemoQ only has raving fans. Asia Online stands a good chance of growing a lot this year as the last stalwart of independent MT. I predict SDL will still grow out of pure momentum, not because of its "innovative" solutions.
What I don't expect to be news in 2011, even though there is going to be a lot of talk about it still, is the adoption of Machine Translation and the impact of Social Media as a source of more translation and localization.

In my opinion, MT crossed the chasm in 2010, and Social Media content is generated almost exclusively in local languages, with very little impact on the demand for translation and localization. Social Media might be a driver, but not demand generator in itself. However, I wouldn't be surprised if a few startups come up with the idea of creating companies focused on localizing Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

Now I need to catch a plane....

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Industry Reacts Negatively to EPO and Google Deal. But Should They?

The EPO (European Patent Office) announced today that it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Google Translate to automatically translate patents into the languages of the 38 countries that it serves.

The immediate response in the social media forums was quite negative, as most reactions involving Google and machine translation of late. But looking closely at the press-release, we see that "the collaboration aims to offer faster and cheaper fit-for-purpose translations of patents for companies, inventors and scientists in Europe."(our emphasis)

What this means is that the goal is to provide good enough translations, not perfect translations. Further in the release, the EPO states that "the partnership with Google to create machine translation tools for patents will help inventors, engineers and R+D teams to retrieve relevant documents efficiently - in their own language - from our wealth of published patent information." This means that the purpose is to allow people to search the EPO database for patents that have been already published, something that falls exactly into Google's expertise: Searchability.And probably something that those professionals already do on their own by copying and pasting information into Google Translate.

As discussed in a previous post, the EU is trying to promote the adoption of a single EU patent system, which is facing some resistance in the European Court of Justice because the court's Advocate General believes that a centralized patent is "incompatible with the treaties" that created the EU.

For Google, this is a bonanza that will provide them with a vast database of quality translations of approximately 1.5 million documents, a number that grows by more than 50,000 new patent grants every year. This means that the quality of Google Translate should improve in several scientific knowledge domains. By definition, patents facilitate and encourage disclosure of innovations into the public domain for the common good. Protection of inventions is achieved by making the information public and not secret. To me, this is a perfect match with Google's stated mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Is this the end of patent translations for LSPs? I don't think so.

Patents are serious business and are worth a lot of money for their holders. Pharmaceutical patents are easily worth billions of dollars over their terms of protection and many lawsuits have been filed because of the interpretation of specific terms. Large organization that file hundreds or thousands of patents every year will not be penny pinching on translations and will still prefer to use the services of specialty LSPs like RWS for filing purposes.

Add to this, the fact that there are other language pairs that are not covered by the EPO/Google deal, and that patents still need to be filed in Japan, China, Brazil, and other countries. Deals like the one announced earlier this year between Asia Online and Lexis-Nexis Univentio can still proliferate, since their goal is to achieve publication quality.

From my point of view, this is a good announcement that proves the growing maturity of Google Translate, which will become a better tool for all its users due to the addition of good content to its database. But Google Translate will continue to be generic tool with good enough results.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Translation Forum Russia 2010

It took me 30 hours on four airplanes to come back from Ekaterineburg in the Ural Mountains in Russia. Although I thought it was really fun to stand with one foot in Europe and one in Asia (photo) and make a wish, as the tradition requires, the real reason I went there was to participate in the Translation Forum Russia 2010.

It is no secret that I am a big fan of regional events, because they bring out the day-to-day issues that local companies and freelancers face and how they try to cope with them.

The event attracted approximately 350 participants who attended sessions in five tracks. The international speakers were Jost Zetzsche from International Writers; Doug Lawrence from Amicus Transtec; Miriam Lee, the vice-president of FIT, Nick Nugent from the BBC, and myself. All plenary sessions were interpreted simultaneously by volunteer interpreters, and each one of the international speakers was assigned an individual interpreter to accompany us to the sessions in Russian that we wished to attend. A very thoughtful offer. In fact, the organization was impeccable in all aspects, and the venue very appropriate for the size of the event.

In the hallways and in the sessions, I heard the common words and phrases that I hear everywhere in the world:
  • Translators need more respect.
  • We need to rally against machine translation.
  • Tools are too expensive.
  • "You don't understand, here in [fill in name of country] it is different"
  • Our universities don't train translators for the realities of the market.
Coming from the outside, my observations were:
  • All translators are also interpreters.
  • There are a lot of language combinations available, that I would not have thought of right away. In fact, I spoke more Spanish and Italian in Russia than I probably do in Europe. My assigned interpreter, Svetlana, was fluent in Portuguese, a language that she picked up by herself. I met translators of Russian-Chinese, Russian-Japanese, Russian-Korean, and many European languages.
  • There is no telephone interpretation service in Russia yet.
  • A significant number of translators and interpreters are employed by local and international companies, especially in the oil and gas industry and also in manufacturing.
  • Russia is really big! Some people traveled 25 hours by train, and others 16 hours by plane just to get to the location of the event.
The organizers, Demid Tishin from All Correct Language Solutions in Samara and Elena Kislova of the Business Bureau of the Association of Interpreters deserve all the recognition for putting together a great event. I just hope they invite me back next year!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Localization Perspectives 6 - Quality

Another installment of our conversations about industry topics. This time the focus is Quality.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Creation of common EU patent system faces setback - Translation Implications

Since May 1, 2008,  the London Agreement, meant to reduce costs relating to the translation of European patents, has been in effect. The London Agreement provides for patent claims to be available in the national language of the states where the European patent is registered, while the description — which represents the bulk of the text of a patent — can be made available in English, French, or German, the official languages of the EPO (European Patent Office).

