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The Meltdown: Historic Changes for GALA and the Language Industry

Serge Gladkoff, GALA Standards Director and Hans Fenstermacher, GALA CEO
December 20, 2012

As technology develops, so must the localization industry. Read about how GALA's new standards program will confront the changing landscape of the industry.

“We’ve been living above an entire world, and we didn’t even know it.”
– Ice Age 3: the movie

These are historic times. Whether we realize it or not, we have been living in a sort of ice age, locked into models of thinking and behavior, frozen in time between the old and the new. And sometimes it seems like we have plenty of time to adjust to what’s coming, to shift from “the way things used to be” to “the way things are going to be.”

Dream on. Like creatures of old, we in the language industry are about to be hit with a flood of epic proportions. Longstanding frozen barriers are rapidly melting away: isolated labor is blending into collective activity; the desktop is dispersing into the cloud; individual ideas are being swept up into social creativity; proprietary and locked is giving way to open and free; and analog long ago was eroded by digital.

Like the characters in 20th Century Fox’s Ice Age™ movies, the language industry is being swept up in technological and other shifts that are literally transforming the landscape of our business. We are well past the point of small cracks in the “ice”; our whole world is about to flood. The Meltdown is upon us. But this is not the time to run screaming for the hills. Instead, we need to take a deep breath and assess how we are going to react as our industry enters a new era.

Historic Tectonic Shifts

We have seen mammoth change before. Our industry experienced huge changes from B.C. (Before Computers) to M.C. (Mainframe Computing) and then to P.C. (Personal Computing) over the past 30 years or so. As we moved through these eras, our world blossomed, then froze in an effort to keep change from happening again.

We’ll leave the B.C. era to historians (although some of us still remember looking at the world through punch card holes). But as we crossed into the digital age and mainframe computing came into its own, hardware and software were proprietary, incompatible, closed systems with limited access. The paradigm was still locked into B.C.-era paper-based processes. There was no connectivity at all, so knowledge was proprietary, too. Collaboration was difficult and had to overcome many organizational barriers, made worse by the virtual “slavery” of professionals confined within corporations. (Not that there weren’t any “good old days” – relationships were quite stable between entities, and innovation and competition were slow.) Software development could only be done in corporations, with research funded by the government or enterprises.

When personal computers arrived on the scene, we entered the P.C. era, but an “ice age” of sorts was already forming. The IBM PC boosted smaller enterprises with capabilities they couldn’t even dream of before, but it was the lone standard. Microsoft’s proprietary Windows and Office tools hugely increased business productivity worldwide, but it was a near-monopoly in an age where computer literacy was still low. Even within that rigid context, though, collaboration between enterprises grew, and new markets opened. Our own industry became a global “localization” industry, emerging in the nexus between information technology and translation. Professionals with IT skills were in exceptionally high demand. As venture funding proliferated, research and development – indeed, innovation – ceased to be the dominion only of large enterprises. The P.C. era, which arguably peaked around the year 2000, was a world locked in “ice” of its own making, but that ice glimmered with gold for those who knew how to find it.

With technology’s glacial tempo rapidly accelerating, the ice has been dripping ever since. As the internet spread its warm embrace, rigid relationships between clients and suppliers have been thawing and loosening. Volatility and instability are now the order of the day. The dam of knowledge has burst wide open (think Wikipedia) and global search now makes it possible to leverage that knowledge like never before. The P.C. era has made the acquisition of complex knowledge quick and easy, and that has made for a harsher and more competitive landscape for translation and localization.

A New World of Movement

The Meltdown we are now seeing at the end of the P.C. era has brought with it many far-reaching changes, of course. But two critical ones stand out for the language industry: total connectivity and mobility.

The population of the Earth has been growing at a near-constant rate for the past four decades. Nearly everyone entering the workforce now has grown up computer literate and connected. The way people now connect has dramatically changed. Instead of the P.C.-era standard hardware and proprietary software, we now have controlled, paid distribution channels (iTunes, XBox, Kindle, Google Play, etc.) that increasingly don’t require specific hardware. Indeed, the explosion of connectivity has given rise to giants of the online economy like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and others, who are thriving in an online market connecting unthinkable numbers of people.

