We are all “Translators”: converging roles & tools in L10n & TechComm Surface at GALA Conference

Flying home from the GALA Conference (#galaconf) in Monte Carlo has brought some new insights and trends to the surface for me. (It’s a long “flight” due to 5 hour delay leaving Nice which snow-balled into 30 hours of end-to-end travel time, but who’s complaining?) This blog was written over the Atlantic on Thursday and uploaded into a blog via GoGo on DELTA (somewhere over the MidWest) on Friday.

We are all so accustomed to instant access to critical information and the ability to broadcast our opinions at any moment in time that 4.5 hours in a French airport with no WiFi and anemic mobile phone access can lead to an ephiphany. In short, 2 months away from the localization industry, followed by attendance at this most significant conference let me see a critical convergence of roles, workflows and tools that are affecting localization and traditional tech pubs publishing. The blog below shares some of my post conference impressions, that should prove relevant whether you are involved in localization/translation or not.

Our roles are changing, whether we like it or not

Jack Molisani and Scott Abel recently published an excellent and “right on” analysis in STC INTERCOMM (Tech Comm 2.0: Reinventing Our Relevance in the 2000s) of what it will take to “survive” in the shrinking “tech comm writer” market. Our natural instinct is to hang on to what we are used to and what we think we have been good at for years. But times are changing at such a pace that we can’t even consider hanging on to the old. Most of us don’t need to “reinvent” ourselves; we merely need to catalog all of the new skills and duties we’ve acquired over the past decade and “rebrand” our value for the benefit of management as well as customers. This is true in both localization and what we used to call technical communications.

The convergence of social networking, crowd sourced or community forum input to Help/Documentation and the need for video/images vs. mountains of text has changed all that. Add these trends with the critical need to localize your content for carefully targeted global markets, and our jobs can seem overwhelming.

Ironically, the reality is just the opposite. The fact that we are all “translators” in this post-turn-of-the –century environment has made our roles and possibilities more exciting than ever. Fortunately product development trends in both translation/localization and publishing are quickly evolving to meet these new requirements. Suites of tools are being developed (particularly in localization) to eliminate many of the manual steps that have proved to be time-to-market bottlenecks for years. This is probably most dramatic in some of the new solutions that help reduce, if not practically eliminate manual project management time in multilingual projects.

This GALA conference was my first industry event since I left the localization industry a couple of months ago. It was a chance to look at presentation and attendee interaction with new eyes. A few years ago, localization conferences put on by an organization that is no longer with us had turned into a forum for translation/localization professionals to either impress or “out do” one another on the podium. GALA has evolved into a dynamic, energetic organization working tirelessly to promote useful standards to make information more portable. (By the way, the photo of GALA’s 10th Birthday celebration dance floor below illustrates that GALA is not made up of dull and stuffy nerds!)

Machine Translation (MT) is now taken for granted. (A few years it was either considered controversial, or a “limited” tool for huge customers with deep pockets.) Paralleling efforts to address the confines of small hand held screens in publishing, GALA members are exploring every tool available that will constrain source language vocabulary. For language translation, this leads to better leveraging of existing TM (Translation Memory), or reduces redundant translation of previously translated content. In Tech Comm, these tools help to (a) create source English that is easier to read for domestic audiences and (b) shortens sentence and word count to allow content output to tablets of iPhones to be read more swiftly and with higher retention.

An emphasis on the need for better collaborative review also surfaced several times. Although some proprietary “log in to the cloud” solution may still be desired, the flexibility of Adobe’s Tech Comm Suite (PDF review from desktop or cloud) was most appreciated by our booth visitors.

Single source publishing becomes even more critical

The localization industry has long been focusing on ways to leverage or repurpose content. One of the key methods has been a combination of DITA (topic based authoring) combined with content management (CMS.) This parallels critical trends in tech comm, particularly outputting one set of source files to multiple delivery formats, ranging from PDF to ePubs, WebHelp and other popular file forms. Again, this is an area where Adobe’s Tech Comm Suite particularly shines, in that it has a scalable and highly accessible approach to accomplishing single-source publishing even with “mixed” content (structured and unstructured) in either FrameMaker or RoboHelp.

A new spin on connectors

For the past few years, we’ve seen many plug-ins or connectors to products like FrameMaker (MaxIt, Author Assist) that will allow source language authoring to help build translation memory during the authoring process. GALA revealed that within localization connectors are moving one step further. Now developers are working on exciting solutions that can tie TM (Translation Memory) directly into CMS and to the authoring tool. This will eventually lead to a “complete” end-to-end solution that will enable most authors to directly affect the integrity of assets needed during localization.

What does all of this mean for the rest of us?

Times may seem “scary” because job titles, roles and responsibilities have to change for most of us. Most of us have to learn new skills, like video or rich media creation. Some of us still have to master topic-based authoring and repurposing content via CMS.

Per several earlier blogs, we also have to move away from a “page based” lens for our authoring. The times may be changing. But they have never been more exciting, nor have they offered more opportunities.