Translation Experience

translate-lettersOne of the things I’ve learned from working with global startups like BSG Corporation, Agillion and Appconomy is best practices for marketing communications language translation.

In my experience, there are 4 levels of translation:

  1. Basic comprehension
    • you can get this level from translate.google.com, Microsoft’s Skype Translator, or other similar tools
    • this is sufficient for about 40-60% comprehension
    • translate-skype
    • using these tools is ok for quick chat app translations and other headlines or phrases from non-native websites
    • but, I’ve found trying to use them for anything else is quite cumbersome and unproductive
    • avoid using them for document or web page translation. It’ll look like a 5 year old translated it to the native speaker
  2. Rough draft
    • you can get this level from application providers, like bablic.com, transperfect.com, and other similar tools
    • this is sufficient for 60-80% comprehension and 80-90% spelling/grammar precision
    • they are useful for a head-start on large volume translation, but they aren’t a replacement for people…yet
    • the providers of these tools tend to imply that higher quality results are possible over time with statements like “the more you use the tool, the more it will become tuned to your favored phrases and words”
    • indeed, some possess what appears to be basic machine learning capability, but it remains inferior to the judgment of a human translator
  3. Finished, professional copy
    • for this level, you need a live human being (preferably a team) who is expert in the source (“starting”) and target (“ending”) languages
    • this is sufficient for 80-90% comprehension and 90-95% spelling/grammar precision
    • most people typically use a fluent, bi-lingual employee, a translator from a university that has students majoring in foreign languages, or an online service with independent contractors like upwork.com (formerly Odesk) or elance.com
    • translate-appconomy
    • I highly recommend testing two or three of these providers with the same 3-4 sample work products, at the same time. Once they finish translating all samples, then have a trusted individual, fluent in the target language, review and score the results. (If possible, have more than one person do the review, so they can compare notes.)
    • before you give them the test – which you should pay them for, BTW – require that they provide you their pricing structure, both for the test as well as the full project or long-term assignment you have for them, so that you can do an “apples to apples” comparison of cost v. quality
  4. Localized, native-equivalent content
    • for this level, you need a fluent, bi- or multi-lingual speaker AND reader, either highly familiar with the target region or a native of it
    • this is sufficient for up to 99% comprehension and spelling/grammar precision
    • the difference between this level and the prior, “professional” level is like the difference between an English-language news release written by an Australian-based translator for US target audience versus the same news release written by an American-based translator.
      • the former may choose to include “ue” at the end of words like “catalog” or “dialog” or use “s” instead of “z” for words like “categorize” or “digitize”
      • they will also have a different understanding of idioms and colloquialisms that indicate a truly, locally-appropriate translation
    • providers for this level of quality are usually from the top translating agencies in the target countries, for example, in China it would be companies like Linguitronics and Real Idea
You probably noticed that I only scored the level of comprehension and spelling/grammatical precision at 99%, even for the highest level of translation. In my experience, that last 1% will only come from having a professional copywriter from a PR or marcom firm do a final, editorial pass through the translation.

Yes, an additional pass adds time and money to the cost. But, if you want to achieve the highest level of quality, that’s what it takes. I can assure you that you want to avoid the alternative – embarrassing translations like the one I received just today.
translate-mox
[NOTE: for the record, the correct words are: “focused” “of” “markets” and “platform”]

Whether due to poor translation or general sloppiness, the multiple mistakes in the English-language translation in this example diminish the message and perception of the initiative – an outcome no one wants.

Designing a Chinese Logo

…or,

How an American Software Startup Chose an Indigenous Australian Marsupial as the Logo of a Chinese Mobile App

I know, right? Truth is better than fiction, most of the time.

But, indeed, that second blog title is the more colorful description of the actual process from 3 years ago, when I oversaw the creation of the logo and name for Appconomy’s first mobile app in China.

bbv-brand slideshareNOTE: The brand design example in this post is drawn from a larger presentation – Brand Element Basics – that is available on Slideshare.

Here’s what happened.

Our first app was designed to be an “every man’s” version of the Starbucks loyalty app, primarily for small-footprint, food & beverage (F&B) locations, like small tea shops or food stands, but also for other retail merchants, like  jewelry stores or mobile phone kiosks.

