An intuitive and flexible web-based translation management system

Since its inception, Wordbee was conceived as a browser-only platform that aimed at offering all the essential components needed to become a truly end-to-end translation tool. Upon its fifth anniversary, Wordbee has now positioned itself as an integrated solution that combines full-featured project management and translation environments in a surprisingly unique user-friendly web interface, where clients, enterprise in-house teams and external translation suppliers can easily interact.  

Many of the most popular translation tools available in the market have now implemented web-based solutions, but these solutions are often feature-limited alternatives to their more complete desktop applications. Wordbee’s browser-based only philosophy releases the user from the burden of having to install a desktop version, but without losing any of the tool’s functionalities. Wordbee is a totally customizable collaborative translation management system (TMS), which makes it an eligible solution for both corporate and governmental institutions as well as for language service providers (LSPs). Thanks to its automated workflow technology, Wordbee makes the translation process smoother and simpler at all levels, yet efficient and successful, even for enterprises working with mixed internal and freelance teams or only with external translation professionals. Although Wordbee is meant to be implemented as a full-featured solution to cover all the phases within the translation life cycle, there is an important element missing: an alignment tool. Nevertheless, many third-party applications could be used to cover this gap; Wordbee’s team recommends AlignFactory from Terminotix.   

Wordbee Translator can also be regarded as a computer-aided translation (CAT) tool itself, thus also meeting the needs of freelancers, who can choose between two different editions: the basic one does not include quoting and invoicing capabilities, nor does it integrate the client portal. With the Freelance Entrepreneur Edition, however, the user not only has access to all the project management features, but also the option to invite other colleagues to work within the platform when highly demanding projects are undertaken. For each new translator who has access to Wordbee there is an additional cost of €30 per month, but this feature may be beneficial for those who wish to increase their translation volume and potentially find their niche in the translation market as LSPs. Wordbee supports two types of projects: Standard projects and Continuous and Dynamic Translation (Codyt) projects. While the former refers to the traditional notion of a translation project, where the manager assigns different jobs (such as translation and revision) to certain suppliers to work on one or more documents from a given source language to one or several target languages, the latter has been specifically designed to use an automated workflow to handle files that have to be translated from different source languages to several target languages in a speedy turnaround time.


General settings

All Wordbee users access the tool through the same login portal, available at www.wordbee-translator.com. Each customer is given a specific account ID, and the administrator of the platform receives a user ID and a password that allow him or her to enter the home page (see Figure 1). At a first glance, we can see two main blocks of information: the menu bar and the different panels that most of the time correspond to options also available through the drop-down menus on the top. There is also a useful panel called Quick links that takes you to the most important menu items. On the home page, you can spot the first example of Wordbee’s flexibility: if you find that some of the visible panels are not useful for your everyday tasks, you can remove them by clicking on the cross at the top right corner of each panel, or you can go to the customize dashboard function and apply the changes from there.  

The number of menu items and panels displayed depends on the user’s login credentials. Wordbee’s user default profiles include in-house and external profiles. In the first group, the administrator has full access rights, including license and login management; the team leader manages translation projects with in-house or external teams, but he or she cannot add or delete users. The worker’s main role is to translate or revise, and he or she can have access to other workers’ jobs; the worker (limited) profile allows the user to see only his or her jobs; and the in-house client can submit translation requests, communicate with the team and ultimately download the finished translations, as specified in the user’s guide. In the second group, all these profiles are replicated (except for the administrator, of course), but access rights are more restricted. In my view, external manager and external worker profiles are particularly useful for institutions working with LSPs, since once they are underway, project managers in the in-house team can always monitor progress of each task within the platform. Once again, Wordbee relies on the fact that everything is customizable, so profiles can be duplicated and renamed, and access rights can be modified at any time in the Customisation page within the Settings menu.

There are multiple customization options that depend on the user’s profile and access rights. These range from style-based issues to translation settings and project-related issues such as invoicing. Personally, I really enjoy this freedom to adapt the tool to my specific needs, but there may be other users who prefer that the software provider gives them everything ready to go.

A functionality that I believe is unique to Wordbee Translator is the possibility of adding labels to different elements available in the platform. If properly used, labels allow the user to get specific information at a quick glance about projects, jobs, orders, resources, companies, persons, or invoices. Labels are obviously customizable, and can be added at anytime. In Figure 2, labels associated to projects are shown. The user can create multiple-choice labels as, for instance, the first one named Complexity, or simple labels, as the second one, Approved, which can be switched on (green) or switched off (gray). In spite of the color coding, which can be rather confusing at the beginning, labeling data has a lot of potential advantages from an organizational point of view and can become very gratifying with time. Whereas labels cannot be added at a segment level, they can be in traditional custom fields that we are used to seeing in translation memories (TMs) or terminology databases. In Wordbee, custom fields can be defined as hyperlinks, text fields or pick-lists. However, since they can be also used to provide metadata to elements covered by labels (such as projects, jobs and companies), I strongly suggest defining at least the custom fields before the implementation of the tool in order to avoid an inefficient usage of both strategies. 

