Translation technology standards find a new home

Last month I noted that LISA, the┬áLo´╗┐calization Industry Standards Association, was insolvent. As Jost notes (well, noted – it was almost a month ago now), it didn’t take long before someone stepped up to take over the role of the standards body. Initially it was TAUS (ie, the “translation buyers” industry body), quickly followed by GALA (Globalization and Localization Association, ie the “translation providers” industry body) – both organisations that represent big businesses *(TAUS does make overtures of freedom, but I’ve expressed concern about those previously). I’m going to quote Jost extensively, although edited, because I think he makes some very good points:

… the future of its most important products, the translation data exchange standards TMX, SRX, and TBX, was somewhat vague. Well, it didn’t takevery long for organizations to pop up and register as, shall we say, “interested parties” in these standards.

However, most of you will have noticed that a very important segment of our industry – the individual translator – is presently not represented by these groups or any other group that is offering to look after the standards. Is that important? I think it’s extremely important.

Here’s the crucial question: What are translation data exchange standards good for? The answer will always depend on whom you ask.

Ask the translation buyer and he will tell you that he is losing significant amounts of money each year because of gaps in interoperability between different systems. Larger LSPs would answer in a similar manner but would also stress the necessary freedom to choose the technology they already own. For the smaller language providers, that last point becomes more relevant, and for the individual translator it becomes crucial. Clearly, all of these are valid points and need support, but each group will naturally look after their own interests first and foremost.

Exchange standards will always provide some kind of exchange between technologies, but it is important for us as translators to make sure that it’s (also) happening at the level at which we need it to happen. For instance, if data is being exchanged exclusively on the side of the translation buyer or the language service provider but the exchange on our desktops is not possible or more difficult, that clearly would be against our interests. Is that going to happen? I don’t think that anyone is planning for anything like that with the existing standards or any new standards in the making, but the fact is that there are some standards that work very well for translation buyers but are certainly against our interests. In my opinion, one of those standards is DITA, an XML-based standard that provides the ability to segment the source text into small chunks that can be used in a variety of ways and allow for a great reuse of data; however, this works much to the detriment of the translator who often lacks the necessary context. I realize that we aren’t talking about DITA here, but it’s one of those prime examples where we failed to participate in the development. Another that is probably closer to most of our hearts and whereI wish there had been more translator participation in its first round of development is the termbase exchange standard TBX, a standard that I believe also has the corporate terminologist more in mind than the translator.

So what should happen? Alan Melby, I, and others have been talking about ways to harness the laudable engagement of TAUS and GALA while also representing the interests of translators. The most logical organization to represent translators on an international scale would be the aforementioned FIT, the Federation of International Translators, which has a technical committee… One possibility for all of these organizations – plus possibly some others who are stakeholders in this process – would be to form a task force under the auspices of the Translation and Interpretation Summit, an umbrella organization for many different language associations within the industry, including GALA, TAUS, and FIT.

I would be intrigued to hear what some of you have to say. Is this all not important to you? Do you have other and possibly better ideas on how to represent translators interests in this context? Are you interested in getting engaged yourself? Let me know.

I agree whole-heartedly with Jost on this – there definitely needs to be more involvement from the translators (or a translator’s union) in the development of the standards. In fact, because I’m more of a rabble rouser than Jost, I would suggest that TAUS and GALA should exclude themselves from the process completely – I don’t believe there is any room for corporate involvement in standards development, of all potential participants, they can afford to adapt.

Further, as a strong advocate of free software, I think that the leading translation FOSS developers (OmegaT devs for eg) and the project managers of the leading FOSS platform L10n projects (eg: Django, Java or Plone).

Having had that rant, I understand Jost’s position – it’s conciliatory and constructive, rather than my more tantrum-oriented everything must be free in my anarcho-world approach. But it’s only by being the ratbag that Jost comes off as a centrist, and if he hasn’t already guessed: I’ve got your back Jost. I’d be happy for you to represent me.

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