Translated and edited transcript of interview with Shmuel Duan and David Sommer on https://radiohevrati.co.il
For the full interview click here
What exactly is localization?
Simply put, Localization is the adaptation of a resource or product to fit the demands of one specific culture or locale.
Why is it so important in a global world?
The answer may seem obvious of course, but I think that we should look at it from a more holistic perspective, localization is a euphemistic catchphrase for three distinct activities, Globalization, internationalization, and localization. To use a simple analogy that may explain it easily we can look briefly at the railroad as a product. Railroads developed in the 1800’s and while they relied on similar technology each locale may have had a different requirement, for example one locale may need to transport people long distances, while another may need to transport coal, freight or livestock. What potentially could have happened, and did was that railroads in different locales had different gauges, different load bearing requirements and so on. Globalization here would be to ensure that the railroads would be a standard gauge so trains could run seamlessly across countries; localization would be to design the trains so they match the loadbearing and staffing requirements for each country (for example, there are some European trains that need to change their staff when they cross borders) and finally internationalization would be to ensure that the trains themselves are capable of meeting all the requirements for each locale. So, the railroads ability to do this was a boon to the world economy and standardized international shipping trade for example by providing global standards that are used until today.
As to how important this is, to give an example, we use Zoho as our CRM, and we naturally wanted to have an accounting system that integrated organically, so we started by using Zoho books, only to discover very quickly that it does not meet the Israeli accounting requirements, so even if the UI would be translated into Hebrew, it still cannot be used in Israel.
What are the main steps in the process?
Well, that would depend on what we are speaking about, lets assume that we are talking about a company that has decided to localize, and that the product was built with localization in mind, so now they would need to decide which locales to localize for, well, the answer is obvious, they should focus on the most profitable regions, so you would need to determine which they are, this will require some level of market research naturally. Let’s assume now that they have decided upon specific locales (incidentally, companies may decided to try several locales as part of the research and to test what type of penetration they can get once localized) once they have decided which locales, they then need to decide which strategy they will use to localize, will they do it in-house, will they outsource completely, will they let their partners do the localization? Or will they do a sort of hybrid of them all. Irrespective of which option/strategy they will need to follow a strict workflow that will include at minimum the following steps, glossary building, training of some type for the linguists, translation and proofing, and preferably some testing. Today there are some amazing solutions in the market that allow you to accomplish the testing and review while actually translating, this really helps companies that need to support CD/CI since the turn-around is reduced significantly as a result.
When is it right for start-ups to start thinking about the process?
Honestly, the right time is from the very beginning, unless their product is geared toward only a single locale which is unlikely, then at some point they will need to have some level of localization.
What preparations do companies need to make at the infrastructure level to carry out localization?
That depends on the company’s infrastructure, and what they are looking to localize. For example, if they are looking to localize their website then they should look at their CMS to see if it supports localization, otherwise you may need to duplicate the site for different locales, set up staging servers create a plan for managing changes and so on. If we are speaking about software we would need to ensure that all strings are extracted from the code, avoid as much as possible concatenation of strings, avoid placeholders and hard-coding of word order, allow space for translation, prepare graphics and symbols, ensure support for various time date and units formats. But frankly in my experience, the most important preparation would be to pseudo translate the application to ensure that all content is extracted; the application supports extended characters text expansion will be supported in the app and so on.
Does the localization process necessarily mean only user interface customization or does it have other aspects like sales process customization, marketing methods, user experience and more?
Wow, you hit the nail on the head, localization isn’t the responsibility of only the development team, but it should be a company-wide effort, there are great companies out there that have really successfully evangelized localization internally and this helps them tremendously in succeeding in various locales. It could be that the marketing folks are on top of things with their messaging and have localized entire campaigns, and by localize, I mean using specific images, colors, even accounting needs to get into the act by providing currency conversions and so on. I would say that even legal and regulatory are impacted, I saw today a notice from a service renewal of one of our providers that there was a notice that if I am located in the EU then there were certain rights that were different for users within the EU than from outside of the EU. Even your marketing campaigns need to adhere to local regulations, for example the types of claims your products make may need adjustment for different regions.
What influences the localization process?
If you had asked me this a couple of years ago my answer would have been typical of someone working in a traditional LSP, today I think that as we advance technologically, we as LSPs need a more agile approach for each client. Traditional LSPs use for all intents and purposes the same approach for each client, and try to fit the client into their mold, we believe that by offering a fractional localization approach, that we can analyze best the localization needs of the client by looking at their processes, their maturity and building for them a foundation for localization based on internal rather than external influences. As the company matures and hopefully grows, the factors that influence the localization will change and necessitate flexibility in the process.
Start-ups are a little apprehensive about the price, should this necessarily be a heavy expense?
Look, there is a cost for any part of the development, start-ups should consider these costs as part of their development, if a start-up plans on being successful in a different locale, the costs of NOT investing in localization will far outweigh the costs of the localization, it is the difference between being able to function in that locale, or not. Finally, the initial localization costs for companies just starting out are in fact pretty low, what you do see are companies spending a lot on Localization are doing so because they are successful in those regions, so companies should welcome large localization budgets as a benchmark of their success.
What is the level of forgiveness in the world for products that have undergone localization processes that are not good enough and what could be the consequences?
I love this question actually, because you would expect me as a localization company to say that there is no room for forgiveness, but that simply is not the case in my opinion, we often see so many localization mistakes in Hebrew, think about the notices you get from AliExpress or Wish.com, so often I see that there are RTL issues, Bidi issues and so on, and yet there are very few Israelis who won’t buy there because of localization issues, on the other hand, different locales will be less forgiving, if you are localizing your Hebrew app into US English, you had better do it 100% correctly, if AliExpress and Wish.com didn’t put so much into their ENG site, they would not make it in the states.
Do not do half a job, if you are going to localize make sure that you do it right. Use experienced professionals