July 17th 2020

Overcoming complexities of website localization from the perspective of developer Charlie Jackson of Sonosite


Even if you have never worked in the medical device field, you can surely imagine how ardorous the process of getting approval is (think: FDA clearance for marketing materials) for all content related to your products. And you can surely imagine how important it is for all content to be 100% accurate. Internal reviews are often mandatory within the industry for that very reason.

This week on The Loc Show, Adrian sits down with Charlie Jackson, Senior Web Manager at FUJIFILM Sonosite, Inc. to recount the ways Charlie is navigating the many technical challenges encountered as an engineer dedicated to making their global presence more efficient. Including how Charlie manages the distribution of products in global markets before they’re available in the source language of the company, which is English.

And if you haven’t heard of Sonosite, a division of FUJIFILM, Inc., they’re best known for creating travel-friendly imaging machines and partnering with point-of-care clinicians to continue the tradition of innovating the practice of medicine for the sake of providing better patient care. It’s essentially guaranteed that you’ve come across their product without knowing it.

What you will learn on this episode:

  • How this international company transitioned from sharing blanketed machine translated content to become fully multi-lingual, integrated, and localized.
  • The dos and don’ts of marrying the business requirements with the limitations of your industry.
  • How to excel within the confines of rolling out approved content to several countries simultaneously.
  • Ways you can work to minimize the complexity of translation and localization to ensure a smooth digital experience for end users and target audiences.

Subscribe: Apple Podcast / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher

What to Listen For:
[2:49] Charlie on his storied background in software.
[4:00] When Charlie joined Sonosite and began undertaking translating the site from MT German
[16:47] The process Charlie developed to ensure quality in translations was meeting expectations of the brand, especially within the medical device space.
[21:04] Marketing managers or end users: who Charlie relies on more for feedback about quality.
[22:16] Sonosite’s issues in transcreation.
[29:03] The importance of marketers being ahead of the curve for developing services.
[29:24] What Charlie wants to improve on for global users.
[31:18] Workarounds for issues pertaining to video in addition to language.
[39:20] Charlie on communicating the value of translation with C-Suite.

Keep up with Charlie Jackson & Sonosite:
Charlie's case study about Ghost Languages at 2019 BADCamp
Sonosite’s site
Sononite’s LinkedIn
Sononite’s Twitter
Charlie’s LinkedIn
Smartling’s site
Smartling’s Twitter

Full Transcript that almost certainly has typos (forgive us!)
Announcer: You're listening to The Loc Show presented by Smartling.

Adrian Cohn: Hey, everyone, and welcome back to The Loc Show. I'm your host, Adrian Cohn with Smartling, and today, I've got a fantastic guest. Charlie Jackson is the senior web manager at SonoSite, which is a Fujifilm company that specializes in medical devices and equipment. Charlie has a unique localization challenge. You see, SonoSite's products, they're often going on sale outside of the United States first. So Charlie and his team have to have the translated versions of the marketing site ready to publish before deploying the English version for the United States market.

Adrian Cohn: You're going to have to listen on to hear how Charlie solves for this problem, and I think it's particularly interesting because he's a web developer, so it's a slightly different type of person that we're speaking to today for the show. But before we do get started, I wanted to share something that I personally adore about Charlie. The answer to almost any question you can throw at him when it comes to translation or localization is Klingon. Like me, Star Trek holds a special place in Charlie's heart, so this was a really fun episode for me, and I hope you enjoy it as well. Let's get right to it.

Adrian Cohn: Charlie, it's great to have you on The Loc Show. Thanks for being here.

Charlie Jackson: It's been really good to hear and see you again.

Adrian Cohn: Yes, it is. It's been a while since we've had a lunch and a cold beer up in your neck of the woods. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Charlie. How did you get to where you are, and where are you exactly in SonoSite? What's your role at the organization? How did you get into it?

Charlie Jackson: I manage all of the public-facing websites for SonoSite, which is one of the divisions of Fujifilm Medical Systems.

Adrian Cohn: Yeah, and you're ... Go ahead. Sorry.

