Standards, Interoperability, Popcorn

These standards initiative thingies are like buses. You wait for ages and then two of them come along together.

Following the er, demise of LISA (the LOCALIZATION Industry Standards Association), we have just seen an announcement by the Translation Automation User Society (TAUS) calling for community guidance on a proposal for that body to become an interoperability watchdog for the industry. This was followed shortly afterwards by an announcement by the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) that they will fund a standards initiative for the entire industry. Of course, the TAUS and GALA positions are not mutually exclusive and I think they complement each other. I’ll get that popcorn…

The interoperability issue for example, costs the industry a fortune (to the tune of millions of dollars for some). The following presentation called XLIFF: Theory and Reality from Micah Bly of Medtronic, delivered at last year’ XLIFF Symposium in Ireland, has some great examples of the issues involved (hat tip: @ctatwork).

Bottom Line: Interoperability Saves Consumers Money

And sure, who wants to admit to using their own, er, flavor of XLIFF, or using it in some special way (the next time you hear somebody talking about XLIFF just throw in the phrase ‘inline markup’ and see the reaction). It’s always somebody else breaking the standard or not meeting yours isn’t it?

Standards in file formats and tool ‘neutrality’ are notoriously difficult areas to negotiate, and the L10n industry isn’t unique in facing the challenge. The debate generates a lot of thought for sure. Personally, I think that given the costs involved, is it localization service buyers who will call the shots in driving the standards debate. On the other hand, maybe an organization outside the industry might be a better place to look for compliance.

One thing that I (given my role) am interested in understanding is why so many people feel the need to write proprietary extensions to seemingly open standards or to go about implementations in a quirky way. I think there is a link between interoperability issues and some pretty dismal information quality processes, an obsession with formatting over structure, and failure to automate at the source level too (if I see one more workaround to manually create context for translators—instead of deriving it—automatically I will go nuts). We need to be able to figure it out across the entire information lifecycle. For example, in the ERP space, only 23% of companies stick with the vanilla flavor of the application (i.e., what they get out of the box). The rest go off and customize (and that means translating it).

It’s very interesting debate to watch on Twitter (try the #galalisb hashtag while it lasts).

Your views? Find the comments…

Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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