Global Mobile Lessons from Localization World

Monday, October 22 2012 @ 4:32 PM, By Maxwell Hoffmann

Last week Adobe participated in the Localization World conference on the edge of Seattle’s busy harbor. Passing ferrry boats and container ships were unable to divert the attendees attention from dozens of relevant and compelling presentations on the latest challenges facing anyone who wants to make their content go global. Although the conference’s focus was translation and localization, nearly all of the workflows and processes discussed are still relevant to customers working in only one language.

Although the LocWorld conference had specific tracks on Content Strategies and Mobility, questions regarding tablets and mobile devices arose during all of the sessions I attended. This blog touches on highlights from a few sessions I was able to attend, as well as my own presentation on rethinking mobile content.

The Mobile World and the Future of Localization

This panel proved to be one of the most lively sessions at the conference, with a highly engaged audience who submitted focused questions about urgent new issues. The panel consisted of Jörg Bott (Microsoft), Mark Flanagan (VistaTEC), Ghassan Haddad (Facebook), Rahul Kumar (Cisco Systems), and Bill Sullivan (IBM).

Jörg Bott of Microsoft (far left in the group photo below) discussed many of the visual filtering issues that Microsoft had to go through to choose appropriate “tile” icons for Windows 8 that would prove effective on tablets and mobile phones as well as laptops. The significance of users’ waning reliance on mouse clicks and increasing usage of screen/finger swipes was extensively discussed.

Several unanswered issues around eBooks and tablet devices were addressed and discussed in great detail:

  • What does the panel see on the horizon to take the place of handwritten marginal notes in paper-based books, or some sort of sense of location (e.g. a “tree” that shows how far you are through the current chapter.)
  • How does the panel see the workplace adapting to a Gen Y workforce that eschews email, is accustomed to non-stop collaborative decision making via social media
  • Will the eventual universal usage of tablets make corporate management question the decision to have the majority of employees in cubicles? If we are all working effectively via tablets, why are we located in stationery work locations?
  • Many younger workers entering the workplace (who came of age texting and who use mobile devices more hours per day) brag that “I don’t do email.” If so, can business adapt to identify when a project milestone was achieved, or when a partnership relationship was consummated via social media conversation fragments.
  • There was also serious consideration as to whether video, rich media and dynamic images will eventually replace most of the text in tech comm content. Example: will a user manual that is currently text, table and screen shot based, eventually morph into a multiscreen deliverable that is almost entirely composed of video and text free images?

Obviously, no one has all of the answers to these relevant questions. Attending this session made me aware of how many business-critical issues around tablets and mobile devices are not being addressed. You may have noticed how most advertisements and promotions for the latest iPad of Kindle Fire focus on a collage of best-seller fiction books, movies and TV series. Obviously there are more challenging solutions yet to be finalized in terms of how businesses would deliver an “audit trail” if their entire teams were tablet only, with no email.

Dynamic Language Delivery for Mobile Applications

Another speaker from Adobe, Dirk Meyer (Senior Program Manager, Globalization) presented a fascinating overview and live demonstration of some internal tools developed by Adobe that can dynamically update language in the UI of mobile applications.

Dirk made it clear that these tools are not intended to become commercial competitors to well-established language translation tools.

The concept and SW architecture was quite unique, allowing Dirk to change a few buttons to Polish, have the change published through a remote server in another city, and have his cloud-based application update “live” when refreshed.

Think Mobile, Go Global: Writing Strategically for the Small Screen

My own presentation covered a familiar theme: when confronted with new technology, we humans tend to carry old habits, skills and methods into a new Era that may no longer be effective. Early USA television content turned back to vaudeville to rediscover new stars (they were popular for about 2 years), when Help websites were new, some companies tried to simply convert entire 400 page manuals, assuming that internet visitors had the same attention span as readers of paper and PDF.

Although there are powerful tools, like Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite 4, which can swiftly publish legacy content multiscreen HTML5 for tablets, some content manipulation is required:

  • Consumers on mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) have a much shorter attention span, and are sometimes “in motion” or are mobile while reading the content
  • Memory retention is an issue as small chunks of info which contain critical information may be “3 thumb swipes” in the past.
  • You must make your key points within the first 2 to 3 screenfuls to avoid being “dropped”
  • You can think of a mobile/smart phone version of your documentation as being an intelligent summary, beyond a “Quick Start Guide” but less than a 45 page “white paper.”
  • Shorter word and sentence count are also advised. One hint to change your writing style is to occasionally try verbal dictation. When we compose text on a “large” laptop screen, our eye “sees and remembers” more than it can when shorter chunks of text scroll off of a smaller screen. If you compose content via dictation, one breath is usually a good marker for sentence length.

Issues around mobile devices continue to grow

Localization World was an enriching and highly worthwhile conference. Due to the growing importance of publishing to mobile devices, many issues related to localization that once seemed esoteric, have now gone mainstream. The language translation industry has dealt with simplified English, reduced word count, and limits on screen real estate in SW user interface for years. All of these issues have become relevant to mobile and tablet publishing.

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