Charlie Jackson: Brought on board about six and a half years ago with one of the purposes of making all of the websites translatable, multilingual, things like that. That was kind of in sad shape. When I was brought on board, we were running Drupal 6, and there was machine translation all over the place, and that was partly due to one of the higher-ups way back then who said, "I don't care how good the translation is, so long as I look at a page that's on our German site, it looks German."

Charlie Jackson: That was really difficult to fix because I don't speak German, and, for me, I can't tell the difference between Google Translate German and professionally translated German, so it was expensive and interesting to clean up, but we finally got it.

Adrian Cohn: That's awesome. Well, we're going to learn a lot more about how you did that, but did you have, before you started working at SonoSite, did you have any background in localization?

Charlie Jackson: None at all. I learned the l10n and the i18n acronyms at Sun Microsystems because I helped with some multilingual stuff there, but that was just technical stuff. Here's how to make FrameMaker file into a Maker Interchange File. That was years ago, so I was a little surprised they actually hired me there because I've never done website translation before. Are you sure you got the right person? And they said, "Yes, we do." So I didn't argue after that.

Adrian Cohn: Well, that's a good approach. As soon as someone says, "You're in. You're the guy," then you take the opportunity and the leap of faith. I think they landed a good fish with you.

Charlie Jackson: Thank you.

Adrian Cohn: Your hobbies, your background, Charlie, you're a developer. You love software. Is that right?

Charlie Jackson: I'm kind of the odd fish there. I've got a background in English, journalism, and I've also got a background in computer science. For years, my guidance counselors at school says, "What can you possibly do with interests in writing and journalism and computer science?" And then the web was invented, and, okay, well, this is what I'm going to do.

Adrian Cohn: Yeah. It must have been really exciting.

Charlie Jackson: I got started [crosstalk 00:04:35]. It was interesting. I got started with websites in about 1992 at Sun Microsystems, and the web was quite a bit different back then.

Adrian Cohn: Yes. It certainly was, especially when we look back on it now. I was a very young person in 1992, so I don't know exactly what the internet was like then, but especially since the iPhone came out, man, what an unbelievable pace of development we've seen and how technology's advanced the way we communicate worldwide.

Charlie Jackson: It's incredible. I can't wait to see what's going to be coming in the next few years. It's just very exciting.

Adrian Cohn: So you got into SonoSite. The website was translated, but it was a complete mess as you've described it. There just wasn't any organization around that process. It was unclear whether or not the quality was good because there was machine translation, and you had to go in and fix that. Where did you start?

Charlie Jackson: I also knew nothing about Drupal, so they hired a Drupal instructor for me. Took a few weeks to get up to speed in Drupal, but for the translation bit, it's just learning, well, okay, these are the different ways the translations could work.

Charlie Jackson: The first introduction to translation was kind of like the high-speed proxy solution, where you have your English language source living on your website, and the professionally translated version living someplace else. Bosses didn't like that very much because they said, "Well, when we want to go to Germany and on sonosite.com, we want to see German stuff. We don't want to go off to some weird proxy here."

Charlie Jackson: So then we thought about, "Well, okay. We can tweak our Apache." We were using Apache back then, and our [inaudible 00:06:23] configs and re-proxy the site in so it looks like its coming from Germany and not sonosite.com. That made them a bit happier, but, of course, our German language marketing folks hated the language there, so we started looking for a new solution to get things going and a solution that would work well with Drupal.

Charlie Jackson: The idea was that just retranslate everything. Get everything translated. Bite the bullet. Get it all translated, and then take it from there. We were introduced to a company called Sovee, which no longer exists, but one of the managers here had a good relationship with the marketing manager at Sovee, so we brought them on board. And they didn't really have the best Drupal integration, so I worked with some of their engineers to get the Drupal integration working a bit better.

Charlie Jackson: We got it going, and one morning, we came in, and, okay, Sovee has evaporated. They just went belly up, so we were hamstrung again. At that point, we had been going to a bunch of different Drupal conventions and talking with the translation folks, just so I could learn a bit more about, well, what do I need to do here. We met, I think his name was Greg, from Smartling.

Adrian Cohn: Yeah.

Charlie Jackson: Remember Greg, Greg Mullen?