It is very common for Asia-Pacific mobile apps to have mascots or other anthropomorphic features (like eyes or hands) integrated into their branding.

So, we began by studying and evaluating the branding of various competing apps that were broadly in our category, as show in the example below.

bbv-logo 1

From that initial survey, we chose a lengthy set of shape/color/font combinations, each with one or more referring sources.

We had already gone through an initial app naming process, settling on the working name of “Jinnang.” 

A jinnang is a special kind of man-purse, if you will, that is a key element in Chinese fairy tale that nearly everyone in China knows, kind of like the magic beans in Jack-in-the-Beanstalk, from Mother Goose in the US.

bbv-logo 2

From the large set of options, we worked through pros and cons and down-selected to a smaller set of concepts that we wanted to further develop.

For the next round, we focused more on shapes and narrowing in on simple, unique, original imagery.

To help, we kept to a mostly black & white palette, to keep attention on the core visual composition.

bbv-logo 3

As you can see, by this stage there were 2 macro-design concepts emerging, with one purely emphasizing the magic purse and another incorporating cute animal mascots.

The kangaroo was a natural option because of its pouch, which was kind of a built-in jinnang, and because it had friendly, yet strong character attributes.

And, it was a mascot that was still available, unclaimed by any other major software competitor, as far as we could tell.

Next, we undertook yet another round of narrowing on images, with the addition of color and fonts to the options, to give them full character.

At this point, it was TIME to CHOOSE a final concept!

bbv-logo 4

Winner: the kangaroo!

From there, we advanced to a round of micro-tailoring of the concept elements, e.g., mouth, headwear, neckwear, color and more.

bbv-logo 5

As you can see, we made him skinnier and gave him better posture, in the process!

Eventually, we settled on the finalized logo, both symbol & wordmark.

bbv-logo 6

You may have noticed that, in the process, between the 4th round and the 6th & final round, the brand name changed from Jinnang to Jinjin.

The simple rationale was that “jin jin” was easier for English speakers to say and, as a meaningless set of morphemes – similar to the “goo goo or ga ga” of babytalk –  it would be easier to trademark.

There’s more to it than that, but I’ll save that story for another time.

Smartphone Denial

A few years ago, I wrote a post for Austin Startup in a weekly column I was doing called mobileTech Tuesdays.

The post was entitled “This Is Not A Smartphone And I Don’t Care” in which I reviewed my impressions of the first and only DellWorld I’ve attended, in 2011.

IMG_1689In the post, I used the photo of the giant, ruggedized structure you see in the picture, which dominated the exhibit floor, as visual proof of Dell’s abandonment of the consumer business.

Going “all in” on enterprise wasn’t a bad idea, so I wasn’t indicting the strategy. But, it irked me that the company was still trying to have it both ways, by continuing to spit out half-ass consumer products.

Even though I had supported the “home team” for many years, by buying Wintel PCs from Dell, I’d finally had enough a year later. I documented my frustrations with my Inspiron XP in a post entitled “I’m Done with Dell” in September 2012.

That didn’t necessarily mean I was done with Dell entirely. As far as I was concerned, Dell for the enterprise was the only viable option, having served as a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and a consultant to CIOs for a number of years, earlier in my career.

So, about a year later, I was intrigued when Dell introduced a product called the Cloud Connect in late 2013. I got on the beta program list and received my copy of the product.

This is a good example of when a product sounds good in theory, but unravels in practice for all but the most niche use-cases.

cloud3The idea was to provide a portable pocket- or purse-sized computer in a memory stick form factor. In this case, an HDMI connector, rather than USB.

Interestingly, the product reminded me of an identical idea, introduced a decade earlier in 2003 by a company called Seaside, that had a Microsoft Exchange dedicated PC-on-a-USB called the xKey.

This was a time well before mass-market smartphones, back when pagers and the first pager-sized Blackberrys (we called them “Crackberrys” because they were so addictive, even then!) were the norm.

So, the idea of carrying a secure, battery-less PC in your pocket, seemed to make more sense. But, today, as the battle rages between iPhones and high-function/low-cost smartphone makers out of Asia, like Xiaomi, the Cloud Connect makes much less sense.

