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What Will the GALA Standards Initiative Do?

By: Arle Lommel (GALA)


26 May 2011

In the past few months standards have become a hot topic once again. While interest in standards has waxed and waned over the years, I have reason to believe that this time things will be different.

The demise of the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) earlier this year has shown the localization industry that we can no longer assume that someone else will take care of standards. While LISA existed, it had the mandate to develop and promote industry standards, and nobody else was really equipped to take on that role. Even though LISA was not entirely successful in meeting these goals, there was the sense that it was still the proper place for standards activities. But with LISA gone, it is not clear where this mandate now lies.

There are numerous groups that aspire to take on all or part of LISA’s role, something I consider a positive development as long as we, as a community, can keep from fragmenting our efforts. There is more than enough work to go around and to keep everyone busy for the foreseeable future. Since many standards efforts have been hampered by low levels of interest and participation, it is exciting to see so much interest in accomplishing something positive through GALA’s work and with other organizations.

In April, the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) announced its own standards initiative. I am committed to this effort because I see it as addressing some key issues beyond the crafting of standards. In the past, “standards work” has been defined as creating standards. While establishing standards is certainly a critical task, it is far from everything. Without a program established after the creation of standards, they often vanish into thin air or sit for years with a few users but no mainstream adoption. The GALA initiative seeks to develop a wide range of activities around standards so they can truly make a difference to average users. This initiative is designed to serve the industry as a whole: From buyers of services, to technology developers, to individual translators, to the founding GALA membership of LSPs, we recognize the wide-reaching nature of standards work.

As a result, the GALA standards initiative is not a program to turn GALA into a standards-development body. Instead, the initiative will work with existing bodies to address some of the tasks that they themselves are not equipped to complete. In particular, we will focus on the following three central areas:

Education and training

In 2007 Kara Warburton documented over 100 standards that are relevant to the localization industry (not including the many domain-specific standards that may matter to specific development projects), a number that has only grown in the intervening years. While this number does include “framework” standards like HTML, XML, or the Unicode character encoding standard, there are still a great many standards that may impact our industry directly or indirectly that few industry professionals know about. Part of the problem is that standards are generally written with the standards specialist audience in mind.

As a result, if business users visit the pages and resources produced by standards creators, they often find that the available information is highly technical and not terribly useful to them. Even though standards are created to address business needs, such as the loss of leverage experienced when using different translation memory (TM) tools, the resulting standards are technical documents that may not be clear in how they address those business needs.

To address the need for authoritative information on standards for diverse audiences, the GALA initiative will work on (a) providing basic information (i.e., what the standard is used for, where to get it, what tools use it, etc.) for all of the relevant standards, and (b) taking certain core localization standards and producing usage guides for various user profiles. For example, a client business manager and a tools developer are likely to have very different needs in using XLIFF, and, therefore, will need guides that address their specific requirements.

Beyond these issues of education about standards, there is also a crucial need for more detailed training on how to use the standards, i.e., to teach specific, practical skills to implementers. The GALA standards initiative will therefore develop training materials (webinars, workshops, etc.) to support individuals who need more in-depth practical information.

Promotion

Promotion is closely related to education, but focuses on demonstrating the value of standards to potential users, recognizing companies and tools that use those standards, and promoting the use of standards in community projects. Currently there are many tools that use standards, but identifying them can be difficult. In addition, many claimed implementations have problems, ranging from minor issues that are easily resolved to major failures to follow published standards.

The GALA standards initiative will create an online directory that highlights tools, companies, and other resources that implement standards properly. It will also provide access to tools that allow users to verify whether output from tools actually complies with standards. Additionally, it will work to promote the work of specific standards committees to the wider community.

Beyond these issues, however, even those tools that conform to standards may do so in ways that impede interoperability. There are now efforts at TAUS and at the new Unicode Localization Interoperability Technical Committee to develop common profiles for standard use that will clarify how to achieve interoperability. The GALA Standards Initiative will support and promote such efforts.

Finally, there is also a need for detailed business cases around standards that can demonstrate their value. The only way to increase use of standards (and thereby increase their value) is by showing that they actually solve the business problems they are supposed to solve. The GALA initiative will therefore work with users of the relevant standards to develop case studies that highlight the results. These case studies will be made available as downloaded documents and also through dedicated standards programming at GALA’s Language of Business conferences.

Collaboration/coordination

This last focus is in some ways the most crucial. Today there are more than twenty organizations that have created localization-related standards. While not all of these organizations are currently active in this area, coordination between these groups is often ad hoc and inconsistent, resulting in duplication of effort and inconsistent results. The GALA standards initiative intends to work closely with groups active in this area to ensure all stakeholders are aware of each others’ efforts, to make sure that the broader translation and language services community knows what is going on within each, and to help identify potential synergies. By having consistent representation in all relevant groups, the initiative will be able to serve as a centralized repository of information, keeping all parties informed and notifying the community of questions and issues likely to impact them. The initiative will therefore work closely with the leaders of relevant committees to ensure that they are getting the feedback they need from the broader community of users and from other bodies.

GALA will be reaching out to the community over the next month to secure funding to enable us to reach our goals. While we envision a future in which everyone is free to reap the rewards of standards work, we also understand the reality that a long-term effort requires long-term funding. While community support is critical, if we do not have funded, professional efforts to make sure that these goals are accomplished, this initiative will fail. 

We invite you to learn more about our plan (and download your own copy) by visiting www.gala-global.org/standards or by reaching out to us at [email protected]. We want your constructive feedback and support to move forward and achieve the lofty goals we have set before ourselves.

Arle Lommel is the Standards Coordinator for GALA. Formerly Director of Open Standards at the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA), he has been active in the localization industry since 1997. He holds a BA in Linguistics from Brigham Young University, Provo, and an MA and PhD in Folklore Studies from Indiana University, Bloomington. He currently resides in Bloomington, USA.

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