Adrian Cohn: I do.

Charlie Jackson: He was the one who originally made the contact. Dave said, "You've got to come talk to us. Got to come talk to us." And basically, that's how we came into the Smartling universe. Of course, we came with our own share of interesting challenges as well because being a medical device company, one of the issues that we face is that if we're selling machines around the world, we can't sell a particular machine until it's approved for sale in that country by that country's regulatory board, kind of like their version of the FDA.

Charlie Jackson: In most cases, machines are approved for sale in Europe or other places before they're approved for sale in the United States, meaning that you have your original source document in English, but you can't show it to anybody, you can't publish it, but you do need to show your German translation, which make things really, really interesting for a website because ... The way I think of it is like a Christmas tree. Your English language source is, of course, the source of the electricity. You plug that into the wall, and the lights come on, and each individual light is a translation.

Charlie Jackson: So you have a light for German and a light Dutch and a light for French and Italian and Chinese and all the rest, and when a new product is released, well, all of those lights are turned off. Then when something's released in Germany, turn on the German light. [inaudible 00:09:21]. Now, okay for sale in Italy, so turn on the Italy light. The thing is if it's not released in the United States, the only way to turn it off is to unplug it from the wall, and when you unplug a linked string of Christmas tree lights from the wall, all the lights go out. That was one of the challenges there, so-

Adrian Cohn: So let me just-

Charlie Jackson: Sorry.

Adrian Cohn: ... get this straight. The challenge, or one of the challenges that you had, and I presume this is an ongoing challenge because products are approved in foreign markets before they're approved in the United States, where you're writing the content in English and deploying the content in English. You have product content, product marketing content for these multiple languages that you're supporting, and you have to find a way to introduce those languages before you introduce the English content.

Charlie Jackson: Exactly. Exactly. So we are allowed to show the translation, but we can't show the source yet. And we also-

Adrian Cohn: So what are some of the very specific technical challenges? Tell me from a developer's perspective, what makes this so challenging?

Charlie Jackson: What makes it so challenging is that when you're putting together, let's say, a particular page ... Consider a page that talks about one of our products. Every translation is a piece. These are called nodes, and the node is, basically, blocks that contains everything about that page including the text and including the translations, the URL, the title, all the meta-information, any images that go along with it, all of that stuff in a box called a node.

Charlie Jackson: The way Drupal works is that, okay, your source language is where all that stuff originates from. Every translation is just a branch of that. It's a piece of that. The challenge that we were originally having is, okay, how do we turn off the source without affecting any of the translations. So the original way we did it was to go in and add some checkboxes to the editing panels for each of the stories there so that we could leave it published, but we need to go into the page template there and say, "Okay, is that flag turned on or off?"

Charlie Jackson: If it's turned on or off, then we'll either show or hide the page. That didn't do such a great job because it introduced a lot of coding overhead, particularly when we had overview pages. The overview pages say, "Well, okay. Here's our entire gallery of products here." We'd have to go in there and add the switch that would say, "Check out the display checkbox on that. Can I show it? Can I not show it?" Any forms that we had, for example, the contact sales form, if you're in a country where a product cannot be sold, you can't show that in the pulldown menus.

Charlie Jackson: So we had to go in there and teach our forms about this as well. And it began turning into a rat's nest of code that was just very different to maintain. We had talked with some of our friends at other Drupal companies, most example is Hook 42. Unfortunately, they're not around anymore, but they were among the translation experts for Drupal technologies. We brought them some chocolate because that's a great bribe for the Hook 42 folks.

Adrian Cohn: What kind of chocolate?

Charlie Jackson: They like dark chocolate.

Adrian Cohn: Dark chocolate? Okay.

Charlie Jackson: Dark chocolate works for Hook 42. They're really great folks, and we miss them a lot, but together, we worked out a plan that we eventually called the ghost language. Ghost language means that, well, going back to my favorite Christmas tree analogy, instead of the English language source being the plug that you plug into the wall, we take a hidden language that nobody sees except admins. That gets the plug into the wall, and English, U.S., becomes just another light like German, Italy, whatever, that you can easily turn on and off.

