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.