The world doesn't communicate in one language and neither should businesses, which means enterprises that rely on social collaboration tools to close the gaps among globally dispersed employees need multilingual applications.
Social software with multilingual applications and translation services can improve employee collaboration, regardless of the languages they speak.
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Igloo, a social business software provider, recently introduced Google Translation services to its line of Web-based social collaboration software. The latest software release -- Pearl -- gives users the freedom to collaborate in the language of their choice, said Stephen Rahal, marketing and communications director of Ontario, Canada-based Igloo Inc.
The latest software version is typically deployed within a corporate intranet and allows employees to communicate in their native language -- regardless of location, he said.
"Internal employees can define their language preference, and instantly post and share ideas, or collaborate on a piece of content," Rahal said, noting the current software update supports translation of blogs, wikis, forums, events and comments, but cannot translate uploaded files or content.
Pearl currently uses Google Translation services to support Spanish, French, English and Portuguese, and Rahal noted future updates will support German and Italian. "Our users are asking for multilingual support, and we are going to keep adding languages as we see fit," he said.
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The software update is available via download to new users. Existing Igloo users will be updated automatically.
IpSwitch Inc., the network monitoring vendor known for its WhatsUp Gold product, has been an Igloo customer for the past two years. It uses Igloo for its public-facing customer community site, which provides support and allows users to communicate with each other.
Lexington, Mass.-based IpSwitch will be using the multilingual support, said Jason Williams, community manager of IpSwitch's network management division.
Williams noted 55% to 60% of users on IpSwitch's community site are located outside of the United States. International users frequently reach out to the community for software assistance from other users, but it can be hard to get the support they are seeking, he said.
"This new multilingual update will be a big benefit to our users because they'll be able to select their native language," Williams noted.
Multilingual applications: Will words lose meaning?
While having multi-language support embedded within an enterprise social collaboration application can be a plus for worldwide enterprises, users must keep in mind words can only be translated to a point before meaning may be lost.
Google translator can accurately translate words, but meaning and context can be another story.
"Google translator works really well until you get into market-specific language. While it can catch general discussion among employees using social software, it can lose meaning if it is applied to actual content," said Ira Weinstein, partner and senior analyst at Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research.
"Enterprises should be asking themselves how important each message is," he said. "What is better for the user -- getting the message immediately in [his/her] language that isn't necessarily completely accurate, or getting the original message in a different language that [he/she] can struggle through?"
Multilingual applications: Social syntax is secondary
Instead of translating files or content, Igloo has focused on translation services for user comments and microblogging -- a great strategy for enterprises looking to communicate better internally, while keeping intellectual property and work product in its original language, Weinstein said. A company won't want to rely on Google Translation for producing advertising copy that might contain idioms that can get lost in translation.
There is a little more leeway for internal discussions on a social business platform, said Rob Arnold, senior industry analyst at San Antonio, Texas-based Frost & Sullivan Inc.
"Translation via a service like Google Translator is very well suited for quick comments or discussion between internal employees that might be located in different countries with different native languages," he said.
But files or other work-related content should be kept to a common language agreed upon by the enterprise, as many worldwide enterprises have in place today, Weinstein noted.
"There are still language guidelines that [an] enterprise can have in place -- like if a company is headquartered in the U.K., they agree their official language as a company is English," Frost's Arnold added.
But business is global, and enterprises know the word doesn't live and breathe in English, Weinstein said. "This kind of social flexibility can be very useful for enterprises."