Charlie Jackson: The overhead there was, okay, we had to make a complete copy of our English language site, figure out a language code that we could use that probably wouldn't be used for anything else, stick that into the site, and make it invisible to users, and then copy it to English. We already had the engines to copy English to English because we have about 10 English language sites that are localized differently, depending on the products that are allowed to be shown, so that wasn't an issue.

Charlie Jackson: The issue was making the ghost happen, that took about eight months of development there. But happy to say that it actually works. If you, for example, go to sonosite.com now, you're looking at an English language translation, but you won't see the source language unless you're an admin, and you log into the site, and I have to build something here. This got rid of all that rat's nest of code because Drupal is very, very good at saying, "Well, okay, is this particular translation of the source published or not?" That's already built into Drupal, so that all of that extra code went away.

Adrian Cohn: The English version of the site that a consumer would go to is actually "a translated" site.

Charlie Jackson: Yeah.

Adrian Cohn: Is your source language Klingon?

Charlie Jackson: We were thinking of that. We were thinking of having some fun with it, but it needed to have some sort of EN language code extender just to make everything work properly, so we picked our English Antarctica, EN-AK, as our source language. Then for all the mappings for the translation providers, things like that, we said, "Okay, anytime you see EN-AK, before you finally ship it off to the translation vendors, turn it to just EN or EN-US, depending on what they wanted."

Charlie Jackson: Google Translate, which we use for testing now, likes one thing, and Smartling likes something else. We put it into the mapping files because otherwise, the translation engine gives us, "EN-AK, what is that?" It's a legal code, but we figured we're probably not going to be selling products in Antarctica any time soon, so it's probably a safe choice.

Charlie Jackson: We were also thinking about English Cajun, but English Antarctica turned out to be a good choice for the ghost, and English U.S. and English Canada and English India and English GB and Australia and New Zealand, they're all translations. The fun part of that is that we learned that all the other English language countries in the world except for the United States, they use British English.

Charlie Jackson: But we also said, "While we're at it, let's do a British translator." So you may notice it on our site. Unless you're on the U.S. site, Canada, GB, Australia, New Zealand, all use British spellings.

Adrian Cohn: That makes sense. You've now unpacked a pretty interesting and unique workaround so that you could adapt the translation and localization strategy for your dot com to fit the, not just the business requirements, but also the limitations that you're working within.

Charlie Jackson: Yeah.

Adrian Cohn: I'm sure that it would be easier for you and for all parties if the products were approved and available in the United States before other countries.

Charlie Jackson: [inaudible 00:17:19] time.

Adrian Cohn: This is what you've got to work with. Okay, so you've unpacked a pretty significant process that you developed with your team for supporting local languages from the perspective of development and the engineering of your website. How did you resolve some of the translation quality issues because you talked about how before, the website was translated by machine, and you also mentioned that you only speak English, so you won't really know the difference between English and Spanish and French other than ... Well, I guess you-

Charlie Jackson: Klingon, yeah.

Adrian Cohn: And Klingon, right. I know you love Klingon, but I guess you probably know what language you're looking at, but you don't know if it's any good. What process did you develop, Charlie, to make sure that the quality of the translations was meeting the expectation of your brand? Of course, you mentioned this is a medical device company, so it can't be poor quality translation.

Charlie Jackson: Well, I had a lot of fun with this challenge as well. I decided to pick our pickiest in-country marketing manager. We're a global company. We have marketing managers all over the world, and, of course, for years, they've been upset about the quality of translation. At that time, before I was hired, the VPs who said, "Well, okay. Just fix it yourself." Doing it in a poorly-built Drupal 6 site is hard enough for an engineer. For a marketing manager whose job is to sell stuff and not dink around with CMS systems, it just never happens.

Charlie Jackson: I got to know these folks when I was brought on board, and I heard all of their pain points there. The loudest pain point came from our good friend in Germany. Unfortunately, no longer with the company, but he was our pickiest, most finicky customer. He said, "You know, it's slightly wrong here. It's not quite right there," and every time we had a translation, he'd scream about it and say, "You know, it needs to be this way. It needs to be this way." To his credit, he just wanted to do a fantastic, precise job, and that's why we went to him.

