The
Internet is a worldwide phenomenon and that has caused increasing headaches for
application developers as more and more devices connect. Smartphones and
tablets in particular have extended computing’s power to huge swaths of people
who never had the inclination or money to buy computers. In turn, that has
created a challenge with localization — that is, making apps sensitive to
language and the nuances of language.

Just
consider the differences in reading direction. Where many languages are read
from left to right, others are read right to left. Then there’s the issue with
capitalization. According to Microsoft’s Developer Network
page, when using ASCII, simply adding or detracting 0x0020 to a letter’s
corresponding “code point,” you can create uppercase and lowercase
letters. It’s not so for
Latin numbers and letters with accents, meaning you can’t just add or subtract a
single value to and from characters to get the results you’re looking for.

Other challenges include formatting,
user interface, and string-related issues, as well as:

  • Code
    pages that list character codes in a specific order have to use, in some cases,
    special identifiers to reference the code pages. In other cases, as with
    Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, the double-byte character sets needed won’t
    allow the combinations of these languages.
  • Complex
    scripts like Arabic, Hebrew, Thai, Vietnamese, and the Indic family require
    special considerations to get the right displays.
  • Hard-coded
    font names and font sizes result in fonts not being displayed correctly, or
    being displayed illegibly.
  • Input
    Method Editors that allow people who can’t use standard 101-key keyboards (because
    they don’t accommodate their languages) have to be supported in the
    application.
  • Line
    and word break algorithms are different for Asian DBCS languages and Western
    languages.
  • Function
    and short-key combinations have to be carefully thought out because of the
    differences in keyboards across the globe.

Using
the crowd to translate

Underlying
all of that is what many might consider to be the simplest aspect of making
apps localized: language translation. The reality is, it’s not all that simple,
and the founders of Ackuna,
initially a side project of Translation Cloud, continue to evolve the options available for translating.

“As
the side project of Translation Cloud, Ackuna
started off as a way for us to assign proofreading jobs to freelance
translators,” said Matthew Bramowicz, VP of operations at Ackuna.
“So, say someone used Google Translate and it was a messy translation,
they could have it perfected at Ackuna. As Ackuna gained a community we decided
to switch gears and use Ackuna’s
existing framework to provide app developers with crowdsourced translation. The
business model at this point is based off of Translation Cloud’s professional services. We maintain Ackuna as an active
translation community for free, but it also serves as a door to Translation
Cloud. So, developers using Ackuna can also opt to have their projects
professionally translated as an upgraded option. Also, the translators using
Ackuna for practice can gain employment through Translation Cloud if they gain
enough merit. The translation industry is competitive, and Ackuna is our unique
way of gaining attention and nurturing discussion about translation and our
services.”

The
process

At
its heart, Ackuna is currently a “gamified learning experience” for
about 5,600 translators and 480 developers, but it’s also a community where
translators can network with each other and with potential clients. The
translation process begins when a developer posts a project. The system is
getting two to three new projects posted each day. Then, the crowd of
translators go to work, with the turn-around time depending upon how much the
developer promotes the project on social media, how completely the project was
described and illustrated, and the number of languages selected.

Translations
are free, with translators performing their craft for not only the experience
and community aspects but also to take part in application development. Michael
Duke, marketing intern at Ackuna, says translators are also inspired to
translate apps they’ve heard about but can’t use because they’re not yet
localized to their regions.

Addressing
the accuracy question

To
ensure accuracy, Ackuna uses a voting system where translations must receive a
given number of positive votes. Duke says that as the user base grows so does
the accuracy and the speed of the translations. He says the mobile applications
being translated are not extraordinarily text-heavy, and the social nature of
the service helps to normalize the translations, even though there may be more
variations across translations in a crowdsourced environment. Ackuna also
encourages developers to provide as much context as they can in the form of
screen shots and descriptions.

The
service is considering making it possible for project posters to specify the
geographic locations of their app’s translators. However, Ackuna’s social
nature already allows developers to message specific translators if they happen
to like their translation style, or even if they find out they are from
specific regions that the app is aimed at.

Popular
languages

Bramowicz
emphasizes that it’s best to understand what
markets you want to get into before making a stab at localizing, as entering
some regions is unlikely to be cost-effective or time-efficient. Currently, he
says the romance languages such as French and Spanish are being translated
quickly and that most apps arrive at the service in English. Chinese, Japanese,
and Russian are other hot “translate to” languages.

The
most difficult translations are those that come in unique language pairs. An
example is a project translating Arabic to Chinese. While there may be large
numbers of users on either side, there aren’t that many translators.

More
about the user base

So
far, Ackuna is attracting mostly individual developers who don’t necessarily
have the budget for professional translation or who are exploring the prospect
of localization. Bramowicz says that about 70% of projects are first-time
projects and the remaining 30% are from developers posting multiple projects.
While he admits it’s possible that wholesalers could use the service to have
multiple translations done that are then sold to others, he says it’s unlikely,
as developers could see their projects being uploaded to the service. He also
says it wouldn’t be very time-efficient, since social translation is slower and
feeds off the developer’s involvement. Those paying for translations would tend
to expect them to be completed quickly.

Ackuna
currently covers most mobile platforms and supports 10 file formats and 22
languages. Duke says jobs that don’t
get translated are often ones where the developers don’t promote or don’t
provide enough context for the translators to translate accurately. Another
reason translations don’t get completed is when the developer decides to choose
translations for every single language offered. In doing that, they may get
three or four languages completely translated, but since they don’t get all 22
languages completed, the project can’t
be counted as a total completion. Still, it’s hard to say such jobs will never
get completed, and for others it’s rare they will take more than a few weeks.

Also read on TechRepublic: 10 tips and best practices for software localization