Keeping our heads (firmly) in the cloud – ITI ScotNet Spring Workshop 2018

Translation technology can be a complicated world to navigate – and with cloud solutions now a prominent feature of it, too, translators have to look beyond simply the local software installed on their PCs. What’s more, there is a seemingly endless list of cloud- based CAT options to choose from. Fortunately, on Saturday, 17 March, ScotNetters had expert Ramón Inglada to guide them through the jungle. New ScotNet member Kirsty Walker reflects on the event.

With the Beast from the East rattling the windows, our spring workshop on cloud- based translation technologies felt unseasonably brisk. Yet Ramón Inglada, lecturer and freelance translator, expressed a passion for the topic that glowed throughout his presentation and was matched by the audience’s concern, enthusiasm and general willingness to engage.

Ramon Inglada gave an interesting talk on cloud technology for translators
Ramon Inglada gave an interesting talk on cloud technology for translators

From email accounts to mobile phone storage, cloud-based technology – in work and in play – is unavoidable nowadays. But what does “cloud-based” mean? Our collaborative definition decided that it was essentially about storing information not locally, but “out there” somewhere. Ramón’s intention was not to come down on the good or the bad side of the fence, but to explore the pros and cons and show us what this technology means for our industry.

Workflow and real-time collaboration were recurring themes of the day. Cloud-based tools facilitate live updates so that translators, project managers and even the client can oversee the process, replacing the messy, uncoordinated lengthy route of updating the project, translation memories and termbases via email. This streamlined and improved workflow can be boosted further with client portal function integration.

Although the “too many cooks” argument (that the system is too susceptible to excessive client interference) is an important one, it is somewhat overruled by the ever- important need to maintain good client relationships. However, inconsistency is a blatant disadvantage: if a translator changes and saves a TM segment after the previous entries have already been used multiple times, this negatively impacts overall consistency. The moderation required to combat this might limit the time saved by real-time collaboration.

Troubleshooting and updates are another productivity-related matter, as cloud-based tools don’t require you to install “heavy” traditional CAT tools – have you ever experienced a CAT tool crashing mid-installation? Clients and developers constantly update their cloud-based tools, whereas updates to local software often  don’t agree with local updates (or a lack thereof) to our computers – and vice versa. This marries happily with maximum working flexibility: users require no more than a browser on an average-performance computer to access cloud-based tools, and that can be a PC or Mac, or even a mobile device.

When it comes to costs, licence fees are almost always eliminated by cloud-based tools, which arguably have as many traditional CAT tool features as translators use in practice – so the additional sophistication of a traditional tool is not necessarily a bonus. We had to remind ourselves, however, that the requirement for good-quality and constant internet can be more problematic than we might expect. This is valid in Scotland, but we considered those working for charities or NGOs in remote places, too.

Privacy, intellectual property and liability presented few positives. TM ownership is an evolving and more pertinent argument, rather than a new one, and it emerged that cloud-based tools add a dimension to it. We value control and being able to prove something is or isn’t our work. With cloud- based technology, nothing is stored locally, meaning we don’t have the source text, target text or translation memory if anything goes awry – potentially a major liability issue.    An  example was given of a client requesting a time-stamped and locked XTRF download; the rarity of this request, though, perhaps highlights a lack of client awareness for the salience of this point.

After a break, we were back in the meeting room to look at examples of cloud-based tools in practice. These included a tool for localising short strings in apps, a tool that was similar to a traditional CAT tool but with an unusual interface, Google Translator Toolkit, Wordfast Anywhere, XTM, MateCat, Smartcat, SDL’s cloud-based platform, and memoQ’s WebTrans. There was widespread distaste for many of the systems and their features, despite our earlier recognition of the many benefits!

Ramón’s closing question – “Do the pros outweigh the cons?” – provoked the same response as to the joke: “how many translators does it take to change a light bulb?”. It depends – on each job, on individual preferences, and on workflows. Whatever the case, cloud-based technology is on the rise and, now that the big players have jumped on the bandwagon, it is set to advance ever faster. We should prepare ourselves and our translation successors for what the future holds in store. We have a responsibility to tell them, “Yeah, this can be great and it’s definitely interesting, but it’s dangerous, too”.

Of course, the workshop and short coffee breaks just weren’t long enough for our strong opinions and discussion! What better way to extend the day than a delicious Italian meal at nearby restaurant Vittoria? From the perspective of this newbie ScotNetter, there was a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Newer to older members throughout the ScotNet ranks made a thorough effort to get to know everyone. From heated debates to friendly chatter, from the serious to the jovial, it was a fine way to round off a well-worth-it workshop.

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