Charlie Jackson: When we were bringing Smartling on board, we said, "Hey, why don't you take a look at the translation here, and, if you don't like it, there are ways you can go into the system and change it. You can change it directly. We can put in a style guide, glossary, things like that." This is all really good news for him, but the telling point was, okay, I took the nastiest, most awful looking English language documents, something about thoracentesis, things like that, all these medical terms where the terms just wrap around to the next page. It was incredibly dense medical stuff, and I sent it for translation.

Charlie Jackson: Came back, and I didn't touch it. I said, "Hey, can you and your team in Germany take a look at this? Tell me what you think. And here's the telling point. If you were on vacation, and for some business reason, this had to be published immediately, would it be okay?" I was fully expecting for him to come back and say, "No, no, no, no, no. If I saw this, you would have to call me on vacation, and I'd have to come in and fix it." I was just waiting for this to come back, waiting for the time bomb to explode.

Charlie Jackson: Instead, I was surprised. He said, "I'd be okay with that. That looks good." And if our pickiest, finickiest, most demanding, most precise marketing manager could tell me that, "Yes, I'm happy to have this on autopilot if I'm away. The translation is that good," well, okay, I'm comfortable.

Adrian Cohn: So how did that change your approach?

Charlie Jackson: It meant that, okay, I'm now comfortable with the quality of translation. I also reached out to our other in-country marketing managers. What do you think about this? What do you think about this? And they're all, "Oh, this is happy. This is wonderful." Our German guy, though, he was my test case because anything that's wrong, my phone would ring, my email would go off, and I'd have to fix it.

Charlie Jackson: Oh, cat's in the background. And that seemed to work well. The other challenge I had were the simplified Chinese. They're also very demanding, and they're also very happy. They had one or two changes in there, and they're very happy to see, "Oh, okay. You mean I can just change it once, and it just goes through?" I said, "Well, yeah. That's kind of how it works." And they're very happy with that. Translation quality was great, so one less thing to worry about. It's just making sure the backend engines all do their thing.

Adrian Cohn: And were you getting any feedback from end-users on the translation quality, or was your way of measuring quality, your temperature check was, do the marketing managers give you a thumbs up at the end of the day?

Charlie Jackson: It's usually the marketing manager were closer with the customers. I like telling people I'm sitting in the engine room, making sure all the website engines run and fire and the marketing managers are the people who go to the trade shows. They're the people who go out and meet the customers all around the world, and they're the ones who come back and say, "Hey, this could be better." They're not saying it's awful because, as I learned, many of the other competitors had the same issue where you have really poor translations.

Charlie Jackson: But, okay, we can have better translations now, and it makes the customers quite a bit happy. It also had the side effect of introducing another problem to us, and that's what we've been calling transcreation. For example-

Adrian Cohn: Tell us about this problem.

Charlie Jackson: Yeah. Let's say that we are talking about a brand new product here, and we send the brochure up for professional translation. It comes back, and I may hear from our Japanese folks saying, "Well, this isn't exactly the wording that we'd use in Japan. We have no trouble with the quality of the translation, but for our business practices, if we want to sell this in Japan, we want to talk about these features instead because they're more important to our Japanese market." Whereas maybe the German folks would come back and say, "You know, translation is great. We love the quality of translation here, but the content, we need to adjust the content a bit because, for our German audience, this is not going to resonate very well with them."

Charlie Jackson: Again, translations are fine. It's just altering the content after the fact. Now, Drupal lets you do that, but the issue is that if you have an English language source, you send it up and it comes back in German, Japanese, Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch, all the rest, and then the people on the other end decide to edit that. Says, "Well, gee. I need to move this paragraph up here, move this paragraph down there." That's fine until the English language source is edited again. Goes through, comes back again, and all the localizations are lost because it just gets overwritten by the incoming file.

Charlie Jackson: We've tried to say, "Well, okay. Can you do this through the translation interface here at Smartling or any of the language tools they use," and it's a bit difficult for them because it's great to change a language there, but to change content ... Says, "Well, gee. I need to move this paragraph over here, and this paragraph down here, and this paragraph completely goes away. I need to add a brand new paragraph over here that talks about this so it will resonate with customers in this country." That makes things a lot more challenging there, and that's one of the issues here.

