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August 8, 2012 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Best web practices for a global company's website? How to handle content and translation..?

Hello Hive! So I work for a company who is trying to grasp its global identity while refreshing its website. Currently the site is set-up by regions and the regional sites are available in variety of languages appropriate for the region. (Europe - Eng, Spa, Fre, Ita, Rus, Ger / Asia - Eng, Chi, Kor, Jap.. etc). The principal site is the North American Eng site as its the corporate site and all other sites pull content from that site when appropriate, translate it and post it. Well ideally, without a robust CMS tool this is pretty difficult and because of this some of our regional sites' content is rather outdated.

Well now we are rebuilding the website from the bottom up and have brought in a vendor who will do the programming and a vendor to do the design work. But I am a bit weary as to the technique they are proposing. They propose to create a website database (no this is not Sharepoint, its another platform, sorry I can't remember the name) and tagging all content (pages, content widgets, content ..etc) with metadata. So if a person comes out to create a page they can select content to publish according to metadata.

But because this site will not exist in English only they will be able to link translations of the content to the original through metadata. And track changes made to the original content and the CMS tool will shoot off an email to the translator prompting them of the changes and translation required.

So for my questions :
- I have never heard of setting up content in a database and tagging it and such. Is this a best practice? Is this the future of web design? Is this a good idea?
- What are the best practices to deal with translations and multiple versions of the same site? What are translation strategies of well established global companies?
- Can you direct me to some resources to educate myself? On this concept of web content databases? On best practices for translation of web content in this structure?
- Also resources to educate me on what are the innovations in web design/structure? New technology on the horizon?

Sorry I know its a lot to ask.. but I understand web design, I understand web content but this all sounds fishy. We are looking to build something to last a few years.. but I want to make sure we are heading in the right direction. If you'd like to see the site I'm referring to please memail me! Thanks again.
posted by xicana63 to Technology (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sure, makes sense to me, but you need to know the name of the software and database, ensure it's not proprietary (likely not, the big ones are just resold by companies customizing it), and see what the alternatives are for having this site serviced by another company should things go south / need to have a competitive bid down the line.

But who are the translators? Who is responsible for minor updates (information), major updates (new content), who does the review process and approves changes to go live? Is there a way to view pages/content before they go live for testing? Is there a process/access to pull pages quickly if needed for issues?

As for is it a good idea for your company - how many languages? How many current pages per language? What amount of content? How often is it refreshed? Who would be the coordinator, and manage the workflow and approvals?
posted by tilde at 6:56 AM on August 8, 2012

I can't speak to the transaltion issues but re: your first question:
- I have never heard of setting up content in a database and tagging it and such. Is this a best practice? Is this the future of web design? Is this a good idea?

This is essentially how most of the main CMSes work (Wordpress, Drupal, etc.) That's one of the main advantages of a CMS. The data/metadata in the database can be used to do all sorts of neat things. (Here is some discussion about translations in wordpress.)
posted by pyro979 at 7:00 AM on August 8, 2012

Not thread-sit, but I have agencies that will be doing the translations. I am just looking for examples/resources on the topic of translations. Timing, quantity, necessity..etc.
posted by xicana63 at 7:34 AM on August 8, 2012

Okay, well, I've primarily worked with in-house translators.

So what do you mean timing? Surely the companies can give you file format requirements and turn around time information.

What do you mean quantity? Usually translation houses have set rates and it helps if what you send them is clean enough to allow them to use the translation memory that gets built for you.


Without knowing how many pages your company has and how many languages and what kind of content (simple pages with basic item descriptions? catalog with 4,000 items?) is served, it's harder to say "oh, yeah, just throw a wordpress site up".

And find out what the underside is. Wordpress? Drupal? Joomla? ECM? Ektron? Alfresco?
posted by tilde at 8:01 AM on August 8, 2012

What you're talking about are Content Strategy and Localization.

I think you may be a little stuck in the mental model of the web as a collection of documents loosely linked together. As you're aware, this approach means a lot of re-invention and re-writing: if a global organisation has specific, individual sites for each country, things rapidly get out of sync, and the amount required to maintain the sites rises dramatically.

In response to this, a significant and growing part of web content is a collation of components and resources, assembled together in a way that makes sense for the user at a particular time and place (on a mobile phone in Barcelona vs on a desktop machine in Iowa, for example). This means that "pages" become much more abstract: more dynamic (thus the database) and malleable (thus the metadata, a really important component: text-level searching of sites isn't enough anymore).

Localization is more than the raw translation of text (Google can do that): it is a true effort to make content relevant to users in particular locations. Think of the different time, date and numeric formats in use around the world, for example. Or currency differences and cultural expectations.

All of this means that web content is increasingly "atomized": broken into little chunks that can be adapted and repurposed in all kinds of ways: highlighted in Twitter, printed out at length on a web page, summarized by search engines, and viewed in local languages. Most importantly, all of this constantly-updated content comes from a centralised source (the database), drawn through a series of filters to make it relevant to a particular use-case.

If you want to bring yourself up to speed on the topics, there are a bunch of great writers in the field, most of whom (interestingly) are female: The Elements of Content Strategy is a quick hit (80 pages), available as an eBook, as is Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson & Melissa Rach. Karen McGrane is awesome too.

I hope this helps!
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:44 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Google can do that - respectfully disagree

1. People aren't machines. Machine may know the "dictionary word" but not the actual in use word. Hilarity/embarrassment ensues.

2. Translation memory. The good and the bad (which the people correct).

3. I do like your links, Bora Horza Gobuchul, btw, just have had many many bad experiences with people wanting to "just google it". I've only been involved in day to day hand off and general planning of a workflow, not full on architecting of a system/solution so thanks for that reply!
posted by tilde at 11:32 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Based on limited knowledge about your needs the architecture seems sound and the CMS strategy is the simplest way to go. If you have custom code things get more complex in which case the best solutions I've seen involve map files that contain name:value pairing of phrases in the primary language so that translators can update the phrases independent of the code. The worse scenarios involve copies of the page layout and content with different translations. There lies the path of madness and you are clearly not going that way.
posted by dgran at 11:42 AM on August 8, 2012

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