Shortly after I joined the localization industry in 2008 I took it upon myself to speak at a major industry conference in Berlin, partly to gain some exposure in an industry where I did not have a lot of previous experience, and partly to share some thoughts and views on an industry that in some ways was at odds with trends and innovations in others commercial sectors I had experienced.
It was an invigorating exercise and one that I really feel accelerated my understanding of our industry and the various dynamics and nuances at work.
One of the themes I touched upon was what I perceived as the comparative lack of innovation and relatively slow rate of change within our industry when compared to other commercial sectors. This is a position that I firmly believe was correct at the time and is a topic I revisit today in this post.
When you compare some other industries to the localization industry over the same period of time you may question has the rate of change in our industry been as profound?
The first iPhone was released just the year before in 2007, totally reinventing the mobile phone market and ultimately the personal computer space so dramatically that it is virtually unrecognizable from what it was back then. In mid-2008 Facebook had less than 100m users and was just setting up its international headquarters in Ireland. While the concept of cloud computing has been around since the 1950’s it’s really only since companies like Salesforce.com, Google and Microsoft entered the space in a meaningful way in the mid-2000's that the cloud computing industry really flourished and has since radically changed the face of enterprise and personal technology usage.
So stepping back from this for a moment I tried to envisage what real disruptive change might look like in the localization industry. For starters I think that the term localization may become defunct or certainly less mainstream and relevant. The term itself infers a process latency that may very well not be tolerated by future generations. Will there be a willingness to wait for a third party intermediary or service provider to produce a meaningful representation of the information you need to consume in a language or format native to you? Perhaps in many instances that willingness may exist but it is also just as likely that for many everyday experiences and mainstream consumer interactions that this will not be tolerated and a more immediate solution will be required.
So what will these new solutions look like and how might they work?
Each and every thought and experience that we have in life is in some way entirely dependent on our ability to acquire, perceive, interpret, process and accumulate information. Whether it’s reading a book, speaking with a friend, participating in a sporting activity, watching a movie, coding software or whatever, there is a continual information flow at play. When you consider information in its most native and fluid form and if you extend the notion that in the future that little or no latency may be tolerated in deciphering language to undertake or complete any and every kind of activity such as those listed previously, then how will technology need to evolve to satisfy these onerous demands?
I think that wearables will have a big role to play. The first iteration of Google Glass has not fully succeeded. Google state that ‘the journey doesn’t end here’ and now we also have devices such as Oculus Rift (recently purchased by Facebook) and even virtual reality devices made out of cardboard courtesy of a Google Cardboard. We should fully expect similar innovations to become common place in the future. Within this kind of technology there will be language solutions that will identify language types and automatically render it in specific native forms for the user thereby negating the need for a traditional localization step. This will work with any kind of text or multimedia based formats and will potentially negate the need to translate any kind of visual based content. This may have a significant impact on how companies produce content and in particular localized content in the future.
Our industry exists more or less exclusively on the premise that the source content will always be altered or localized in to a variety of suitable target locales to then be consumed by an organizations customers or users. In the future it’s just as likely that consumers will self-serve and will have the technologically assisted ability to interpret non-native language content on demand. This process would revolutionize our industry and would set technology and the ability to provide these kinds of solutions to the fore.
Similar solutions will emerge to process every day spoken language and may also depend on some kind of wearable or even implanted technology which will render language barriers obsolete in spoken conversation.
These are the kinds of radical forces that will ultimately disrupt what is now known as the localization industry. Like many industries the disruptive force is more likely to come from outside the confines of today’s industry than within.
Ultimately there is always likely to be a need to produce localized content in the manner in which it is currently being produced albeit technology will continue to have a far greater influence on how this occurs. However, as the world becomes a truly more intimate, collaborative, familiar and ultimately smaller, conversant environment, solutions will come to the fore that will change the way we communicate forever. These will not signal the death knell for the localization industry but will likely open up a whole new category of innovation, opportunity and application.