I read an interesting book: The Wealth of Networks, by Yochai Benkler. It reminded of the very large and inherent network dependency in our translation supply chain. It also reminded me of the ways translation agencies used to market themselves before the advent of the internet – at the core of many marketing propositions was the size of the translation agency’s “network of translators” with many offering a “database of thousands of translators.” “Any subject, any language” was also something I used to often see in the Yellow Pages when I first got started in this industry in 1997. Thirteen years later, many companies still emphasize the number of translators and languages they have in their “network.” But is this really a value proposition?
Having a pool of qualified translators is obviously necessary in order to offer translation services, but I suggest that quality and scalability is not defined by the size of the network, but instead by the “connections” in the network. Rating the strength of the network in terms of its connections instead of its overall size is a different approach to the same challenge: how to best find the right people for the job. Why? Simply because the best connections can get you to the best fit in the fastest time within a finite supply chain. Seems simple, right? Well, the not so simple part is that our translation supply chain involves hundreds if not thousands of people as the size of a project increases. The better the network connecting these people, the better the outcome in terms of time, cost and quality – basic productivity rules govern the system.
Early in our industry, our network and its subsequent productivity was limited by face-to-face meetings, phone calls, typewriters and snail-mail. Then came the personal computer and the fax machine. Then came the internet.
At first, the internet only made it easier to search for, communicate with and transfer files to -translators, but because search has been limited, until the advent of Web 2.0, to typically one individual or company finding one other individual or company – meaningful productivity increases over the network were not realized. Yes, a group of translators sharing a translation memory in a networked environment results in a productivity increase, but the dramatic increases we seek must come from something greater. They must come from the connections across the broader network, or community, itself.
Proz.com, the TDA super-cloud, open machine translation engines and the open source GlobalSight initiative are all examples of what I call network/community advances. These budding “communities” have the potential to act as productivity force multipliers. Through their connections, they are able to harness and leverage the greatest questions, answers, ideas and opinions and output from the “crowd.” And if we are able to harness the best efforts of the crowd in our industry and connect it to the “cloud”, the productivity potential for our industry’s network begins to rise rapidly. Our collective challenge is to connect these communities, and others, through “mash-ups” we are only beginning to contemplate.
Our desire at Welocalize is to actively promote and endeavor to lead these efforts, we welcome anyone who wants to participate, and we are inspired by what Mr. Benkler describes in his book: “Networked-based, distributed, social production, both individual and cooperative, offers a new system, alongside markets, firms, governments, and traditional non-profits, within which individuals can engage in information, knowledge, and cultural production. This new modality of production offers new challenges, and new opportunities.”