In Wordbee’s home page, it is also worth highlighting the two panels at the very top. The Find a service panel lets you quickly look for suppliers who can perform the job that you need by clicking on the Search button. The Find a translation panel gives you access to one of my favorite functionalities of the TMS: Wordbee’s global search tool. Via Wordbee Search, the user can explore TMs, terminology databases and projects’ content at both phrase and term levels. If machine translation (MT) is enabled, there is also the possibility of using Google Translate. Searches can be filtered by translation unit status (validated or not validated), custom fields and even labels associated to linguistic resources or projects.  

This global search tool is a fantastic example of Wordbee’s philosophy toward collaborative work: if a team member who does not have the appropriate access rights to edit content finds a translation proposal that is incorrect, he or she can leave a visible comment on it, mark it with a bookmark to come back later or report the problem by clicking on the flag next to it. The person managing linguistic resources will then receive an e-mail. This interaction between team members encourages a well informed clean-up of linguistic assets available. In addition, filter options include, among others, segments with comments and segment modification timings. It is a joy to work in a platform where changes are applied in seconds and results are rendered immediately visible to everyone, especially from the point of view of a translator. Nonetheless, everything has a price, and in the case of Wordbee Search, that is an additional cost of €300 per year (except for the Premium Pack, where it is included).


Project management

For the purposes of this review, let’s assume that Wordbee’s administrator in a governmental institution has already added all the client, supplier and in-house staff member profiles, and has provided each person with a login and a password. Let’s consider that price lists for suppliers have been set up too. At this point, it should be noted that it is possible to create as many logins as required, but the number of enabled concurrent licenses depends on the Wordbee edition owned. If the maximum number of active licenses is reached and someone needs to have access to the platform, the administrator always has to disable one user for the benefit of another. Ideally, logins should be automatically freed upon completion of jobs or projects, but sadly this is not an available solution in Wordbee yet.  

In our proposed scenario, a given client sends an order through Wordbee’s portal, including language pairs, tasks required and documents to translate. Before creating the project itself, the in-house project manager can check the team’s availability thanks to Wordbee’s calendar tool for work and holiday management, or assess the feasibility of the request by having a broader look at the general planning schedule (see Figure 3).

Once done, the project manager can reject or accept (in our case) the client’s order. We will select Wordbee’s standard project template, which leads the user to a six-tab-based painstaking guided process, as shown in Figure 4. In the first tab, project details are indicated, including deadline, instructions, source and target languages, task to be performed, and domain specialty. In principle, the tool supports all Unicode based languages, and if a language is not listed, Wordbee guarantees that they can include it immediately. In tabs 2, 3 and 4, documents are added (with a limit of 100MB), linguistic resources to check against are selected, and a complete wordcount is performed, taking into account perfect matches (100% matching segments preceded and succeeded by other 100% matches), 100% matches and fuzzy matches. Although we are already simplifying a lot of time-consuming tasks through Wordbee (we avoid exchanging e-mails to check supplier’s availability, attaching files to the e-mail, sending packages containing linguistic resources to be loaded in different tools), more automation is possible. With Codyt projects, the deadline is calculated based on the word count; if working with a content management system, data can be directly conveyed to and from Wordbee via the application programming interface; and we can even switch source languages on the fly.

We are just missing job assignment (tab 5). Wordbee Translator shows only a list of suppliers who are suitable for the job based on their availability and other details specified within their profiles. In our Standard project, we may select one single supplier per task, or split documents into paragraphs and assign groups of paragraphs to different suppliers. Since costs are calculated automatically, we just need to finish the project creation phase by clicking Send proposal, and an e-mail notification will be sent out. Assuming that the supplier accepts it, the procedure to follow would be to click on Conduct work and start the job. 

As far as a supplier’s assignment is concerned, with Codyt projects Wordbee goes a step further. Not only can project managers select a specific supplier, but they can also choose between group and crowd assignments (see Figure 5). If they opt to propose the job to supplier groups (previously defined), which has actually been a possibility in Standard projects since December 2012, all the group members will receive a job request notification. The next step is very simple: the first one to accept it gets it. This option is really helpful when turnaround times are tight, although it might probably seem unfair to many of my fellow translators. On the other hand, when crowdsourcing is picked up, real-time collaboration comes in. Suppliers with the same language pairs can jointly work on the same document, thus making the process faster and more fun. Admittedly, this possibility appears particularly advantageous in the case of in-house revision or proofreading of outsourced translations. Moreover, it encourages team collaboration and consequently increases the outcome’s quality.  

The three available linguistic resources in Wordbee Translator are TMs, project memories and terminology databases. Project memories are generated automatically upon project creation and can be consolidated and added to the master TMs once the project is completed. One thing that could lead to some confusion for users who have previously worked with other CAT tools with a powerful terminology component is the way term bases are handled. Essentially, Wordbee presents TMs and term bases to the user in the same table-like interface, making it not so attractive for traditional term entry supporters. Wordbee’s simplified terminology understands segment as both a translation unit in TMs and a term entry in term bases. Probably due to this simplification attempt, custom fields can only be added at a segment level, that is, it is not possible to add multilevel metadata (by language or by field, for example).

