Translation memory goes open source: An interview with Smith Yewell of Welocalize

Translation memory helps companies re-use previously translated text, improving consistency and potentially saving money.

But translation memory requires using translation memory software, which has for years largely meant using SDL Trados software.

When a company hires a translation agency and requires that they use translation memory — not only must that agency have Trados software, but so too must the freelance translators — who are often located all around the world. This is a nice business model for SDL, but it has been a pain point for translators and agencies for years.

For agencies, the more acute pain point has been that SDL not only sells TM software but also sells translation services. Nearly every translation exec I have spoken to has openly asked for an open-source alternative to Trados.

Well, now we have one.

IBM has partnered with LISA (Localization Industry Standards Association), Welocalize, Cisco, and Linux Solution Group e.V. (LiSoG) to launch an open source project that provides a “full-featured, enterprise-level translation workbench environment for professional translators.”

It’s called Open TM2 — and it’s basically a scaled-down version of what IBM has developed and used internally for years. I haven’t used the product yet and there’s understandably quite a bit of work involved to get this software to a point where it’s easy for translators, agencies, etc. to consume.

I’m not prepared to say Open TM2 is going to put an end to Trados. After all, Linux didn’t exactly put Windows or OSX out of business. But I am excited to see it out there in the world. Open source keeps software vendors on their toes. I’ll be very curious to see if developers embrace the code,  and what they come up with.

To learn more, I interviewed one of the partners behind Open TM2, Smith Yewell, CEO of Welocalize.

Here is what he had to say:

Q: Why did IBM decide to open source its software in this fashion? What does it hope to gain?

Bill Sullivan can answer this question better than I, but as he stated, “Freelance translators are the backbone of the localization industry. These translators have longed for free and open translation tools to increase their productivity. There is a recognized and growing need for standards in the localization industry. Despite our best intentions, however, standards themselves can often be vague and open to multiple interpretations. What is needed are reference implementations and reference platforms that serve as concrete and unambiguous models in support of the standard.”

In my opinion, productivity and standardization go hand-in-hand. By releasing Open TM2 as an open source product with a standards-based, data-exchange goal, not only is there potential for increased productivity – flexibility and freedom of choice also increase.

Q: And what do you hope to gain from this effort?

I like to use the mobile phone analogy. I can travel just about anywhere in the world, turn my phone on, and it works. This is possible, because competing carriers and hardware manufacturers collaborated to be able to offer that seamless user experience across global networks and handset protocols. Consider the user experience in our industry. There is really no ability for a client to turn on a translation supply chain and have it work out of the box across various content types, tools and translation vendors. The clients I speak with are demanding that this change.

GlobalSight, Joomla and Open TM2 are being used to demonstrate an example of a seamless data exchange based upon a set of standards. LISA will play an important role in documenting and sharing these standards so that they can be applied uniformly to other integrations. To put it simply, we need a variety of tools to be able to talk to each other in an automated way. This is where I think we can improve time, cost and quality results and greatly improve the user experience. Ultimately, I expect Welocalize to gain an increase in productivity, interoperability and freedom of choice in configuring the best set of tools for each client’s unique translation supply chain needs. If we can get under the hood, we can tune the engine; otherwise, it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain time, cost and quality advantages from the old way of doing business.

Q: Who is going to use this software? And what software will it replace?

Many translators are already using TM2 in delivering work to IBM. I expect Open TM2, as its features grow, will appeal to more translators as a desktop workbench. This is only an initial release of the open source product, and there is much work to be done. But the potential is there to collaborate and improve. Ultimately, I think Open TM2 has the potential to replace the Trados desktop workbench.

Q: When you talk open source, stability and support are common pain points. Who will be actively supporting this effort?

The members of the Steering Committee are currently supporting the effort, and the goal is to build a community which can support itself. This open source initiative is not unlike others, what one puts into it will determine the benefits one can pull from it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a company create a business model to offer Open TM2 support. Support, training and customization are typical services that bloom around open source initiatives.

Q: What would stop a technology company from taking the source code and creating a competitive ™ product?

It is an open source product, so there is potential for companies to build a business model around the product. However, I doubt that will be a proprietary fork of the code. The appeal is an open source product with growing standards compliance, not yet another proprietary product. What is more likely are support, training and integration services. Anyone investing in the product naturally expects a return, and the better the return, the more healthy and diverse will be the community. I think that is a good thing. Competition drives innovation. However, if we can’t get the standard data-exchange protocols right, productivity across the supply chain will continue to lag the increasing velocity of change in the marketplace. Rapidly evolving time, cost and quality demands already exceed what the traditional translation supply chain can deliver.

Q: The source code is available now but documentation is lacking. What is your timetable for launching a more translator and agency friendly product.

I think the first step for the Steering Committee is to take the feedback that is already coming in about the product, good and bad, and use that to set priorities, responsibilities and a timeline. The idea is sound, but it must be tested in practical use and refined according to what the market really needs. Translators have the answers to many challenges in our supply chain, they are just not asked very often.

Q: How will this software be integrated? Is there is a goal of integrating it with the open source GlobalSight CMS?

Content creation, translation, workflow and performance metrics reporting – there are many systems and tools for accomplishing each of these requirements. However, very few of them can pass necessary data in an automated way. A lot can be accomplished with web services and open APIs, but widespread integration possibilities can only be realized with a critical mass actively using an industry-supported data-exchange standard.

In order to demonstrate this possibility in a live use case scenario, Joomla, GlobalSight and Open TM2 will be integrated with the resultant standards published by LISA. I think additional standards organizations will also need to participate to gain wider understanding, agreement and adoption. If enough of the industry’s thought leaders and leading practitioners get behind this standard data-exchange and tools integration challenge, I think all boats will rise. Without it, the industry will never be able to approach the growing volume of content which current production and cost models can’t support.

Link: Open TM2

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Author: John Yunker

John co-founded Byte Level Research in 2000 and is author of The Web Globalization Report Card. He also co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.

8 thoughts on “Translation memory goes open source: An interview with Smith Yewell of Welocalize”

  1. I’ve been waiting for Open Source CAT tools to come of age for some time now, but after downloading and using the application it has a long way to go before it comes close to Trados.

    I’m not sure if IBM are trying to bring back the good old days of their historic business success with the user interface takes you back to the days of windows 3.11.

    It certainly wins no prizes for usability.

    To me it looks much like they’ve given up on their proprietary attempts (much like they did with their OS) and asked the developer community to step in and evolve an archaic system.

    Nice that IBM should sow the seed, but after looking at it reading the code no sane of mind developer would want to work with this.

    I can’t see it catching on. Sorry.

  2. Everyone hates the price tags of Trados, but TM2 is not the answer. You should have downloaded it and taken a look. It is a dinosaur! Not very different from 10 years ago when I first used it. The UI and usability are horrible. Certainly worse than ForeignDesk, which was open-sourced a couple of years ago. ForeignDesk has not caught on. Why would TM2 be any different?

  3. I’m also wondering if anyone has looked at the code? After downloading and looking it over you start to wonder what platform this is designed for 8.3 filenames are usually a sign of age.

    If anyone wants to get this into shape or even cross-platform they have a lot of work to do.

    Its easy to give something away that you don’t even want yourself. I don’t think a ton of developers are going to waddle across to help this duck.

    It would make more sense to invest in tools that already exist in the OSS space. Tools like OmegaT and Virtaal.

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