Conferences, Localization


In the absence of a predetermined agenda, participants create their own event, and a learning experience that continues beyond the conference.


It’s April 27, we are in one of the spacious conference rooms on the premises in San Mateo; breakfast ranges from bagels with cream cheese to slices of fresh fruit and, of course, coffee and tea. It’s 8:30 am, people are arriving for the third annual Localization (l10n) Unconference in Silicon Valley. I go to the reception desk to help distribute badges to the incoming attendees who will number around eighty. I see many well-known local faces: internationalization (i18n) engineers, localization managers, international product managers, client and vendor-side project managers, translators, tool and translation vendors, machine translation and QA experts. There’s some fresh blood as well: young students who are about to graduate from the Monterey Institute of International Studies. It seems more crowded than last year, and I notice even more buzz and excitement for this unconventional meeting—where it’s up to the participants to create the event. The beauty of an unconference is that by definition there are no predetermined agendas, PowerPoint presentations or sales pitches. So I find myself with dozens of people standing in front of a long wall full of whiteboards where the moderators have hung 3×2’ blank sheets of paper that will soon be densely written with topics, headers and bullet points. We are passing each other felt-tip pens of various colors to mark the topics that we want to nominate for further discussion, or to add our own.

Eventually I count eight fully marked-up multicolored papers.

Hot topics
The first is filled with every flavor of question about “Testing”: is A/B testing relevant for l10n; should we outsource QA to language service providers (LSPs), or hire in-house, or tap people in-house from other jobs; is it OK to use crowd-sourced testing?

The “Process Automation” sheet is next: what would LSPs like to tell clients, and what would localization clients like to tell LSPs? When I read this I smile as I picture clients and vendors in the same room sharing and complaining! Automation of management tasks is another item under this topic, followed by thoughts on the best methods for measuring translation quality, and heated questions about the role today of Facebook-style community translation.

“Big Data/Semantic Web and l10n” is the third sheet’s title. Comments include: what to do in order to increase searchability of international content; how does personalization come into play for l10n; how does the semantic Web help machine translation? “Sentiment mining”–trying to quantify a user’s or author’s feelings in source materials–is the last item. I sign up for this session plus three others.

There seems to be great interest in covering the most critical metrics for l10n and i18n and in discussing those that are hard to calculate, those that show revenue generation rather than just cost savings, or which ones to use to make more effective localization decisions based on individual market requests and customer needs. People want to hear about making business decisions for localization: how to decide what to localize and in which languages.

Other hot topics include crowdsourcing localization and user-generated content: people want to discuss methods and best practices for quality and community management. Then there’s “optimization of content,” with special emphasis on video and other multimedia l10n challenges. Last but not least, localization in an Agile environment gets a lot of interest: how to adapt globalization to fit the scrum model, how to deal with rapid turnaround in translation/testing, and how to produce continuous localization?

An ongoing dialogue
Everything is set by 10 am. The event organizer Teresa Marshall, Senior Manager of Localization at, is at the whiteboard and draws a grid with the most voted topics. There will be four sessions held simultaneously, in four different time slots until 4 pm: 16 discussions in all. Not bad for an unconference! Each session takes place in a separate conference room, facilitated by a moderator. I am going from room to room, listening to my peers’ challenges and sharing my own, analyzing common issues that we all seem to face in this industry and exchanging tips with others. I am learning a lot. If a session is not what I hoped, I just change rooms. We continue the discussions over lunch offered by Then it’s back to the sessions until 4 pm when Teresa wraps up with colleague Shawna Wolverton, the initiator of the first Localization Unconference in 2008, and co-host Scott Schwalbach from VistaTEC. A smaller group of us will continue the unconference at a pub nearby until late into the night. I’d like to see more translators from our community at this event next year. It’s free and it’s the ideal place for major players from Silicon Valley to hear from translators. RB