The argument for the London Agreement was that the cost of translations reduced the incentives for companies to apply for a European patent and, many argued, the situation was a burden on the competitiveness of the European economy, compared to the situation in the United States.

However, according to news from NetworkWorld, the European Court of Justice might put a break on the stated plans of the current EU presidency to  foster a common patent system across the European Union. The court's Advocate General believes that a centralized patent is "incompatible with the treaties" that created the EU, according to a leaked document.

If the European Court of Justice moves forward with this decision, translation companies specializing in Patent Translations will see a return of business in high volumes. Companies like UK publicly-traded RWS and Denmark's Lingtech are set to benefit from this return.  I might even develop a service in this area for Milengo if this ruling materializes.

It always struck me as strange the fact that the EU was promoting a common European Patent, when respect for linguistic diversity is a core EU value. In fact, Article 21 of the ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union’ forbids discrimination on several grounds (specifically including language), while Article 22 guarantees respect for cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.

Let's wait and see how this pans out.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Localization Perspectives 4 - Disintermediation

In this week's episode Renato & Kirti are joined by Bob Donaldson from text & form to discuss disintermediation. With current business models in the localization industry changing as technology advances, who will be left without a seat when the music stops?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Specialty Events: Localization Project Managers Round Table and Vendor Management Seminar

I was having a conversation with a client today who asked me about the benefits of the different types of events. She was specifically asking about the Localization Institute's 2010 Localization Project Managers Round Table to be held in Lake Tahoe next month.

My response was that different events cater to different audiences and that choosing the right one is sometimes hard. But I discussed some criteria that might be useful for you when evaluating events.
  • Specialty events are excellent for sharing experiences with peers. The topics tend to be focused and very relevant for people in a certain position in the organization. That is the case of the Project Managers Round Table promoted by the Localization Institute and the Vendor Management Seminars organized by IMTT. Contrary to larger generic events, the main value of a specialty event is education and peer-to-peer networking. They seldom have booths and few salespeople attend.
  • Geography-focused events tend to address issues that are common to people in different roles in a company, but with a local slant. Good examples are the ELIA Networking Days, the ALC Conference and Think Latin America. The programs tend to address business issues that are common to a certain region and might not appeal to a global audience.
  • Generalist events like Localization World, LISA and GALA tend to provide something for everybody, with varying degrees of success.
So, my final recommendation for this client was to look at her calendar and try to attend at least one Specialty event (she is a client-side Project Manager and is going to the Round Table), a Geography-focused event, and one Generalist event. That will provide her with education, networking, and a bunch of salespeople calling her after each event (but she promised she will stay with Milengo).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rosetta Stone Reports Bad Results and COO Resigns

Rosetta Stone, (RST) a provider of technology-based language-learning solutions, reported preliminary second quarter revenues that came in below expectations sending the shares down nearly 10% in after hours trading. Rosetta also announced that Eric Eichmann, chief operating officer, has resigned from the company. 

My goal here is to take a look at Rosetta Stone's business model. For a more detailed analysis of their financial results and market expectations, read the excellent coverage from TheStreet.

In a first attempt to look at the language training market I built the mind map below, looking specifically at five variables: 
  • Players in the space
  • Sales channels
  • Pricing
  • Geography
  • Buyer motivation
Click on the image to enlarge

Rosetta Stone is in a very competitive market with many forms of delivery of language training. The company was able to generate $269 million in revenue in 2009 and projects sales between $275 and $285 million for 2010. It generates revenue primarily from sales of packaged software and audio practice products, but also online software subscriptions. The company also sells language programs to corporations, government agencies and schools.

My struggle with the Rosetta Stone model is scalability, and my major concern is that the company might be overestimating buyer motivation to acquire their product. I am skeptical because of my personal experience learning to speak five languages and being an English as a Second Language teacher in the past.

There are two key elements in language learning: Human Interaction and Motivation. The former is easy to emulate with software, even though it is not as much fun. The later is harder. Think of it like getting a personal trainer at the gym or signing up for a yoga class, as opposed to having an open commitment to going to the treadmill.

When I read the financials for Rosetta Stone, testimonials, and hear their sales pitch, I am very impressed at how the get people to buy on impulse at kiosks in malls and airports, but what I don't see is any information about follow up sales. I suspect that a high percentage of their software is just shelfware, i.e., software that gets bought by a company or individual that ends up sitting on a shelf somewhere and not being used.

In its SEC filings, the company highlights the fact that their sales peak during the holiday season, which leads me to believe that people buy the product for someone else as a present, and that a big chunk of the buyers never go beyond the first lessons.

A few years ago, I went to Japan for the first time and bought a Pimsleur course to learn some Japanese during my trip. I can say Nihongoga Wakarimasem (I don't speak Japanese) and ask Eigo wakarimaska?(Do you speak English), but I never went beyond the third lesson in that package.

