There are people who believe that the original intention of the internet during its inception in the 1980’s was to put the power of information in the hands of its users.  In fact the last three or four decades has seen the return of the wild wild west with the internet, e-mail, mobile technology, social media, online shopping, big data, cloud computing and now the internet of things.  All of this has been accessible to anyone, and anyone with the ability to create a website can give the impression they are far more trustworthy and capable than they actually are.  The way the growth of the internet has taken place has meant that only large organisations are able, in theory, to provide “security” and “trust” and we rely on them to validate our financial transactions, willingly handing over our personal data so that we no longer have any control over what happens with it.  Since the global social media phenomenon we even hand this data over to less secure environments sharing our lives with the world and in the process becoming less and less oblivious to the implications of what we share.  Certainly a far cry from the original idea of a secure and private network for the users, and today individuals have next to zero control over their personal data at all.

Data protection legislation such as GDPR are a little like sticking a plaster on the problem of data security and trust, and the implementation of their requirements has certainly left many with mixed feelings about the effectiveness of this kind of legislation as it’s still unclear in many areas how to deal with personal data.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it’s certainly not a long term solution to the problem.  Often it’s simply common sense that you’ll have to provide some personal data for the things you do and sometimes it’ll be useless if that data is not available publicly.  This is where blockchain comes into the equation as it offers an alternative way of managing data and automating trust without the need for large organisations and governments to act as gatekeeper, or for you to hand over your personal details again and again to every service that asks for it.  But what is blockchain exactly and how does it help solve the “security” and “trust” issues?

Don and Alex Tapscott wrote an excellent book called the Blockchain Revolution, well worth a read, and they define a blockchain like this:

"The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic
transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial
transactions but virtually everything of value."
Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016)

It’s this idea of the blockchain that can be used to record anything of value that’s interesting for me.  Blockchain technology has been in the news a lot recently, mostly around the volatility of cryptocurrencies leading to a perception that blockchain is a bad thing.  I don’t think everyone sees it this way but the link many people make between blockchain and cryptocurrencies is often the wrong one.  For example, cryptocurrencies (like bitcoin, ethereum, ripple xrp etc.) and blockchain are not the same thing!  Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that uses blockchain technology… but many other things can use blockchain technology and the underlying concept is simple and brilliant (you can read the original paper from Sakoshi Nakamoto that started this idea in 2008 here).  So as my mind wandered around the possibilities of this technology I wanted to think about how this could be used in the translation industry where blockchain is something I think we have only seen raise its head a few times… and so far (Langpie for example) hasn’t done anything to improve the perception of this technology in our industry.  First of all I thought it would be helpful to share what helped me to understand the concept of blockchain in a way that made it very easy understand.  So if you are not familiar with block chain (and if you’re interested) I recommend you take a few minutes to review this excellent video from Shai Rubin which I found to be the best no frills explanation of the core principles I’ve seen.

Blockchain concept

I mentioned that blockchain is not the same thing as cryptocurrency and this is a very important concept to understand because it relates to the idea of a decentralised ledger that can support a lot more than financial transactions alone.  The World Economic Forum has written a paper called “Building Block(chain)s for a Better Planet” which is well worth a read.  In the full report they discuss how blockchain could disrupt the way the world manages environmental resources and help to drive sustainable growth, identifying more than 65 use-cases where blockchain could be applied to these challenges.  They also provided a model, very similar to this one below from blockgeeks.com, which explains better than I could in one image how the block chain works:

Image reproduced with permission from blockgeeks.com

Blockchain in the Translation Industry

Apart from Langpie which grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons, I haven’t seen much written in the translation press about the possibilities of blockchain, much less anyone taking it forward as a platform for the future.  Slator has written a few articles, some of which are very interesting and worth a read.  Gábor Ugray wrote an interesting piece in his blog jealous markup in January this year, rounded off with some tongue in cheek comments that belie the credibility of the possibilities he raised, and more recently Robert Etches seems to have taken the first major move into this space with his new venture Exfluency and the looming initial coin offerring in this space… XFL tokens.  All of this is interesting because we’re not just talking about Artificial Intelligence or Neural Machine Translation as the new big things, but instead we’re talking about how we can use blockchain technology to get the most from these exciting areas in the future in addition to radically changing the way we do business.  In fact we’re talking about how everyone from a freelance translator all the way to a global enterprise can benefit from the advances that some people worry will take away their work.  Blockchain promises exactly the opposite and teases us with the potential to reduce piracy, give proper value to qualified and experienced practitioners, add trust to improve business processes… in fact all the things people say about the benefits of blockchain.  I can see why Gábor finished his article in the way he did because it all sounds too good to be true with a lot of hype and technobabble building up the capability of this technology.  But with many hailing this as the most important revolution since the internet I think we’re on the edge of some exciting changes for the better in our online world.