Because, while they would like you to think all you need is this, plus a monitor (preferably a Wyse)…

cloud4

What you really need is this…

cloud2

So much for portability!

And, while anyone 3-year old can use an iPhone or an iPad (product docs on top), I felt like I was returning to mainframe configuration class, when I slogged through the Cloud Connect docs (on bottom).

IMG_8588

In fact, I had to laugh when, just like back in the days of IBM 360/370 Assembler manuals I had in college and my early days of Accenture, the Cloud Connect docs included the legendary “This page intentionally blank” apology.

A much smarter solution, in my humble opinion, would have been for Dell to focus on partnering with (or buying) an MDM software maker and then creating a flawless smartphone & mobile device management experience across its servers, network devices, and now vast array of storage, with EMC.

cloud1Because, at the end of the day, the Cloud Connect isn’t that much smaller than my iPhone 5s, which fits nicely in my pocket with room to spare.

My guess is that the product serves some particular US federal or state agency niche or one for foreign governments or NGOs requiring some extreme form of physical and digital security.

If not, then it demonstrates how far a company will go when it makes a strategic decision to avoid the consumer tech products business, even if it essentially means denying the ubiquity of smartphones & tablets, by instead recreating a smart version of mainframe computer networks, 50 years after they were the only show in town.

Unlocking Your Creativity

Have you ever gotten a great idea while working out, or mowing the lawn, or in the midst of some other activity requiring some kind of physical concentration, when your mind was “wandering?”

Or, if you are one who prays as a meaningful ritual of religious faith or meditates as a regular practice, have you ever had an answer to a difficult question emerge from it, with great clarity or certainty for what you should do?

bbv-wilberKen Wilber’s book The Spectrum of Consciousness is the classic book in the field of study integrating psychology and spirituality.

In it, Wilber begins with an oft-quoted remark by William James:

Our normal, waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, while all about it – parted from it by the filmiest of screens – there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.

We may go through life without suspecting their existence, but apply the requisite stimulus and at a touch they are there in all their completeness…

As creatures of habit, which we human beings tend to be, it is a constant challenge for us to integrate a range of stimuli, as well as introduce new ones, into our lives.

When we do, the result can be rich connections to new and different ways of processing our internal thoughts, the world around us, and the connections that exist between everyone and everything.

bbv-prismAt a pragmatic level, the result can be figuring out a new method to solve a problem that you’d previously been unable to solve at work.

Or, it could be a new design approach or creative technique that just wasn’t working in your prior attempts.

There are dozens of ways you can expose yourself to new stimuli, including simple things, like:

  • Cross your arms differently, when at rest
  • Part your hair on the opposite side of your usual part, or vary your morning prep routine in some other little ways, like brushing your teeth first rather than last
  • Take a different driving or walking route to your office or listen to a different radio station, along the way
  • At the office or your co-working space, talk to someone you don’t normally talk with
  • And on and on in your daily routines…

Our bodies are like prisms, with our minds containing a spectrum of knowledge, thoughts, and ideas.

To gain full access to this spectrum, you must find the many ways to experience the world differently. When you do, who knows what creative, new insights await?

The Media Monetization Cycle

The media monetization cycle (MMC) is something that I’ve come to observe, experientially, from more than 30 years of working in information and communications technology.

In short, as the chart shows, experience has shown that new media go through three cycles of value creation: content, community, commerce.

bbv - MMC hand-drawnAnd, while all three are essential at some level, to the medium’s success, the quest for media companies and those that build on top of the medium (like the web) is to see how quickly they can reach the commerce curve.

Knowing that all new media go through the MMC, your strategy should be to anticipate the commerce curve and build a platform for facilitating the transition from content and community as easily as possible.

For applications development and infrastructure planning, this has broad implications for everything from user ID management, to client- and server-wide applications payloads, to schema development and database distribution, and more.

Ideally, you want to build all of those things, knowing that the medium will eventually get a place where commerce is a principle driver of activity across it, if the THE principle driver.

Understanding the MMC is more important than ever, because the pace of technology adoption has become faster than ever, as reflected by the chart from Singularity.com.

bbv - tech adoptionIf you are in a profession, like I am, where you are in the business of seeking to launch innovative new ventures that leapfrog or even transcend (a nicer way of saying “disrupt”) incumbent technologies, then the more that you build – from the very beginning – towards the inevitable maturation point of the MMC, the better positioned you will be.

