I have said this many times before, and will say again: the world is multilingual, and more and more people are working daily in a multilingual environment. In companies, this multilingual environment is not only about translation, but about working with customers and colleagues whose native language is different from one’s own. That can lead to a lot of miscommunication, and I think that nobody has even started to measure the real costs or missed sales arising from it.

Communication starts with terminology, and that is where I see a lot of needs (and opportunities) for new solutions. Corporate terminology – “that which we call a widget by any other name goes in other companies” – is something that I think benefits from active input from corporate experts. Wikis seem an interesting way to enhance corporate communication, so I emailed with Greg Lloyd, CEO of Traction Software to ask whether he has seen wikis used for handling multilingual issues. He can be reached at grl@tractionsoftware.com.

Traction Software has been in the corporate blog/wiki business since July 2002, and has 250+ corporate customers. According to Greg, Traction’s TeamPage is best described in terms of Doug Engelbart’s NLS/Augment model, re-imagined for the Web (more at Traction Roots | Doug Engelbart.

KP: Do your customers use wikis to handle multilingual issues, such as terminology?
GL: We have an international pharma customer who wanted to provide an interactive online glossary of terms that have specialized meanings. For example, in writing a new drug application, many terms have specialized meanings and interpretations dictated by regulatory authorities in the U.S., Europe and other regions.
At this customer, glossary definitions are usually written by people with specialized experience in new drug applications and similar filings, but the glossaries are intended for working reference by everyone in the company – not limited to those who deliver translations. The company has offices around the world, but most working communication is in English or French. A majority of employees have very good reading knowledge of both languages, but aren’t necessarily aware of some specialized meanings and interpretations – including those which change as new regulations are issued.

We developed a “Glossary skin” to address this need. The Glossary skin is a Traction “skin” or UI presentation layer that in this case, provides a specialized and simplified Glossary view of the underling blog/wiki data stored in the TeamPage Journal. It gives the users versatile tools for handling terminology, such as looking up glossary terms, term definitions, guidance on how to use the term, and the possibility to comment a term or ask questions about it. All terms are in both English and French. Changes and additions can be tracked with standard blog/wiki features, and the users can also subscribe to RSS/Atom feeds on updates. These are just a few of the functionalities of the solution.

KP: Do the wiki glossaries integrate with other glossaries or localization tools, such as translation memories?
GL: For the Glossary Wiki there are no special translator tools built in. I believe that general purpose translation tools will likely best be loosely-coupled mashup style. I haven’t seen requests for industry specific glossaries from customers, but I think there may be a business opportunity.

KP: What kind of feedback have you received from your customer? Have there been requests for special functionalities?
GL: The pharma customer is very happy with the result, which is used company-wide. We’ve also demonstrated the Glossary skin to customers in Japan and other countries. Several have expressed interest and are piloting use of the Glossary skin, primarily for developing and delivering specialized glossaries for internal working communication as well as translating deliverables.

The ability for global enterprises to create interactive Glossaries for working communication among employees, suppliers and other stakeholders seems to be getting the most interest. Many global companies use English as a standard for internal communication, but the ability to add comments or questions in other languages is a big plus. The ability to create and delivery interactive Web glossaries in Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, etc. as well as European and other Asian languages is also very useful.

Traction uses UTF-8 Unicode to store, search and deliver content written in any combination of European and Asian alphabets in any blog/wiki space (or in the same page), so a multi-lingual global glossary is easy to deliver and can be simple to author using the standard Web browser interface.

KP: What have been the biggest advantages your customers have received from using a wiki to create a glossary, instead of using a specialized terminology management tool?
GL: The biggest advantages are: 1) Simple access using a Web browser, particularly when the wiki has specialized skin to make the Glossary application work with no training; 2) Simple group editing and history using the the wiki edit model; 3) Simple integration of comments and feedback; 4) Simple, scalable and secure deployment corporate-wide.

KP: Corporate wikis seem to be an interesting way to share information and expertise. Do you see them also being used for translation work?
GL: Yes, I can certainly see how the Glossary skin could be extended to support other wiki per-page translation models. At present the Glossary skin implementation is available to TeamPage customers as a Traction Skin Definition Language (SDL) plug-in. We’ll be packaging it along with its SDL source code as a free plug-in example later this summer. We’ll work with customers and partners to determine how to best provide translation wiki’s powered by Traction TeamPage.

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