Charlie Jackson: We're scratching our heads, and we've got some ideas for how to fix this, but when we brought this to our friends at the Drupal conventions, they said, "Yeah, a lot of people are having this issue now." Most people are just getting their feet wet with translation. They are perfectly happy. I have my English language here, and I have a reflected, translated copy. So if I have five paragraphs to talk about x, y, z on my English site, I'm going to wind up with five paragraphs that also talk about x, y, z on my translated sites, and we don't let people adjust those at all.

Charlie Jackson: We've been calling that transcreation, and, at least for the technology we have now, it introduces quite a bit of challenges because even though the translation quality is great, they want to be able to localize this stuff, so it resonates better with their target audiences.

Adrian Cohn: This is a pretty interesting challenge that you're proposing here, but it makes sense from the lens of a consumer. If you're a German consumer looking to buy your product, it makes sense for the content that you, as the company would be putting out, would make sense for that German audience and likewise for any other market. But it's interesting to me because that end-user has no idea what the complexity looks like of delivering that digital experience. The digital products that you put out either meets their expectations, or it doesn't, and that's what you're trying to solve for here.

Adrian Cohn: You want the digital experience to meet or exceed the expectation of the end-user, but you're also sharing how complicated it is to actually deliver that with the tools that are available.

Charlie Jackson: Yeah, we want what people have called immersive translation so that if you're on the French site, you don't see any English at all except the company name. We also want the text to resonate very well with the target audience because these are super expensive things. My car costs less than one of these systems, and it's a big purchase for them, so as much as possible, we need to have the text resonate with the target audience.

Charlie Jackson: It becomes problematic because, yes, we can certainly understand why you need to change the text after translation for German market, French markets, Korean markets, so on, and so forth. It's just, "Well, okay. When we retranslate it, you have to remember to put all that stuff back in." We're tinkering around with some solutions to this, but so far, nothing's really been rolled into production yet.

Charlie Jackson: And from what we've talked with other folks, this is a problem where people ... It's a common problem in the industry. You send your source out. It comes back, and the translation overrides any localized edits you have made on the backend. Doing this in the translation vendor's interface is also a bit tricky as well because basically, instead of just changing the relationship between the English and French or English and Spanish like you'd see in the segments listed in TMX files, you're changing content. You're moving content. You're completely altering content, which really upsets the translation memory because that's going to apply to documents coming forward.

Charlie Jackson: It's something we're still trying to figure out how to wrap our heads around and how to fix this. We've got a couple concepts we're playing with, looking promising, but so far, not yet.

Adrian Cohn: Well, you've got an interesting challenge there, but I think this also speaks to the future a little bit because you mentioned earlier that you're excited about the future, and that you think the next five years of digital will be really interesting. The challenge that you're presented with is one that will only become more pressing to solve.

Charlie Jackson: Yes.

Adrian Cohn: Because the way that marketers and product managers develop their services is going to become more custom by region, by language, by the product. There is such a big opportunity to be more personalized in your approach to different markets. What would you like to see change, or what would you like to see your team improve upon in delivering services to your global users?

Charlie Jackson: Well, there are two points now that come immediately to mind. The first one is when you have inbound, completed translations have a system on the back end that is smart enough to say, "Well, okay. I have some localized stuff in here. Is there a simple way where I can weave the existing localized stuff into my inbound translation?" Most of the time, the people who are localizing the translated content are doing so. They're adding a paragraph. They're moving a paragraph, and part of what our thought is that a machine should be able to take a peek at, "Okay, here's my new stuff coming through. It's based on the old stuff. The old stuff's been tweaked a little bit. Is there a smart way that I can introduce the local changes from my old copy and weave those into my new version of the inbound translation?"

Charlie Jackson: In the corner case, where it doesn't fly, put on the brakes, raise your hand, and say, "Hey, human being, come take a peek at this." But, for the most part, just have it automatically weave into itself so that the localizations that have been introduced on the other side become part of the new inbound translation. That is, without going into too many messy details, that's one of the things we've been looking at here, finding a way that the backend machine system in Drupal is able to recognize that and deal with that.

