What You See, What You Get

A unique feature of providing a service is the disparity between the implementation / scope of offerings and the perceived / expected suitability. Translation and localization is no different – being a blend of management, linguistics, software engineering, research and of course translation, it is not always trivial to understand the inner workings. Customers may as well ask: What does a service encompass and why? How does cost relate to value? What pieces of information may help create the best fitting output? Why not rely on automation in every step of the way? What is the breakdown of the production timeline? Which management path to take or file format to use? And why are these questions important at all? On the other, the provider’s side of the coin, customer priorities and goals are not always clear.

This imbalance between expectations and information not only affects partnerships, but also delays improvements and finding better solutions. The phenomenon is known as information asymmetry, and it’s an often overlooked aspect of localization.

asymmetry (Klee: Senecio, 1922)

asymmetry (Klee: Senecio, 1922)

We can see how companies, especially in the IT sector take steps to mitigate the issue. The most direct avenue one can follow is to commoditize products or assets that can be shifted to or are already generated in the user/customer space (examples are most social networking sites or Valve’s Greenlight service). Crowdsourcing content generation or even translation and creating an opportunity for anyone to engage can partially address the issue. Not having real-time information about priorities and needs may lead to suboptimal business decisions, and a hierarchical model can never be as competent and productive. Moreover, this solution enables participants to monetize their efforts; a fairly good incentive to churn out better quality work and see how they fare compared to others.

On the other hand, implementing such a solution may do something of a disservice if applied to critical aspects of the business, because it is definitely not capable of producing value-added, expertly delivered content, not to mention the issue of confidentiality.

In the professional space

Which brings us to the topic du jour: what viable alternatives professional solution providers and customers should seek that go beyond the shaky mechanics of the options described above?

There have been efforts to bring customers and providers together with the particular aim to get to know each other’s priorities better. The big difference compared to other opportunities is the emphasis on knowledge transfer and mutual education, as opposed to business-related questions. Unfortunately such endeavours are still sporadic, and in some cases not practical.


The localization industry is only 30 years old (by and large), and in the recent years its footprint has been growing in terms of market value and recognition. The sector is quick to implement new IT and business solutions; moreover, there has never been a common understanding as to what certain services exactly cover – translation, proofreading, document processing and even concepts of localization don’t have standardized definitions. Ultimately, customers have every reason to be confused.

Transparency goes a long way; we can say that with unbridled enthusiasm. As a provider, do everything in your power to remain factual and avoid expressions like “best quality”, “communicate across borders” and “help us help you help us help you”. What do these mean? It is a misconception that sticking to the facts induces instant narcolepsy, but keeping it tight does just the opposite. If you are a translation buyer, do ask questions, because it is the best way to determine if the relationship is a good fit for you. If the cost seems high, ask for value (note that your provider should have communicated the service level and what the price entails to you in advance though). What is the vendor selection strategy? Why? How does the company derive value from a particular service? What is the decision-making process? Why? And the list goes on.


Localization and translation providers place great sway in differentiating themselves by taking the position of the solution provider that offers holistic, technology agnostic services across the content supply chain. Anyone can see the PR value to it, but in this case, the true underlying effort is to initiate conversation. Both parties benefit from a climate where information can flow both ways, and enables the provider to be a valuable consultant in areas of its expertise. It’s worthwhile to tap into that as early on as possible, because the insights gained will streamline development / product engineering processes as well as website maintenance, SEO and targeted marketing. Providers can also be helpful in establishing better metrics for success in various locales and RoI projections.

candy box

candy box


Briefly, our advice for both customers and providers is to make further research in the candy box. Mutually capitalizing on the knowledge and information strengthens relationships and provides resources that help arriving at the optimal solution, and not settling for a satisfactory one when the former is within arm’s reach.

Our next outing is in two weeks; hope to hear from you then!


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