Mainstream VR is Here

The New York Times (NYT) has launched a major initiative to integrate VR (short for “virtual reality”) into their digital news coverage.

Their first big reporting series with VR has been the stories of three refugee children.

bbv-HanaTheir stories are part of a larger series titled “The Displaced” that the NYT has been running for more than a week.

I’d seen the heavily promoted VR component to the story, but simply hadn’t taken the time to try it.

If you’re like me, VR has been something that you’ve been hearing about for so long that it seems too (1) time-consuming, (2) complicated (3) slow (4) or gamer-ish.

My opinion has changed.

Our NYT subscription includes the digital edition and the Sunday print edition.

IMG_8510So, this past weekend, we received – as we assume tens of thousands of others did – a Google cardboard VR viewer bundled in with the newspaper’s protective plastic wrapper.

It was sheathed with a nice GE-branded container and came with a small 1-page instruction sheet.

IMG_8511The VR viewer came pre-assembled and the instructions to download the iPhone app were straightforward.

The app downloaded rapidly from iTunes and its set-up instructions were simple.

However, there is an easy to reach FAQ section, just in case a little extra hand-holding is required.

IMG_8513The app and “The Displaced” story series were produced in partnership with VRSE, a VR high-end production company, specializing in VR films.

Each VR movie downloads to your smartphone, before playing.

So, ideally, you’ll want to be connected to a broadband wi-fi or hardwired network when you download the films.

With each movie, there is a bit of information, displaying its run-length, as well as its file size.

There is also a direct link to the New York Times “print” article for which the VR film is a companion.

IMG_8512REMEMBER: the NYT is a paywall publication that allows 10 free article views per month, after which a valid account is required.

Sidenote: the paywall seems to be working, as the company recently announced that its online subscription base had passed the one million subscriber mark. (Gee: it only took nearly 20 years to navigate that disruption!)

This was the first time I’d really used a VR viewer and I found the production values to be quite good.

The filmmaking itself was compelling, with the pacing and choice of shots, dramatic.

You are truly transported to another part of the world, instantly.

A few tips to optimize your experience, should you try it:

  1. Use headphones or earbuds to get the accompanying sound – it’s essential to the stories.
  2. Sit down when you use the VR viewer. Sitting will prevent you from losing your balance or accidentally running into something or someone.
  3. IMG_8516Use a swivel chair, when sitting. The filmmakers have packed so much into the story of each of the three children that you will want to take it all in, as a full 360-degree experience. A swivel chair will allow you to move in every direction.
  4. Dim or turn off your room or your office lights, if you can, to reduce the glare and get more of the full picture and color of the story.

Finally, VR seems to be hitting a mainstream tipping point.

With Youtube updating its flagship Android app to switch videos to a VR mode, it’s only a matter of time – months perhaps – when more and more of us will be choosing to watch our VR videos.

You know what that means, right?

bbv-mcflyThat Bob Zemeckis’s comedic-dystopian view of 2015 in Back to the Future II only missed its timing by a few months!

Who could forget the scene of Marty McFly’s future teenage son, outlandishly captured in full VR-viewing twitchiness at the dinner table!

God (and New York Times) help us!!

My Axes

sxsw econ impactMusic is big business. You don’t need to look any further than the economic impact report for SXSW to see the proof.

In 2015, the festival injected more than $317 million into the Austin economy, as a result of its two-week run and year-round operations.

Yet, music is also art. And, art is a passionate, sensory expression of human emotion.

In this respect, I first became an amateur artist back in the early 1970s. My paintbrush was my guitar.

Harmony studentIn musical lingo, a guitar is an ax.

I got my first one more than 40 years ago, while still in grade school.

It was given to me as a gift by a friend of my dad’s …a used, kid-sized acoustic guitar, like the one in the picture.

My dad’s friend had clearly had it for awhile, perhaps since when he was a kid, but decided to pass it on to the next generation.

The first “song” I learned on it was the Mission Impossible television show intro, way back before Tom Cruise was born!

My first electric guitar was bought brand-new off the shelves of Skaggs-Albertsons department store with my first big paper route money.