Charlie Jackson: The other piece is video. We've had a lot of fun with video. One of the issues when we first came on board is that, on some of our systems, we have training materials, and the training materials, many of them are videos that are, at that time, they're translated into five languages with spoken text over it. The issue there is that making those videos are horrifically expensive, and any time the system changes, you have to update your training materials, re-encode the videos. The same video was just re-encoded with different soundtracks.

Charlie Jackson: They were doing this on the website as well and spending way too much money redoing those videos several times a year for each language. Each time they wanted to do a language, they wrote another very, very, large check. I heard about this. I was doing some biomedical training when we're actually taking the [inaudible 00:33:35] was worth putting together again, updating the software, and learning that for the systems that didn't have all this training material, these software updates were maybe a MB or two of bytes. But for these systems that did have training material, the software updates were on the order of 13 to 15 GB because of all the video content there and all the translated video content.

Charlie Jackson: So the approach we took is well, since the video is the same, why don't we just overlay some translated subtitled onto it. [inaudible 00:34:11] and we wrote some prototype code here. We found a very good ... Not translation, a very good provider of transcriptions, so you just point them at a video, and it comes back with the English language transcriptions. Then, we found a way, well, okay, how could we make Smartling accept this and make Drupal do all the work for us? That turned out to be a really, really, nice solution for us because we talked to Drupal. We wrote some code in Drupal that says, "Okay. We have a new video here." Maybe the video lives at Brightcove. Maybe it lives at YouTube. Maybe it lives someplace else. Anyway, interrogate the video.

Charlie Jackson: Do you have any captions? If I don't see any captions there, I'm going to ... Well, on the backend, Drupal will go and order the captions through the API at the transcription company. When those transcriptions are ready, usually a day or two, they come back. They flow back into Drupal automatically. Drupal takes them. Sticks them in. Associates those with the videos, then says, "Hey, we are ready to translate these. For business reasons, we don't have the translation happen automatically because some of these are horrifically expensive.

Charlie Jackson: So we do have a manual thing in there that says, "When you have a translation ready, just send us a note. They'll send it off to translation." We also determined which source, which format works best for translation. We decided on a timed text markup language format. TTML looks very much like HTML so long as you take off the header there. All it is is p tags with time codes.

Charlie Jackson: Well, p tags with time codes, Smartling already knows how to translate stuff and leave the HTML markup alone, so that was just, okay, we don't have to do anything here. We'll just take off the header. Send the TTML off to Smartling. Smartling will get its translations done. Flows back to Drupal. We'll put the header back on, and well, gee, what do you know? Drupal automatically uploads these back to the video service provider so that now, in however long it takes to make the transcriptions and the translated captions, now, we have videos that have whatever captions you like.

Charlie Jackson: On the front end, in the website, we have a little player there, and it says, "Well, okay. I know what language the page is in, so if I'm in a non-English page, I'm just going to tweak my video player, turn on the captions, and select the appropriate language." And it's been working well there, so that now we have all of our videos here that's now available in all of our languages, and the cost is just so minimal here, instead of spending thousands of dollars re-rendering videos. Get the video once and then put subtitles on it. It works great.

Charlie Jackson: An unexpected win was that in meta-information here, we've added the other translated transcripts to the video player as meta-information so that the text of the video is searchable. Our company has so many videos out there with so much good information, but you really can't search the text of a video unless you do something like this. We figured, "Well, since we already have the caption information, and the caption people we use are really good with medical stuff, let's just take this caption information that we already have, we're already translating, and make it meta-information so that the search engines can see it And put the time codes in it so that you even have a timecode there.

Charlie Jackson: So if you're looking about something on paracentesis, well, hey, these five videos talk about paracentesis. This one is five minutes in. This one is 10 minutes in. You've got your stuff in there. All this wonderful information now becomes up-leveled and searchable just because we've made our transcripts part of the meta-information, and, of course, all the translated stuff becomes meta-information as well. So if you're in Spanish or French, or Chinese and looking for a medical term, you can now search all of our videos for that, which is, for me, that's pretty amazing.