Regarding their stated strategy to sell more in international markets, I think it is a very good approach and I am sure that selling English training in Asia and Latin America has a lot of potential but not at the price points practiced by the company, and not without sometime of localization of the content.

If Rosetta Stone is planning to reach the numbers it has promised investors, I wouldn't be surprised if in the next few years they start looking at acquiring schools and selling butts on seats in classrooms to drive demand.

Bottomline: There is an almost  unlimited demand for foreign language learning, I just don't think that the self-paced and self-motivated model offered by Rosetta Stone is very scalable.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Almost 50% of Sales of S&P Companies Come from Outside the U.S.

For many years, I have tried to find a way to extract information about international sales from the financial reports of public companies in the United States, what Common Sense Advisory calls xenorevenue. In addition to my personal research, I have talked to data service companies to find a way to automatically extract this information from their databases, to no avail.

Today, the Investing Insights blog in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, shares my frustration by stating that "While globalization is apparent in almost all company reports, exact sales and export levels are difficult to obtain. Many companies tend to categorize sales by regions or markets, while others segregate government sales. Additionally, intra-company sales, and hence profits, are sometimes structured to take advantage of trade, tax and regulatory polices. The resulting reported data available for shareholders is therefore significantly less than the desired level for analysis."

However, their analyst was able to look at data from half of the S&P 500 companies, which gives us a good indication of the level of international activity of large American corporations and helps us build a business case for translation expenditures.

While Howard Silverblatt, the author of the posting, focuses on comparing international sales with previous years (they have declined!), I was more interested at the actual volumes of international sales, which are higher than I would have guessed. According to the report, of the reporting 250 companies, 46.6% of all sales were produced and sold outside of the United States, compared to 47.9% in 2008, 45.8% in 2007, and 43.6% in 2006.

But what is no surprise to Localization veterans, is that Information Technology continued to be the dominating sector with over 56% of its declared sales being foreign in nature. The IT sector represents 20.4% of all U.S. foreign sales.

The full report with more detailed data, including some geographic breakdown, is available in PDF format here.

I will analyze this data more thoroughly and write a follow-up post.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Need proof that localization pays off?

I am often asked how a company can justify localizing a product for a certain market. My standard answer is "Just do it!" as I believe that the best way to sell a product in a market is by providing it in the language of the local consumers. However, I understand when companies want to build a business case before they take the risk.

Today, the Brazilian newspaper "O Globo" had a story about how video-games are gaining ground in the country because they are localized into Portuguese (click here for a pretty readable Google Translation of the story). The starting point of the story is the fact that people noticed that video-games were now advertised in Portuguese on network television in prime time. The journalist also states that Xbox 360 offers games in Brazilian Portuguese, while Sony's Playstation only offers games in European Portuguese.

Julio Vieitez, director of LUG, a game distributor in Brazil, states that "When comparing the revenues of a good game in Portuguese and in English, the former is 15 times higher than the latter. Localizing is important because people want to play with their friends." Let me repeat that: The revenue of the localized version is 15 times higher than the English version! How about that for ROI?

In the interviews that I have done over the years in the localization market, there are a few things that I have learned:
  • Once a company starts localizing into a foreign language, it seldom goes back.
  • Some localization is better than no localization.
  • People prefer products in their own language, even if they know English (my Facebook interface is in Portuguese, by the way).
  • Support and after-sales in local language are key for product success.
I co-authored a study when I was at Common Sense Advisory called "Can't Read, Won't Buy" that is available for free from the Lionbridge website. Oh! They are my competitors, now :) In any case, it is a good read on the topic.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

SDL Acquires Language Weaver. First Reactions.

Other experts like Kirti Vashee and my former colleagues from Common Sense Advisory will certainly post more detailed analyses of this news, but I wanted to document my initial reactions to what was announced today by SDL and LanguageWeaver, the first developer of a commercial Statistical Machine Translation software.

In recent months, I have been thanking SDL for the great job that they are doing at alienating their technology customers by providing sub-par customer service and support. Clients contact us at Milengo looking for alternative solutions, which we are happy to recommend. SDL has been very successful at irritating translators, LSPs, and final buyers with their technology approach.

LanguageWeaver, a pioneer in SMT for commercial purposes, has struggled to sell a product profitably, when it has to compete with free solutions like Google Translate and MOSES. It's main client is the U.S. government and the main language pair is Arabic-English. In fact, the announcement points out that in 2009, the company had a loss of $1 million for revenues of $12.2 million.

So why is SDL paying $42.5 million (or 3.5 times revenue) for a company that loses money?

I believe that -- whether it works or not, and whether it is deployed or not -- acquiring a software company is something that investors at the London Stock Exchange put a very high value on. This is a good story that will boost SDL's stock, just as the IBM Websphere MT deal boosted Lionbridge's stock to the levels that it is today (from one dollar to $5.28). This is a good story that helps SDL to further position itself as a software company instead of a service company.

The second benefit for SDL, is opening a door into the U.S. government R&D funds through DARPA. LanguageWeaver has advanced mostly because of the availability of such funds.

I don't see the technology itself as a major game changer for SDL. SDL had already acquired Transparent Language, a Rules-based Machine Translation developer, and not much has been heard about that technology since. After a little time, LanguageWeaver might take the same route as Idiom's Worldserver, which was growing fast and was virtually discontinued by SDL.