I sat down a couple of weeks ago and drew up a mindmap, which I won’t share here, of some of the things I thought blockchain could help with in a decentralised ledger of translation related activity across a peer to peer network.  It was great fun thinking about it based on the limited experience I have in this space and the opportunity turned out to be a lot more than I first expected.  Here’s a high level dump of some of those things.

Cheap unqualified translation services would find it harder to compete… who would knowingly buy services in a specific field from practitioners without proven experience and qualifications?  These credentials would be validated on the blockchain allowing you to quickly find qualified translators, reviewers, post-editors to suit your needs.  The HR process for a company around recruitment for skilled people could be radically improved, no longer relying on a written CV and references from one or two previous employers.  The market for professional translation software could undergo a sea change with responsible companies able to ensure they didn’t promote the black market as they would only employ professional translators with licenced software validated through the blockchain involving software vendors.  Translators who worked regularly with one type of software could “lease” a licence for another type of software for a fee from fellow professionals when they were not using theirs – validated by the vendors and paid for through the blockchain.  Resource sharing, productivity and quality metrics could be extended across the entire industry by allowing practitioners to sell their own validated data through the blockchain to anyone who required it.  A question that comes up today with the increased use of APIs is where to find a suitably qualified developer – blockchain could support a validated register of qualified developers encouraging training and qualifications in more fields to meet a growing need.  Project Managers faced with the tricky task of extracting translatable text from complex XML files could find an experienced and qualified localization engineer – all validated through the blockchain.  Gábor mentioned regulated industries where the immutable nature of blockchain could perfectly fit the bill and do away with the current document based workflows that are fraught with technical difficulties.  Clients using web-based machine translation could improve the quality with an appropriately experienced translator validated through the blockchain.  The possibilities are certainly not finite.

APIs

I couldn’t write an article in my blog without mentioning APIs.  But these are really key to building a successful blockchain environment.  One of the fundamental ideas behind this technology is that it’s open and that it provides open APIs, and this means that we should be able to take many of our existing applications and integrate them with these new platforms as needed.  There’s an interesting article on this topic from Mark Yagalla where he tries to explain how the lack of developers with skills to help “businesses looking to benefit from the cryptographically secured immutable trustless automation that blockchain technology enables” is less of an issue as you might think.  So the provision of good APIs to encourage software developers in the translation space to start integrating blockchain solutions into their workflow is very important.  I’m looking forward to the next few years as we see what impact Exfluency has on the way we can do business in the future, and how quickly other companies follow suit.

Closing section

Now I’m not saying blockchain is the answer to everything because it’s not.  There are many things that you can’t rely on a computer to provide as the “trust” in a transaction.  For example my wife always buys organic and one of the things I regularly discuss with her is how does she know that the organic sticker on the goods is valid?  She has to “trust” that the people preparing these goods in the first place really do have the right processes in place, and personal integrity, so that the goods in the organic section of the store really are organic and someone didn’t just place a sticker on the less attractive ones to help sell them.  Blockchain would add an automated “trust” factor to a process that is already open to abuse.  But there are plenty of things where blockchain can certainly improve the process we have today… not least the time it takes to transfer money through a bank, or the inexpicably high transfer fees for things that should be no more than a computer process requiring little overhead from the bank.  Blockchain promises to provide tools that would allow us to take responsibility for the use of our own data and to simplify business processes that are needlessly complex.  So I for one am excited about the prospects of blockchain technology in the future and in particular how it’s going to change the way we do business today.

What do you think?

Every time a new release of SDL Trados Studio is released there are usually a flurry of blogs and videos explaining what’s in them, some are really useful and full of details that will help a user decide whether the upgrade is for them or not, and others are written without any real understanding of what’s in the software or why the upgrade will help.  That’s really par for the course and always to be expected since everyone is looking for the things they would like to meet their own needs.  So for me, when I’m looking for independent reviews of anything, I find the more helpful reviews give me as much information as possible and I can make my own mind up based on the utility I’ll get from it, the fun in using it and the cost of upgrade.  I put a couple of what I would consider helpful reviews here as they both try to cover as many of the new features available as possible.  So if you are in the early stages of wondering at a high level what’s in it for you then you could do a lot worse than spending 10 or 20 minutes of your time to read/watch the contributions from Emma and Nora below.

