State of the art: multilingual content management

"Why there is a need for tools like Anwiki, specialized in contents internationalization." - Antoine Walter

  1. Multilingual web in the 21th century
  2. Technical problems related to multilingual contents
  3. Technical solutions for publishing multilingual contents on the web
  4. The Anwiki solution: a revolutionary approach
  5. Interesting links for further reflection

Multilingual web in the 21th century

On the begining of this 21th century, people travels all over the world and speaks several languages.
The emergence of the internet helps people from different nationalities to communicate each others. Thought, the language barrier is still present.
Although alternatives exists in order to communicate in real life, they don't exist or are very unusual on web: how can you surf on a website when it's not available in one of your spoken languages?

Look at the editorial websites you're reading daily. How many are offering multilingual contents (not only a multilingual interface)?
A few ones, isn't it? Don't you think that people speaking other languages could be interested by their contents?
Even Wikipedia, largest multilingual collaborative websites, has difficulties to coordinate contents from many languages.

What can explain that fully multilingual websites are so rare?

Technical problems related to multilingual contents

It's not easy to create a multilingual website. It always takes time and costs money for website development.
Multilingual publication implicates several actors: administrators of the website, content editors and translators. Their work must be coordinated and integrated in a global process.

In order to achieve their missions, actors need tools adapted to their tasks and to their technical skills.
Actor Technical skills Tasks
Administrator Advanced (programming languages)
  • Organize contents
  • Define contents which need to be translated
  • Define contents layout
  • Manage editors and translators permissions on contents
  • Manage dynamic areas needing programming (forms, database querying and external feeds)
Editor Basic text formatting : text styles (titles, bold, italic)
  • Write new contents
  • Reread and modify published contents
  • Basic text formatting
Translator None
  • Become aware of the contents to be translated
  • Become aware of the contents being modified and quickly visualize areas needing (re)translation
  • Translate or update remaining translations by focusing on words sense, instead of their formatting

Technical solutions for publishing multilingual contents on the web

There are several technical approaches possible for achieving it, but no one is perfect.
Anwiki has been developed to be more efficient than the common approaches detailled below...

The "easy" approach: running parallels websites

You can run several copies of the same website, sharing the same layout and structure but having contents in different languages.

Advantages:

  • It's easy and quick to set-up.

Drawbacks:

  • It's hard to maintain websites synchronized; website will quickly get outdated and will maybe become abandoned for some languages.
  • Updating the website is not easy, you need to apply modifications to each parallel website.
  • Technical skills may be needed to translate contents.
This solution is hardly sustainable in the long term. It requires implicated people (administrators, editors and translators) to be rigorous and coordinated.

The developer's approach: externalizing translations

Another solution is to develop your own dynamic system (which may use existing ones such as gettext) to externalize multilingual contents to structured translation files or databases.

Advantages:

  • The website keeps synchronized in every languages
  • If you're using translation files or a backend to access to externalized contents, translators can easily translate contents.

Drawbacks:

  • High development skills are required for creating the website
  • Development skills are needed for updating contents and creating new ones, as they need to be externalized.
  • Publishing process is critically slowed down.
This solution implies a massive investment in the development of a custom system. Such systems often need more flexibility for creating or updating contents.

Using a wiki or CMS supporting multilingual contents

There are plenty CMS and wiki engines. A lot of these are abusively called "multilingual" as their interface are available in several languages. But only a very few number natively supports multilingual contents.

Advantages: (depending on CMS)

  • Can handle multilingual contents
  • No developer skills are needed to edit and translate contents

Drawbacks: (depending on CMS)

  • Most of CMS doesn't support natively multilingual contents. Multilingual support was often added after software conception, or considered as a secondary priority feature.
  • Translation process is often boring and ineffective. Multilingual contents are not synchronized, the software assumes that users will do the coordination job.
  • When updating contents, translators have to read again the whole document to find out what needs to be updated. Sometimes, they need to open several windows for comparing changes between versions.
  • Lack of flexibility for maintaining contents: it's often not possible to apply actions to all translations at once. In example, you can't delete a block of text or reorder paragraphs in all languages at the same time.
The following wiki/CMS systems have their own implementation for multilingual content management: Don't hesitate to share your experience on community forums if you tested another system for multilingual content management.

The Anwiki solution: a revolutionary approach

In reaction to this sad analysis, Anwiki was developed by focusing primarily on multilingual contents and on the translation process.
After more than a year of development, Anwiki solution is a free, innovative and effective solution to meet this need.

The system guarantees an automatic coordination between multilingual contents thanks to new algorithms applied to highly structured contents.
Actor Tools offered by Anwiki
Administrator
  • Content management (creation, edition, deletion, renaming, language changing, modifications history, reverting an old revision)
  • Manage contents to be translated and track translations progress
  • Creation of templates and structured content classes
  • Management of users permissions by language, action, contents...
  • Internationalization of dynamic contents, including PHP scripts, which translators can translate very easily and securely
Editor
  • Creation of new pre-formatted contents by selecting a content class (news, pages, products...)
  • Preview and modify published contents already translated.
    A content can be reorganized at any time, thanks to autosync feature: reordering paragraphs, removing text blocks, modifying an already translated part.
    All changes are automatically deployed to all translations, like magic. If some phrases are modified or added, they will be flagged as untranslated.
  • Rich text formating (XHTML)
  • Collaborative crossed edition from various languages, AJAX lock to prevent conflicts
Translator
  • List of untranslated or partially translated contents, in his language(s) (RSS notification available)
  • Contents already translated and having been modified later appear in this list
  • On-the-fly translation tool, easy and efficient: click on an untranslated phrase on the rendered content, a popup with original text appears. Write down the translation, then save changes.
    Translation of any structured or dynamic content is transparency, phrase per phrase.
  • Collaborative translation, AJAX lock to prevent conflicts


Note that Anwiki is not only interesting for its multilingual capabilities. Its modular architecture allows to install additional components, override default ones, for adding new features and connecting to any users/sessions/permissions/storage systems.
Check the features list for more information.

Interesting links for further reflection

Here are links discussing about the need and the lack of efficient tools to manage multilingual contents. Feel free to share such links on community forums

Last edited on 06/03/2009 21:28:56
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