Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

All around the world

All around the world

  • Article 7 of 26
  • M-iD, June 2004
Creating a global web site with international appeal places huge demands on both managers and technology.

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For organisations in two minds about which languages they should translate their site into, web analytics tools that can segment web audiences by location can prove invaluable.

With web content management systems sufficiently mature and scalable to manage hosting a global web presence, most of the issues surrounding a global deployment involve management and cultural issues, rather than technology. If approached the right way, a global approach can save money and even unite previously disconnected offices.

Web content management approaches

Centralised approach

  • Content on global web sites created and managed centrally
  • Very little local content on central sites or local sites
  • Local web sites point users to central sites
  • Low cost to produce content
  • Efficient approach for content production
  • Easy to maintain consistent brand and messaging
  • Little or no localisation
  • Company may appear to be unresponsive or insensitive to local market needs
  • Serves lowest common denominator
  • Content does not reflect cultural preferences

Decentralised approach

  • Local offices create and manage web content on separate local sites
  • Very little content re-use from site to site
  • Content highly targeted toward local markets (supports local marketing initiatives)
  • Content is relevant to local markets
  • Content and presentation reflect local cultural preferences
  • High cost to recreate content from location to location
  • Ineffective use of global marketing materials (for example, logos and photos)
  • Introduces risk of inconsistent brand and weak messaging

A lingua franca?

Anyone who has tried Google's Babelfish service will know that automated translation software still has a long way to go. A headline such as "Al Fayed going to Fulham" typically ends up translated to "Aluminium Fayed going to Fulham", thanks to software that doesn't recognise the word "Al" except as the chemical symbol for aluminium. An idiom in one language, such as "out of sight, out of mind", ends up as "the insane invisible man" in another.

But public translation engines - which only score about 70% in accuracy tests - are considerably different to those used in the corporate market. Systems such as those used by SDL International, Trados and thebigword incorporate elements of manual translation, workflow management and 'translation memory' to provide a reasonable, albeit slower approximation to automatic translation.

Jessica Roland, head of Documentum's localisation programme, explains: "You can teach a system corporate vocabulary and what the translations are, then store it in 'translation memory' for use later." Since much corporate literature intended for the public will repeat certain phrases used in other documents, these phrases need only be translated once; then, when text is found to match the phrase, the existing translation can be used, removing the need to translate it again.

This "translation memory" can build up a considerable library of phrases over time. Any other phrases can be passed on to human translators - or even translation software, before being passed on to a translator to have the rough edges removed - where they can be translated then passed back for final approval by a content editor. Properly trained translation software can often also translate new phrases that are similar to already translated phrases.

What takes the automation step one further is the ability of some translation software and agencies to fit into content management workflows using XML, web services or other workflow standards. Then content editors can simply workflow the content to be translated using the system and have it returned to them within hours or minutes using the content management system.

Speaking in many tongues

A radical rethink of its web strategy has improved the way British Council reaches out to the rest of the world.

The British Council is a government-backed agency dedicated to promoting relationships between the UK and other countries. Run by the British consulates, it has 109 offices worldwide and operations in 92 countries. In 2001, the British Council had 240 web sites and approximately 200 HTML [hypertext markup language] authors providing content from around the world. Fifty new media companies were contracted to develop content and 80 ISPs were used for hosting.

"It was a recipe for anarchy," recalls Ian Barnes, global web manager for the British Council. "We had multiple online identities; our corporate marks were being abused - offices were even animating the logo. Many offices had bespoke web content management solutions because they couldn't afford western prices. And we're not even sure how many web sites we had then: we knew of 240, but there were many more we didn't know about."

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