How can these platforms, applications, and formats be compatible? Through content – text, graphics, and video – wrapped in open standards. Hardware doesn’t really matter anymore; what matters is the availability and portability of content and data. That is precisely why standards have gotten so much focus and attention of late. Here come HTML 5, XLIFF, and others – they are defining open infrastructure models in our industry. And if you’re not tuned into this, the very ground you’re standing on is about to be flooded.

On top of all this connectivity comes extreme mobility. There are 7 billion consumers out there, and they’re reachable directly – or soon will be – wherever they happen to be located. And a personal computer (what a lovely anachronism now!) is not in the least bit required. Twenty years ago, we had to invest a considerable amount of money in network equipment to have a 10Mbps network in our offices. As soon as we left the office, that connectivity was gone. But now we are in an age where LTE Advanced technology can offer speeds of up to 100Mbps on smartphones and tablets that we take with us wherever we go. P.C.-era denizens couldn’t even dream of the amount and types of communication between people we are now seeing.

Sink or Swim… Together

What does all this mean for interactions in the language industry?

After the Meltdown, we are going to see much more dynamic engagement that extends beyond all existing borders – of enterprises, industries, countries, and languages. Dynamic working networks will spring up everywhere. The abundance and accessibility of data, global systems, platforms and tools will all change the way we acquire and use knowledge. Ideas and trustworthy, mutual engagement will drive brainstorming and production. The P.C. era will give way to a post-Meltdown era of Social Collaboration.

To respond to these challenges, LSPs, tools providers, content developers, and all players in the language industry need to be smarter than we were in bygone days. We need to cooperate and collaborate, not only because now we truly can, but also because it is the new way of the world. Those in our midst who don’t collaborate with others will soon find themselves losing out on opportunities and falling behind.

Collaboration means more than having a Facebook page, a profile on LinkedIn, some files on Google Drive, and tweeting. The new collaborative paradigm means participants are distributed, peers are connected, work is interactive, and ideas are shared. Innovation goes up, down, and across the supply chain. But real cooperation also requires a certain level of trust. Intuitively humans only collaborate to the extent they trust others. As the ice of the P.C. era melts away, we may see trust building mainly through discussions in social networks and networking at conferences right now, but this is only the beginning of the Social Collaboration era. Over time, more ways will appear to establish trust and form collaborative networks.

But why should we wait? We have an ideal vehicle to navigate the post-Meltdown landscape: our own industry association, GALA. Our organization has been helping us build the foundation for trust and collaboration for years. With qualities like non-profit, democratic, open, independent, and shared in its very DNA, isn’t GALA in an ideal position to support us collectively in our new environment?

GALA – A Vessel for the Industry

Less than two years ago, GALA launched its Standards Initiative in a quest to shed light on common protocols that underlie communication, collaboration, interoperability, and more. In that short time, it has become clear that we need to move from a mission of learning and dissemination to one of participation and collective action. GALA needs to become our vehicle for collaborative research and engagement.

GALA members need insight into the industry’s future and knowledge of what to do to be more competitive. Traditionally, that insight came from attending industry forums, individual research, and forging relationships one by one. But today – in the era of Social Collaboration – we have much richer ways to achieve these goals. In 2013 and beyond, GALA’s Standards Initiative will broaden its focus from just standards and protocols to become an industry platform that empowers members to address a core need: ongoing, collective research and development. Standards are key to our ability to work together, but concrete application of those standards in collective research projects will connect us to future successes in ways that standards alone never could.

In the new era of Social Collaboration GALA is working hard to create non-proprietary, trustworthy, open, and unbiased engagement for us all. We have built many of the tools needed to make this a reality – world-class events, the GALA Connect social platform, a globally connected Standards Initiative, and more. It all adds up to an unprecedented opportunity for us to come together and advance our industry. As the ice age recedes before our very eyes, let’s embrace the opportunity to build a new future together. No one else is going to do it for us.

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