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In the last year or so many articles have been written about XLIFF 2.0 explaining what’s so great about it, so I’m not going to write another one of those.  I’m in awe of the knowledge and effort the technical standard committees display in delivering the comprehensive documentation they do, working hard to deliver a solution to meet the needs of as many groups as possible.  The very existence of a standard however does not mean it’s the panacea for every problem it may be loosely related to.  It’s against this background I was prompted to write about this topic after reading this article questionning whether some companies were preventing translators from improving their lives.  The article makes a number of claims which I think might be a little misguided in my opinion… in fact this is what it says:

XLIFF 2.0 is a “new” bilingual format for translation that attempts to do a handful important things for translators.

  • Improve the standard so that different translation tools makers, like SDL, don’t “need” to create their own proprietary versions that are not compatible with other tools
  • Creating true interoperability among tools, so translators can work in the tool of their choice, and end-customers can have flexibility about who they work with too
  • Allow businesses to embed more information in the files, like TM matches glossaries, or annotations, further enhancing interoperability

I say “new” because XLIFF 2.0 has been around for years now. Unfortunately, adoption of the XLIFF 2.0 standard has been slow, due to tools makers and other players deciding that interoperability is not in their interest. It’s one of those things where commerce gets in the way of sanity.

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Studio 2019 has arrived and it brings with it some nice features on the surface, and some important improvements under the hood… but it also brings with it a lot more upgrades than just Studio, and I don’t just mean MultiTerm!  The SDL AppStore is one of the unique benefits you get when you work on the SDL technology stack and there are hundreds of apps available that can provide additional resources, custom filetypes, file converters, productivity enhancements, manuals, etc.  When you upgrade your version of Studio you are also going to have to upgrade your apps.  Many of the apps are maintained by the SDL Community team and these have all been upgraded ready for use in Studio 2019, but the majority have been created and maintained by others.  I’ve written this article to explain what you need to look out for as a user of SDL Trados Studio or MultiTerm, and also as a reference guide for the developers who might have missed the important information that was sent out to help them with the process. Read More

It could be said that translators come into the industry for the love of language, and the creative nature of the work, writing beautiful translations that at least do justice to the original texts.  It might even be true for many… but let’s face it, very few people can afford to do this for a full career without thinking about the money!  So it’s all the more surprising to me that translation vendors don’t provide a mechanism for dealing with the money in their toolsets.  Sure, you can have an analysis that can be used as the basis of a quote or an invoice, but you don’t see anywhere that deals with the money!  The larger Translation Management Systems have features for doing this, or they integrate with larger Enterprise systems for accounting and project management, but what about the translators?  How do they manage their business?

Well… there are applications on the SDL AppStore that can help with this in some ways.  For example:

  • SDL InQuote – an interesting, sometimes problematic application, that can allow you to create quotes and invoices based on the analysis files in your Studio projects
  • Post-Edit Compare – a wonderful application that in addition to carrying out a post-edit analysis of the work you are doing can put a value to it based on your rates.  But it doesn’t create quotes or invoices.
  • Qualitivity – another wonderful application that in addition to tracking just about everything you do in Studio can put a value to it based on the post-edit analysis or on a time basis.  But it doesn’t create quotes or invoices either.

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Is English (Europe) the new language on the other side of the Channel that we’ll all have to learn if Brexit actually happens… will Microsoft ever create a spellchecker for it now they added it to Windows 10?  Why are there 94 different variants of English in Studio coming from the Microsoft operating system and only two Microsoft Word English spellcheckers?  Why don’t we have English (Scouse), English (Geordie) or English (Brummie)… probably more distinct than the differences between English (United States) and English (United Kingdom) which are the two variants Microsoft can spellcheck.  These questions, and similar ones for other language variants are all questions I can’t answer and this article isn’t going to address!  But I am going to address a few of the problems that having so many variants can create for users of SDL Trados Studio.

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There’s always been the occasional question appearing on the forums about data protection, particularly in relation to the use of machine translation, but as of the 25th May 2018 this topic has a more serious implication for anyone dealing with data in Europe.  I’ve no intention of making this post about the GDPR regulations which come into force in May 2016 and now apply, you’ll have plenty of informed resources for this and probably plenty of opinion in less informed places too, but just in case you don’t know where to find reliable information on this here’s a few places to get you started:

With the exception of working under specific requirements from your client, Europe has (as far as I’m aware) set out the only legal requirements for dealing with personal data.  They are comprehensive however and deciphering what this means for you as a translator, project manager or client in the translation supply chain is going to lead to many discussions around what you do, and don’t have to do, in order to ensure compliance.  I do have faith in an excellent publication from SDL on this subject since I’m aware of the work that gone into it, so you can do worse than to look at this for a good understanding of what the new regulations mean for you.

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