Language Weaver Takes Statistical Machine Translation to Enterprises

In the August issue of Global By Design, in the article Machine Translation: The Next Generation, I introduced statistical machine translation (SMT):

SMT is a data-driven translation technology. Rather than relying on a dictionary of translations and rules, it starts with data in the form of lots and lots of source and target text. The statistical process involves analyzing this data and identifying patterns. By analyzing millions and millions of words, the software gets pretty good at “guessing” how to translate a given text string. “We’re not really translating,” said Language Weaver CEO Bryce Benjamin. “What we’re really doing is a probability forecast.”

Language Weaver has been one of the pioneers in SMT but has focused only on the government sector primarily serving intelligence agencies.

Until now.

Language Weaver this week launched the “Customizer” and targeted it at large enterprises and government bodies. What makes this tool so unique is that a company can very quickly adapt it to its specific industry and the software will continue to improve in quality as more translations are processed.

According to Bryce Benjamin, “The Customizer allows each customer to create, within just a few hours, a unique set of translation engines that cannot be duplicated by anybody else without access to the same data resources.”

However, the Customizer is not for everyone just yet. For starters, the software currently only supports the following language pairs:

-> French English
-> Spanish English
-> Arabic English
-> Chinese English
-> Hindi -> English
-> Somali -> English

The other two obstacles are pricing and the minimum database of translated content required to get started. For a large enterprise, these obstacles are easily overcome but small businesses will need to wait until a low-end product is launched, or until Google launches its free SMT product, possibly as early as 2006.

I’m glad to see Language Weaver going after enterprises and I think they will find takers, though a good deal of education will be required. Machine translation is still widely viewed as not-ready-for-prime-time technology. I do believe that SMT, over time, will be a very positive development for Web globalization, helping companies publish a great deal more content for local markets, increasing sales, and better serving customers.

I’ll have more to say on Language Weaver in the November issue of Global By Design, due out later this week.

PS: Here’s another interesting article on the next wave of machine translation.

TransPerfect Acquires Crimson; Expands Into Life Sciences

TransPerfect Translations announced today that it had acquired Crimson Language Services. According to the press release, the “merger creates a newly-formed Life Sciences Division that combines Crimson’s ISO 9001:2000/ISO 13485:2003 certified quality system and patent-pending risk management methodology with the production resources and localization talent of TransPerfect and its software localization unit, Translations.com.”

Crimson is a well-regarded agency with a solid client base in the life sciences and financial services industries. I don’t know what the purchase price was but strategically it makes sense. More important, given the fragmented nature of the translations industry, this type of merger is a sign of things to come.

Two thoughts…

If you’re a small translation agency: Specialize now or struggle later
If you’re a small translation agency worried about competing with the “big boys” like Lionbridge or SDL, find a industry vertical or two that they have done a relatively poor job serving thus far and one that has good growth potential. Life sciences, for example, has been a key vertical because clients will pay a premium for quality. This doesn’t mean you won’t pitch other industry opportunities as they arise, but you do need to start specializing. Clients are getting savvier in how they select agencies, which means they want agencies who know their industry inside and out. Vertical specialization is the way to create deep and long-lasting client relationships. Also keep your eye on value-added services, like source content editing, interpreting, local-market keyword advertising support, and more.

If you’re a translation buyer: Don’t buy from a “one size fits all” translation agency
No agency is an expert at every industry, despite what they will tell you. The first thing you should do when evaluating potential agencies is take a good look at their client roster. Then you should call a few of their clients (clients that are in your industry) to get a feel for the agency’s track record. The TransPerfect acquisition of Crimson is good news for clients, because it combines in-depth industry expertise with the IT skills and software of a much-larger localization vendor.

Globalization Firms Go Mainstream

The globalization services and software industry has for years labored under the radar of the mainstream media. But this is gradually changing thanks in part to consolidation among top players like SDL and Lionbridge and investments by smaller players in marketing and PR.

And then there is a phenomenal success of Tom Friedman’s The World Is Flat which is awakening the public to the importance of this industry in helping companies expand globally.

Language Weaver and Welocalize are doing their part in raising awareness by earning a spot on two key industry lists…

Welocalize Makes the Inc 500
Translation services vendor Welocalize announced today that it made the annual Inc. 500 ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the country. Welocalize ranks No. 407 on the list, with three-year sales growth of 339%. This is the first year the company made this list and I doubt it will be the last.

Language Weaver makes Deloitte Fast 500 List
Language Weaver, a enterprise software developer for the automation of human language translation, has been named a Rising Star on the 2005 Deloitte Technology Fast 500, a ranking of the 500 fastest growing technology companies in North America.