If the patterns of previous acquisitions prevail, SDL will get very excited with LanguageWeaver, but after the excitement wears off, the product will be abandoned to its own fate. So LanguageWeaver clients who already work with Trados, TMS, and other of their products already know the level of service provided by SDL, and should maybe run for the hills when they come offering LanguageWeaver solutions.

Finally, for competitors -- unless SDL gets its act together -- they have nothing to fear. Just keep providing excellent customer service. That's what Milengo does.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Some Trends in the Localization Industry

In preparation for the Vendor Management Seminar that will be held in Las Vegas later this month, I have been doing some thinking about trends in the industry that affect the services provided by companies like Milengo, and thought you might be interested in them.

There are three trends that I have identified:

  • Disintermediation and Collaboration: The vast improvement in the quality and reduction in cost of online collaboration technology -- combined with the widespread availability of affordable bandwidth -- is leading LSPs to redesign their production workflows to remove unnecessary steps and activities from their processes. A clear result of this trend is that larger LSPs are going back to working with individual translators instead of using single language vendors as intermediaries, especially in projects involving time-sensitive or dynamic content.
  • Productivity Boost: The incorporation of machine translation engines and shared translation memory environments into the desktop productivity tools of translators will result in a massive increase in the number of words that a professional translator can process in a day. Averages will jump from 2,500 words to 15,000 to 20,000 words per day in the first stage, reaching even higher numbers in the near future.
  • Role and Cost of Technology: Translation technology tools like translation management systems and desktop translation memory software are unusually expensive for the value that they provide. As Chris Anderson points out in his book “Free," software and content want to be free. What creates value are the services provided around technology, not the technology itself. So, I have predicted that Translation Memory technology will be free or become irrelevant by 2015.
What are the implications of these trends for buyers? In a nutshell, more words will be translated in a shorter period of time at a lower total cost.

In general, I believe that because Milengo positions itself as a technology agnostic and customer service-focused organization puts it in the right position to succeed in this new market reality.

If you haven't registered yet, don't miss the opportunity to send your vendor managers to the IMTT event in Las Vegas. IMTT consistently organizes the best training events in translations industry.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Volcano Refugees Road Trip: From Istanbul to Stockholm

Last week, the eruption of Volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland left hundreds of thousands of people stranded all around Europe. I was one of them.

I was in Istanbul for the ELIA Conference, which was very good -- as usual -- when the news about the closing of the European airspace started to spread. In between sessions, everybody was checking their iPhones and laptops to find out what were the latest news about airport closings. By Friday, everybody was trying to find alternative ways to get back home.

As I had a Board meeting on Sunday, my flight wasn't scheduled to leave until Monday afternoon to Copenhagen, near where I had a business meeting, and then on the United States on Tuesday. So I felt pretty safe that I was going to make it out of there as some countries were starting to open their airspace. The rumor mill was spinning very high: There were news of additional eruptions, test flights by the Germans and the Dutch, people sleeping in airports with no more money... Definitely a dire situation. As I said, I felt safe until my flights for Monday were canceled. 

On Saturday night, I started trying to look for alternatives to get out of Istanbul. There were no rental cars, so I called bus companies in Turkey, who wanted €14,000.00 to take up to 46 people to Munich (I could have made a profit, but I didn't want to go to Munich... I needed to be in Sweden!) I also looked at changing my plans and going to visit Milengo Taiwan and from there flying to Boston, which would have amounted to a round the world trip. But the connections were bad and they only had middle seats on the plane. With the support from friends in Sweden, the United States, and Bulgaria, I found out that there were rental cars still available in Sofia. But how would I get to Sofia?

Luckily, ELIA fellow board member Marianna Hill from Interpretorium had come by car with her colleague Inna and offered me a ride to Sofia. Now I needed someone to share the driving and the expense. Luckily, my friend Johan Laestadius and Mats Knapp from Kommunicera also wanted to go back home to Gothemburg and agreed to jump on this adventure.


The map below shows our adventure, which was twittered all along with pictures and commentary. We drove in turns for 2,700km (1,678mi), 35 hours, 2 ferries across 9 countries. 

View Volcano Refugees Road Trip in a larger map

Johan and Mats dropped me in Helsingborg and continued to drive another two hours to their destination. I had my meeting the next day, and took a train to Stockholm, from where I was able to get a flight for Sunday, April 25.  

In Stockholm, I rented an apartment from, which cost me SEK 5,300 for 4 days, close to what I spent for one night at a regular hotel when I first arrived.

All in all, a good adventure and a good story to tell!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Smartling Gets $4m in Funding: Or How To Throw Venture Money Away

Last week Smartling, Inc., a provider of real-time, crowdsourced translations for Internet based businesses, announced that it has secured a US$ 4 million Series A round of investment, led by Venrock. The round also included funding from US Venture Partners, First Round Capital and several angel investors. According to the press-release, the company will use the funding to expand its operations and support product development.

What this shows to me is that the executives at Smartling are very good salespeople, and that the investors haven't done their homework very well.