Charlie Jackson: All of this stuff, we've expanded this to our webinar series here. We have an education website where we have all of our webinars there. Those tend to be expensive to translate, but it's much, much cheaper than doing a video and then re-rendering the video for each language you use. The only issue we've had was cost because doctors tend to talk, we timed this, between 120 and 160 words per minute, multiplied by how many minutes they're talking. Usually, these are at 40 to 60 minutes. Multiply that by rate per word, multiplied by the number of languages you need, and it's a pretty hefty chunk of change. But we figure that's the cost of doing business.

Charlie Jackson: It's the best way to do it. It's just a matter of, okay, if we want to present this information globally to our non-English speaking customers, this is the best way to do it. Bite the bullet. Make it happen. Provide the service to them. So far, they've been really enjoying it. They've been really appreciative, and it works well.

Adrian Cohn: That's amazing.

Charlie Jackson: And it's easy because we've automated so much of this stuff. Give us a video. We set it up for captioning. It comes back. Okay, this is going to cost an arm and a leg to translate because this is so many words here in so many languages. Yes or no? And if it's yes, if it's no, sends up. It's very easy on our side. It's just a matter of having the VPs write a few more checks.

Adrian Cohn: Well, all of this sounds really interesting. I guess the last question that I have because you offered it up at the end there is when you are communicating budget with your team, with your VPs, with your leadership around translation, what are some of the things that you bring to the table so that they understand what it is that they're buying and why it's going to add value to the business?

Charlie Jackson: If you're going to do business in China or Japan, which are huge markets, you have to speak Chinese and Japanese. Flipping it around, one episode I remember is this very type of conversation where we went in, and we said, "I'm going to take a page of one of our competitors in German and run it through Google Page Translate. This is what you see." If you're using the free translation, tell me. Look at this German page here that's been Google Translated into English. Would you buy this?

Charlie Jackson: And they just looked at it and laughed and laughed because if you look at a Google Translate coming from German back to your native language, the errors, they're like sore thumbs. It's very easy to spot. They got it right away. What was also interesting, we did the same thing with a Japanese page, and what came up then is that the tone is completely different. The tone of the German page translated into English, okay, very direct. And the tone of the Japanese page tended to be a bit more friendlier.

Charlie Jackson: But still, the English was awkward, and it became extremely apparent to the people who write the checks that, "Well, okay. We probably want to have some really good translation rather than send it off to one of the free translation services. Nothing against Google Translate, it's just we really need to have a human being translator there just to make sure we get a picture-perfect translation that will resonate with our marketplace.

Adrian Cohn: So that the predominant discussion points that you would bring to your team are if we want to be successful in these markets, we need to be serving up higher quality work.

Charlie Jackson: Exactly. It's like if you're a customer, would you buy something that was presented to you in this way? And the answer is a resolutely, "No, I don't think so." It was very amateurish.

Adrian Cohn: Charlie, I feel like I've learned so much today. We've had a bunch of localization managers and a few product managers on The Loc Show, but you're the first developer that we've brought onto the show. I think that you bring an interesting point of view that many may not always appreciate or understand, so thank you for sharing some of your experience today, and thank you for just being such a great friend as well. I have always enjoyed working with you and-

Charlie Jackson: Oh, likewise, likewise.

Adrian Cohn: ... it's great to see you. Yeah. Charlie, thanks for being on the show, and we'll look forward to seeing we you do next.

Charlie Jackson: Oh, happy to do that. Happy to do that. Next time in the Seattle area, we'll grab a plane, and we'll take a flight someplace.

Adrian Cohn: Wow, I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Charlie as much as I did. If you liked this episode of The Loc Show, hit the subscribe button so the next episode will be waiting for you. If you love the podcast, please leave a review. Five-star reviews go a long way. If you're not ready to give a five-star review, give our next episode a shot. We appreciate your listening.

Adrian Cohn: And if you have any feedback or want us to interview one of your favorite people in localization, just send me an email, locshow@smartling.com. See you next week.

Visit our Learning Center

Book a demo

Visit our Help Center