Starter guitarThe shape was generally a Fender Stratocaster body, with the classic sunburst finish.

But, that’s where the similarities ended!

It had two pickups (instead of 3) and a whammy bar that was so awful, every time you used it, the guitar would stay permanently out of tune!

But, it was loud, electrified, and mine.

I spent many a night picking out the melody lines of early Elton John and Alice Cooper songs on that guitar.

Harmony acousticSince I was primarily a bass player, I didn’t buy another guitar until high school.

But, in my sophomore year, a drummer friend offered to sell a Harmony acoustic guitar.

It had the sweetest action, the most beautiful sound, and looked just like the one Jimmy Page is holding.

I paid $100 cash for that guitar and played it for at twenty years. It was my constant companion in college and early married life.

It finally met its end when, as a new dad, one of my little bambinos, accidentally knocked into its stand and tipped it over, breaking the neck clean off. I was on business travel at the time.

ovation acousticMy wife, Rebecca, knowing how much I loved that guitar, bought me a new Ovation acoustic — a guitar I had always wanted, due to the gorgeous full sound they tend to produce from their unique bowl design.

It was a loving gesture and I still have that Ovation, as my primary acoustic, but I still miss the Harmony.

It was so wedded to my brain and fingers that I couldn’t let its memory go entirely, so I cut the head off and framed it!

Gibson ExplorerBack to electrics, all throughout my high school years, I coveted one of the two coolest rock and roll guitars in existence, in my opinion — the original Gibson Flying V or Explorer guitars.

My best friend, Jeff and I, would go to music stores in our hometown of Amarillo or, whenever we would travel to a concert or school field trip, the local guitar shops. Whenever I saw a Flying V or Explorer, I asked to try it out.

I came very close to buying a Flying V several times, perhaps the closest was on a trip to Ray Henning’s Heart of Texas music store in Austin, back when it was in the spot where the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar location is situated.

But, for some reason, I could never pull the trigger and, over the years, the craving has passed. To assuage it, I bought some other axes instead.

Gibson SGFor example, another Gibson I had a hankering for was the SG.

Not only did we share initials (“S”teve “G”uengerich), but I was attracted to its growing rep as the hardest rockin’ guitar in showbiz, courtesy of Angus Young and the bad boys of early AC/DC.

I owned a lovely tobacco sunburst SG for a number of years, before selling it while living in Louisville, Kentucky.

And, lastly, my friend Jeff sold (gave? traded? I can’t exactly remember which…) me his Gibson L6S.

Gibson L6SThat was/is a unique electric guitar, with multiple pickup settings and a melodic tone that appealed to a wide range of musicians.

Everyone from Paul Stanley of KISS to some of the greatest jazz playing talents of the day could be seen playing an L6S.

guitar-5The final electric guitar I bought was a Fernandez 3/4 electric.

It was something of an impulse buy, after seeing it in a holiday season edition of Forbes magazine, in one of those articles featuring unique and different gift ideas.

The jelly bean shape and built-in, practice amplifier where the sound hold is normally located, piqued my interest.

Upon receiving it, I’ve never regretted it, with the Fernandez becoming my current (and perhaps, last) electric guitar purchase. The neck has amazing action and the single hum-bucking pickup screams.

The simplicity of the set-up – an on/off toggle switch and a single volume control (who needs tone!) – are the epitome of rock and roll…I love it!

Last, but not least, the one acoustic guitar that I always had a hankering for was a Martin, because of their rich, extraordinary sound. But, I was always stopped short by the $1,000-plus starting price for a decent model.

martin backpackFinally, a couple of years ago, I bought a Martin back-pack guitar – basically a Martin guitar neck on the equivalent of a shoebox body – that was advertised for taking into the woods with you for campfire entertainment.

As you might expect, the play-ability is great, but the sound is so-so. They’ve stopped making them, the last I looked. But, it’s been a fun guitar to have around the house and, for $149, it was priced just right.

So, that’s it: those are my axes. And, if you ever come by the house, chances are you’ll likely see one or more mixed in with the furniture. Because, any more, that’s pretty much what they are – display pieces to accent a lamp or fill-out a sitting nook. Such is life!