Smartling proposes to use a hybrid model which essentially allows clients to pick between professional translators, machine translations, and crowdsourced translations. The key is managing it all, which can be done with Smartling’s software. With it, you can pick and choose which part of your site to translate which way.

I can predict here that this company is not going very far:
  • First, because they assume that clients have the ability to pick and choose how they want things done. 
  • Second, because like many before them, they assume that website localization is not more widespread because of lack of technology (as I say frequently, localization is a service not a technology problem). 
  • Third, because they haven't learned their history. Companies like eTranslate, WizArt, Wordlingo, and MotionPoint have pitched this story before. And where are they? Do you see them among the Top 30 Translation Companies in the world?
If the investors expect a 10X return on their investment as many venture capitalists do, I suggest that they start looking at other areas, or contact me to tell them where the money is in the translation industry (hint: not in website translation).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Machine Translation in the News Again

Google Translate and Google Translator Toolkit made the rounds of the big U.S. media last week, with major stories in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. These were tweeted, retweeted, facebooked, LinkedIned, and forwarded by e-mail ad nauseam. How are people reacting? I identify two major groups:
  • It's the end of the world for translators. This doomsday approach stems from fear of the unknown and amazement with the quality of the translation that Google has been generating for some language pairs. 
  • MT is never going to reach perfection. So, no worries. This nonchalant attitude comes from those who only see the defects in the tools and feel safe in their current positions.
Nem tanto ao mar, nem tanto à terra, is a Portuguese expression (don't try to google-translate it, it's not going to work) that literally translates as "not so much to the sea, not so much to the land" but means that the neither extreme is right and the truth is probably in the middle. If you follow my postings or presentations, you should know by now that I believe that translators should use MT to improve their productivity and it is only useful if the user knows the language into which the text is being translated. 

I agree with Ben Sargent from Common Sense Advisory, when he says in the Global Watchtower that "...machine translation could remove the cloak of invisibility from translators, giving them greater recognition and status. As 99.99 percent of translation is done by the machine, two things may happen: 1) The volume of human translation could increase; 2) the perceived value of human translation could increase."

Nabil Frej and John Yunker have posted on their blogs the preliminary results from the “Which Engine Translates Best?” challenge organized by Gabble On which asks volunteers to evaluate Google Translate, Microsoft Bing, and Yahoo Babel Fish translations (if you haven't done it yet, I strongly suggest you spend 10 minutes doing it). And it looks as if Google is doing a better job than the other two, but with some exceptions.

From a translation business perspective, I am adopting a pragmatic approach. At Milengo, we are running a few pilot projects with some of our clients to evaluate seven language pairs using the Asia Online technology. We have also used the API for Google Translator Toolkit to connect it with Milengo's Translation Management System and we are currently running some test projects with it. Our goal with these efforts is not to replace human translation, but to increase productivity and to allow our clients to translate content that would otherwise never be translated because of cost and deadlines.

The situation reminds me of a story that my friend João Roque Dias, from Portugal, told me about how government officials in Portugal would fend off requests in the late 70s by saying that outcomes were unpredictable because the country was in a PREC (Processo Revolucionário em Curso or Revolutionary Process In Progress), which eventually became synonymous with "a mess."  Language technology for me is in a PREC: Any outcome is possible, so I am hedging my bets!

Monday, March 01, 2010

WorldWare, Think Latin America and ELIA

Sitting in my hotel room in Berlin after a week of training and meetings with my sales team, I am working on my calendar for the next couple of months. Even though I am not a consultant anymore, many of my former clients and friends ask me which events they should go to, since there are so many happening in March and April.

Even though there are many good events, I chose the following three, for the following reasons:

WorldWare Conference - March 16-18, 2010 in Santa Clara, CA

This is a more technical event, with a great roster of speakers and participants (the usual suspects like IBM, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Cisco, and several more). The location is great (same venue as the last Localization World) and there are several sessions focusing on the ROI of Software Internationalization, some intended for those with moderate to advanced knowledge about the field (P2, P3, P6) and one workshop intended for management and executives new to the idea (W7).

I am particularly interested in session A4 on International Domain Names/SEO by ICANN. I also like that the keynote by Cliff Miller (An Entrepreneur in a Shrinking World), which gives the perspective of a small company, is followed by Bill Sullivan from IBM, giving the perspective of the very large company (From ROI to DNA).

Check out the program. And remember: A trip to Silicon Valley is never wasted.

Think Latin America - April 7-9, 2010 in Búzios, near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It is obvious that I wouldn't miss an opportunity to go back to my home country, especially for an event at a fantastic venue like this. The program is designed to show what major brands like Coca-Cola, MGM Networks, VMware, Xerox, VeriSign, Nokia and others have been doing to conquer this market, where people are not only happy and beautiful, but increasingly rich and influential. As the program says: 21 countries, 2 languages, 1,000 ideas!

I am particularly interested in the sessions on Logistics (From a Niche Market to a Multi-Billion Dollar Business: Logistics Lessons to Localization Stakeholders) by Wagner Covos, of CEVA Logistics, and on Local Consumer Marketing (How to Leverage the Power and Influence of An Emerging Social Class with Increased Purchasing Power) by Marco Simões, from Coca-Cola.