Regarding file support, Wordbee adheres to industry standards such as TMX, XLIFF and TBX (ISO 30042). However, it only allows TBX import and not export, which is not so convenient for people using Wordbee in combination with other CAT tools or a more complete terminology-oriented software. Still, terminology databases can be exported to Excel formats, Open Office Calc and CSV files. Broadly speaking, translation of supported formats goes smoothly, including Adobe InDesign files, which were not correctly handled by other CAT tools I had used before (for example, content was often not displayed respecting the original page order). Furthermore, Wordbee also processes SDL implementation of XLIFF and has recently released PO  file localization format support. 

In September 2012, Wordbee launched the Business analytics tool — an interactive and elegant application to generate multidimensional information reports. As opposed to traditional reports (found in My company > Reports) which are exportable to a text-based Excel sheet, the new Business analytics component (available through My company > Business analytics) comprises almost a hundred different graphical views of data available in the platform concerning clients, suppliers and projects, even going into detailed information about translation volumes in segments and words in a selected period of time (see Figure 6). Although it is a good business intelligence application to visualize statistical data to help with return on investment reports and quality assurance, analytics reports cannot be exported (definitely not the greatest choice made by Wordbee).


Translation environment

Let’s finally consider Wordbee from a translator’s perspective. As we have already seen, the translation editor is at one-click distance from the job proposal that the supplier receives and ideally accepts. What he or she finds then is a browser-based working environment divided into three columns (see Figure 7). In the left-side column a table-like editor is displayed, almost exactly the same as the TMs and terminology database preview interface, including source segments and pre-translated target segments (if any). If this is the case, Wordbee uses a color coding for different types of matches. Pre-translation results are also marked at a segment level with a lightning icon next to the source text. Blue represents perfect matches; green, 100% matches; red, fuzzy matches; and yellow, MT output. If MT is enabled, it is possible to complete empty segments after TM leveraging with MT proposals. Google Translate, Microsoft Translator and Reverso are the three engines available, but you need to have a professional account to use them.

With regard to Wordbee’s approach to fuzzy matching, it is worth noting that translations are leveraged also at a term level: this means that terms found in the linguistic assets are automatically introduced in the target segments and highlighted in blue for easy reference. Nevertheless, it must be said that in the context of Wordbee’s implementation in an international organization based in Geneva, some experienced translators who had not used CAT tools before found this particular feature a bit annoying. Having text in both source and target languages seemed confusing to them, and the consequent post-editing effort was assessed as totally unnecessary. All in all, however, Wordbee’s translation editor was still considered a user-friendly working environment by most of the translators.

Wordbee offers the same filtering and interaction functionalities available in Wordbee Search. Segments can be bookmarked, for instance, to remember where you left your translation before taking a coffee break or a segment that is particularly difficult and you want to come back to later on. Similarly, the translator can leave comments referring to source texts or translations for the reviewer or the project manager (visible afterward in the Comments & Discussion panel in the middle column). Other actions at a segment level include segment locking, segment size restriction to a certain limit in pixels, translation propagation and the possibility to split and join segments.

In the upper part of the left-side column, the translator can find standard options such as Find/Replace, Spellcheck (browser-based), or a basic quality assurance function to correct missing and misplaced tags, and spacing problems. Not running these checks can lead to uninformed errors when trying to export the final target document, which can be rather frustrating. It would have been a mistake not to allow the possibility of working offline. Wordbee has taken this into consideration and allows for export and import of XLIFF and .doc files. Any changes made to both source and target texts can be easily incorporated to the system. Unfortunately, comments made outside the translation editor cannot be imported back (as opposed to those made online that can be exported). Still, changes made to each segment, the date and the author can be visualized through the Segment Information panel in the right-side column.

Wordbee also provides a preview functionality, as well as the possibility of downloading the source and target files anytime during the translation process. Last but not least, the Translation Finder panel could be defined as a more restricted Wordbee Search tool, from which the translator can look for terms or phrases in available TMs and terminology databases. Dictionaries and external multilingual databases are also searchable, a comfortable option that is quite nice to have at your fingertips, without the need of even opening a new browser tab or window. Revisers work in the same editor, having access to the same functionalities that translators do.


Who should buy it

Notwithstanding the absence of an alignment solution and the relatively weak terminology component, Wordbee features all the essential tools needed for each actor in the translation chain, with remarkably automated steps in the overall workflow. Wordbee’s functional cloud-based user interface clearly illustrates the industry tendency to support collaboration throughout the whole translation life cycle.  

Its flexible approach and collaborative philosophy, deserve the attention of small-to-medium sized LSPs or translation divisions within corporate or governmental entities. Wordbee’s affordable starting price and the tool’s ease of use make it an eligible option for freelancers too. Paying extra for Wordbee Search and PDF converter tools could make it less attractive, though.

From a customization perspective, Wordbee offers you a high level of flexibility not only regarding the broad workflow definition capability, but also at more specific levels, such as totally customizable shortcuts within the translation editor. In my view, being web-based only is also a plus. I am a fan of in-the-cloud software, especially since most of the time I need to translate from different workstations, and I do not like having to depend on a single computer.