We recently had the opportunity to meet with Val Swisher, founder and CEO of SDL Partner, Content Rules. Val provided tremendous insight into the content challenges that many organizations face when creating relevant content for global audiences.
Tell us a little about yourself and the origins of Content Rules.
Val: My background is in content creation. Before starting Content Rules, I was a course developer and then I managed technical course development for a networking vendor. By 1994, I decided to branch out on my own. As a manager, I hired many external people and consistently found that they could not deliver the level of quality I expected in the timeframe that we had agreed upon. When I started Content Rules, it was really on that founding principle: deliver quality content, on time, every time.
I like to say that I’m in the “relationship business,” since the services Content Rules offers are all about trust and dependability. Services are also about understanding our customers’ ambitions and business. Over the past 22 years, we’ve grown and developed as the marketplace has. We started as a service provider for content development providing writers, course developers, marketing writers, technical writers, illustrators, designers… every service that a company needs to develop content. From there we expanded our services to include working with The Rockley Group on intelligent content, Acrolinx services, along with focusing on what we call “global readiness”.
Tell us about your work with Acrolinx, another SDL partner.
Val: We work very closely with SDL and another SDL partner, Acrolinx. As your readers probably know, the Acrolinx software is the gold standard for content quality and optimization. We started working with Acrolinx in 2007. When I saw the software, I knew it was the answer we’d been looking for in terms of aligning content quality with a corporation’s standards and best practices.
We provide many Acrolinx services that I think are unique. First, we are the North American service provider for all Acrolinx deployments. This means that we provide configuration, training, and all the services a customer needs to get Acrolinx up and running. In addition, we provide a host of ongoing professional services for customers using Acrolinx.
We also have our own Acrolinx server that we use to analyze and improve customer content. This service is normally for customers who might be too small to have their own Acrolinx deployment but want the many benefits that the Acrolinx software provides. Because we have over 120 editors, we can work very closely with our customers to check their content using Acrolinx and then input those corrections using our senior editing team.
Your global readiness service really addresses a lot of concerns customers have when preparing content for globalization.
Val: I like to think I coined the term “global readiness,” but now you see it everywhere! With our global readiness service, we work with a customer before they translate their content. We make sure that their source content is ready to be localized and translated. This means that we fix grammar and style errors, eliminate jargon wherever possible, and focus on the source English so that it is as easy to read and translate as possible.
Global readiness saves companies time in translation and in-country review. It also saves money by ensuring more 100% matches. Last, but not least, if the source content is of high quality, the translations are likely to be high quality, too. By preparing text for translation, the customer achieves the ultimate trifecta; better, faster, cheaper translations AND better English source as well.
As a company, you help organizations prepare their content for global audiences and translation. In North America, we’ve noticed there has been a shift in language to a far more personal and conversational tone. How does this affect the work that you do?
Val: Yes. Over the past 10-15 years, we have seen a fundamental shift in the way we write content and in the way that we address customers. In the past, a customer was a customer. We had a product or service to sell. We wanted the customer to purchase the product or service. Nowadays, companies want to be your “best friend.” Being merely a customer isn’t enough. We need to be “pals” or “chums.”
This shift presents unique challenges for translation and localization. In some cases, this new tone mandates a move towards transcreation rather than localization and translation. Content has to be culturally appropriate to be effective. It must suit the type of relationship you want to have with your customers and also what your customers expect. When you transcreate content, you’re not just translating. You are creating new and different content. And that requires its own production cycle.
Another way to approach the modern English tone of voice is to neutralize the language. What I mean by this is to tone down the English so it is more standard, and not so colloquial. This, too, has disadvantages because you lose the more nuanced impact of the relationship through language.
The third approach is to treat the neutralized English content as the pivot language – the content that is sent to localization and translation. And then, create a colloquial English version that is intended for the U.S. English market. While it takes a bit of effort to manage, I think that choice three represents the best of all worlds. You have a standard English version for translation. During translation, the translators can colloquialize each language. And then you have a colloquial English version, too.
What other types of global content services do you offer?
Val: At Content Rules, we also work on global content strategy. Everything from creating RFPs for translation company quotes to multilingual content audits to find out why translation aren’t working. We’ve seen an uptick of interest in our multilingual content quality audits. This is natural as more companies translate more content into more languages. During a multilingual content quality audit, we use the TAUS DQF tool and native speakers to analyze the same text in all languages. We also analyze the English. What we find, time and again, is that problems in a translation stem from one of three areas; the English source content is poor, the workflow is poor, or the translation is poor. Sometimes, it is a combination. As an impartial third party we’re in great position to identify the problems so that they can be resolved.
We also provide intelligent content strategy services. This includes working with customers who are moving to XML structured content so that they can use products such as SDL Knowledge Center. We have exclusive rights to employ Anne Rockley’s strategic methodology of content modeling, taxonomy and workflows. We help customers prepare their content for an XML/DITA environment, take advantage of reuse opportunities, and learn how to create content in a structured way.
The move from unstructured to structured content also requires some change management. We spend time with content creators teaching them how to think about content in a new, reusable way. When companies begin using a robust tool like SDL Knowledge Center, we help them model out their content and workflows so that they really get the most out of the product.
How do you work with SDL?
Val: Our services support everything that SDL does. From content creation to translation, as well as the use of technology. We find that for global companies there is a tremendous crossover between their content creation, XML, content strategy and translation processes.
We help guide customers to understand what content needs to be localized or transcreated, and to what extent. Many of our customers don’t know where to begin, or they’ve been translating into just four languages and want to grow that out into 12.
We help customers manage, organize and track their content. I did a webinar yesterday with a major software company, and one of my guests said that their website has more than 3 million web pages that no one looks at! And this is common. A lot of companies don’t know how much or what content they have. When you start translating, this issue becomes exponentially larger, very quickly.
Our services dovetail with the services and technology provided by SDL. We have a service offering to match each of your offerings and we do not overlap at all. I think it is a very natural partnership and one that my team is very excited about.
If you were to provide a nugget of golden advice for those entering the global content arena, what would it be?
Val: Understand your audience. If your content is going to be translated into multiple languages, you need to start the development process by understanding that the content is not just for the US market. Plan to manage as well as to create. And plan to translate from the beginning of the process.