ELIA Networking Days - April 15-17 in Istanbul, Turkey

I am so excited to go to Turkey. First because I have never been there, and second because ELIA (of which I am the vice-president) has put an awesome and very practical program together for these Networking Days. Even though every session is great, starting with the keynote by the Google Translate guys, I want to highlight three things:
  • The Tools Track, which I am moderating, which will include presentations by the users - not the salespeople - of eight tools: Across, MemoQ, GlobalSight, WebWordSystem, Plunet, Worxs, XTRF, and Project Open;
  • The Situational Leadership Workshop: How to manage and lead different individuals with different levels of skills, attitudes and motivation. The presenter, Ezster Avar, is extremely good (I participated in two of her workshops in Vienna) and this methodology is a great way to manage people.
  • The session Taxation in Europe, by the Milengo CFO Tamara Nadeje, should give European companies ideas on how to save taxes.
In fact, now that I reviewed the program, I would recommend that you send at least three participants, because there are so many excellent sessions that happen at the same time. If you are an ELIA member or want to become one, contact John Terninko at ELIA and find out about deals for sending multiple delegates.

All in all, there is going to be a lot of cool stuff happening these couple of months. I am sure American Airlines will be happy that I will be flying all over for a change.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What the translation industry can do for Haiti

Modified reposting of entry by Tammi Coles in the Milengo Blog. Tammi is our Geeky Marketing Diva, and has a lot of experience in nonprofit advocacy. In her words, "coalitions and collaborations = conservation of effort = victory."

Like you, Milengo staff worldwide heard the news about the earthquake in Haiti. As the reports and photographs poured in, the extent of the devastation became clear: full neighborhoods have been destroyed, government offices and services have crumbled, and basic access to food and potable water has degraded.

We have also witnessed an amazing public rally for support, including reports of initiatives from leading technology companies to mobilize their customers and employees in the efforts.

These reports started a conversation between Milengo CEO Renato Beninatto and Lexcelera CEO Lori Thicke about just what translators and localization service providers could provide to the effort.

We don’t have to look too far for ideas.

Pledge the efforts of your company
The folks at One Hour Translation put out a press release earlier today offering a simple, free translation of up to 250 words per each organization and individual affected by the earthquake. One document may not seem like much, but in an industry of over 40,000 companies, the potential impact on medical aid documentation and charity websites is enormous.

Offer your services as an individual translator
The French-based Translators Without Borders (founded by Lori) take it a step farther by offering translators the chance to answer the call of the humanitarian groups that need their time and effort. Their largest partner, Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders is already on the ground in Haiti, with over 1,000 patients already in their care and an inflatable hospital on its way. Whether the need is for training materials for volunteers or media announcements in multiple languages, your talents are welcome.

Spread the word one SMS and Tweet at a time
Messages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have made a considerable impact on Haitian relief efforts. @RenatoBeninatto sent out a message on Twitter regarding the efforts of Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean to get donations for the work of his nonprofit,, from U.S. residents. And CNet News reported that a similar SMS donation campaign driven by Verizon and the Red Cross raised $4 million USD within days, with each SMS a donation of just $10. The effort to both make a donation and spread the news virally is too simple to ignore.

Help Coordinate the Efforts
Doug Green from Translation Source, in Houston, TX, wants to make sure that our joint efforts are not so diluted. So, in order to make sure that language assistance has been properly mobilized, and that the language industry puts its best foot forward. He has created a Facebook group, a Twitter account, and an e-mail address to concentrate information:

Facebook: Interpreters and Translators for Haiti
Twitter: @IT4H

Doug also tells us that Pacific Interpreters has already stepped forward and begun to donate all over the phone interpreting assistance for Haiti.

We hope to hear more on Twitter and on this blog more about what you, our colleagues in the translation industry, are doing to help. Add your comments, ideas, feedback and more below.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guest Post: Serge Gladkoff's Response to the GALA Controversy

Serge Gladkoff was kind enough to post a response to my previous post, but since I don't want it to be buried in the comments section, I am promoting it to a full entry, so that it is more visible. Please notice that he states that this is NOT GALA's official position, just his opinion. I am inserting answers to his questions in italics.

Hi Renato,

Here, in your blog, I can respond more freely, since it would be most inappropriate for me to discuss GALA in the group where I am Administrator.

There are lots of things mixed in in your post and in replies to your post, so I will enumerate them.

1. Renato, may I ask you why do you think GALA is the only Association that should not hold conferences, when ALL other Associations (LISA, ALC, ELIA) are having them? You are writing that GALA all of a sudden became competition to LISA and ALC - a) this is not the case actually, b) it has all the right to be competition though, and c) it is wrong to say that GALA should always keep low profile and do not do this and that. It's the same as to say that ALC should not hold conferences because it creates competition to LocWorld, for example. Free market is a free opportunity for everyone.

Because GALA is the newcomer and because it had vowed - at its inception - not to organize events, but to co-locate their events with other organizations. And I am not asking GALA to keep a low profile, I want it to take a leadership and high-visibility position, and I don't believe that organizing events is the best, nor the most profitable way to achieve this.

2. Another comment is that all the initiatives that you have outlined are less than perfect to generate revenue - at least, just yet. In fact, GALA has pioneered a lot of these ideas already - joint exhibits (first in the industry!), joint ads (first in the industry!), collaboration with others in the industry (GALA is arguably the leader in these kinds of efforts). They're great ideas, but haven't yet lead to substantial revenue (except possibly in the collaboration case, and the revenue went to everyone BUT GALA). The fact remains that conferences are #1 events for Associations, across all industries, for a number of reasons.

You argument is "because it is like this for everyone else, it has to be like this for GALA." This is the argument of a follower, not a leader. When I say that I want GALA to take a leadership position, I mean that I want it to be different. In my post, I gave examples of initiatives that could be done by all associations, not only by GALA. All of them have issues. Two of them have contacted me asking how I thought they could implement some of my ideas. GALA seems to have adopted a defensive position.

3. I personally agree that there are probably too many events in the industry, but this is unavoidable in a sense - real Karl Marx, "the crisis of overproduction" :). The number of products in the sector indicates maturity of a sector. It is unfair to pound one particular player for this. What I can say is that this wider landscape gives more variety for industry players. Weaker programs may suffer, but there are more opportinity for ideas, in general. What I can say is that we definitely not need five events of ONE organization in one year - let it be five DIFFERENT events :).

Serge, you make good points from the point of view of supply. But what about the demand? As Common Sense Advisory asked several years ago in its report Best and Worst Language Conferences, what is the ROCA (Return on Conference Attendance) for so many events? Instead of organizing different events in different cities with essentially the same program, why not piggy-back them? Why do I have to go to Prague and Miami in May? Collaboration might include agreeing on doing different events at the same location. My frustration is that the discussion starts with the wrong premises. The whole GALA Event controversy starts with the posit: "We need to make money, so let's organize a conference." It would be better if it started like this "Our members need something, let's do it."

4. Timing and cooperation - cooperation does not mean that all requests are granted and all comes to the best of everybody. I personally understand Marta's frustration about GALA 2010 timing, but the wheels for GALA 2010 were in motion far in advance, and it may not be possible. That does not mean that GALA is not cooperative at all. There are couple of things that are beyond our control - for example, there's SAP Forum in May too, etc. Besides, ALC should not be worried because European events actually do not compete with USA events - the audiences are typically different. It is true that actual cooperation is horrendously difficult to achieve, and instead of complaining, a lot of patience is required.

When you say that European events do not compete with USA events, you justify my argument. Let the Europeans (EUATC, ELIA) organize their events and let the Americans (ALC, ATA-TCD) organize theirs. Let GALA get their help to work on other initiatives. I always proposed that events should be local and regional, and larger initiatives like standards and PR should be global. What I can say from the conversation that I have had with other associations, is that contrary to what you say, GALA has not been cooperative, but confrontational, in the last couple of years.

5. In my personal view, GALA is very far from getting to lose its leadership. On the contrary, it is on the rise, and I can see this from inside as Board Member. There are lots of ideas in circulation, we have a VERY strong Board this year, and the plans are huge. Yes, I do not know what are the presentation topics of GALA 2010, but I am confident that the program is going to be great, I have enough information about that as insider.

Leadership is earned, not claimed. You cannot say "We are the leaders," with any credibility. As for the content of the event, maybe with the exception of the keynote speaker (if you are paying for one), I probably have all the speakers of the next GALA event in my address book, and if I thought hard about it I could probably even tell you the subjects that will be covered. So, although I can agree that the content will be great, I seriously doubt that it is going to be DIFFERENT.

6. You are writing that you feel betrayed. Renato, excuse me, but it shows... I don't know what is the essence of a conflict between you and GALA, but am sure that GALA would be cooperative. Or so I think.

I have stated the reason why I feel betrayed under your first point. GALA vowed not to organize events. It was going to be a different association. Guess what: It is organizing events and it is just like any other association. I feel betrayed because the only reasoning that I hear is: We need revenue, we need revenue, we need revenue. How about value for the membership? How about innovation? How about being run as a non-profit/non-revenue interest group or think tank? LinkedIn and industry blogs have done more to advance relevant discussions in the industry than GALA, or any other association for that matter.

7. We can ask, is it a good thing for the indistry that GALA organizes events, or bad thing? Well, the only answer is this: if GALA manages to create good event, AND be cooperative with other constituencies, it is definitely good for the industry. IF GALA is not successful, then it's bad :).

No comment.

8. GALA Board is NOT a groupthink. We express contrary opinions. But as decision is made, we support it. That's the only way to work, otherwise it's not the working group, but bazaar.

Sorry, Serge, but what you just described IS groupthink. According to your source, Wikipedia:

"Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages of reasonable balance in choice and thought that might normally be obtained by making decisions as a group. During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight."

9. Re: "I heard that GALA has taken arrogant position to ELIA" - a) it is wrong to repeat other people opinions (due to the effect of "broken phone"), b) I can assure you that GALA IS cooperative, and yes, there may be personal frictions, but these are somewhat inevitable due ot differences in personalities, you just need to be patient.

I was trying to be polite. The correct statement is that "I KNOW that GALA has taken an arrogant position towards ELIA," because I was there when it happened. And I haven't heard of one-sided cooperation. It takes two to tango! True leaders can overcome personal frictions. 

10. GALA Cancun was great. The lasting effects you will see.

I will take your word for it, but I am not holding my breath :)

11. Interviews on local TV channels, Renato - I leave this prerogative to you :). I don't think at all that TV is the channel for our industry. TV is, clearly, a consumer channel and we are in B2B sector.

I beg to differ. There are countless business programs on TV. And CEOs and VPs and Localization Managers also watch TV, read Oprah magazine, and listen to the radio. At least I do! Furthermore, I would speculate that between 25% and 30% of all the work done by GALA members is B2C, not B2B. Don't the needs and interests of these members matter? 

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what you do, what matters is who and how many you reach. How do you influence the conversations, how do create perception in the mind of people. This is where I expected GALA to be leading. Instead, it wants to organize events... go figure.

12. Vocal disagreements should be constructive. I don't think that you did best to support GALA as GALA member and in fact ELIA Board member. Perhaps we could bridge the divide between GALA and ELIA somehow?

Now we are talking. I and the rest of the Board of ELIA will be happy to talk with GALA and any other association for that matter. GALA's PR person, Rebecca Petras, has suggested a PR Summit for the industry. When can that happen? I propose Istanbul in April or Berlin in June.

Finally, for the record, from a visibility and influence inside and outside the industry perspective, I believe that Common Sense Advisory and the ATA have established a leadership position in 2009, because of their effective public relations efforts.


- Luigi, gaining visibility are NOT NECESSARILY contrary to the spirit of cooperation. :)


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Source of the Controversy in LinkedIn's Localization Professionals Group

Background: Serge Gladkoff, owner of the Localization Professionals Group in LinkedIn, deleted my response to a comment that he made about my entry on Some Ideas for Associations to Generate Revenue because they were "negative" in nature. As the response was deleted, I have no record of it, so I tried to recompose it to the best of my recollection here. I am posting Serge's original response to my entry in the comment section to this post. Click here to check the firestorm on LinkedIn (BTW, thanks for all the supportive comments).

I had forgotten about this post until Serge brought it back up in LinkedIn. In fact, I received over twenty comments to the post in my blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. Most of the comments were very supportive of my ideas.

But I agree with Serge, Association politics is not interesting to most people, who are actually confused by their proliferation. Hence my motivation to write my last two blog entries, one explaining the association landscape and one making suggestions to alternative sources of revenue for associations.

My main beef with GALA is that I feel betrayed by the association, to which I have devoted a lot of effort and dedication. I feel betrayed because at its inception, it vowed to work with other groups and not to add to the confusion in the industry. It had the wonderful idea of creating a movement similar to the “Got Milk Campaign” for promoting the industry, it started a commendable relationship with Localization World (I know the history… I was there!), and made moves to make the industry more visible.

Then, things changed and the association started talking about sources of revenue and creating the reference event in the industry that would attract 2,000 participants (catering to clients, LSPs, and freelancers). So, from being the association that would bring sense to the industry and collaborate with others, GALA all of a sudden became a competitor, fighting for the share of pocket with LISA, Localization World, ALC, ELIA, ATA, and all other existing events.

As Marla Schulman – the president of the ALC -- nicely put in a comment in this blog: “So far I am disappointed to note that while GALA has been talking this talk as well, they have not been walking the walk, most notably with their latest announcement of their conference to be held just one week before the ALC's already scheduled annual conference taking place in Miami, May 19-22, 2010 (this despite specific requests made by the ALC asking them not to schedule their event at a conflicting time with ours).” I have also heard comments from ELIA, before I joined its board, that GALA had taken an arrogant position and that ELIA was not interested in pursuing a relationship with GALA anymore.

In my opinion, the GALA Cancun event did not bring any value to the industry as it attracted only somewhere between 70 and 100 participants, but no lasting effects. No press coverage (not even in Multilingual, let alone CNN, WSJ, NYT), and no new major discussions (unlike the ATA in New York and Localization and Translation in Thailand). And also in my opinion, GALA Prague 2010 should be cancelled, but I don’t expect it to happen.

Serge states that GALA 2010 will raise money for the association and deliver value for the members, because it will be relevant and well organized. How does he know that? GALA still has a call for papers out until January 10. So how can we know that it will be good if we still don’t know the content of the event?

Serge says: “Why is this industry so fragmented? It is fragmented because instead of cooperation, we are immersed in individualism and often only see competition, fight, desire to win over the others.”

And I say: GALA is losing its leadership in the industry because it is trying to do exactly what he criticizes in others. I feel like the mother who says that her son is the only one marching right in the military parade. Maybe I am wrong and everybody else is right, but I have my doubts.

I would rather see the seven Board members of GALA (why 7?) and their staff of three focus their efforts in more relevant stuff than begging people to go to their event in Prague. All the GALA resources will be consumed between now and May on the event. Is that a good use of our common resources? Is that the best that GALA can do for the industry? Why aren’t the seven board members giving interviews on their local TV channels? Why aren’t they meeting with other associations to see how they can pool resources for some of the activities that I have suggested in my blog post that generated all this controversy?

I am a member of GALA and I want it to succeed as a legitimate representative of the industry. The best contribution I can make is to be vocal about my disagreements. As I said in my previous post, “I don't like to be the easy critic who doesn't contribute with any solutions,” so I will keep pushing GALA to stop organizing events and taking the leadership role in other activities that only leaders can do.