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How to Create a Multilingual Web Site

By Tony Patton

Lotus’s Domino Global Workbench doesn’t replace human translators, but it makes doing business in a polyglot world a lot easier.

Thanks to the Web, you no longer have to be a huge multinational corporation to do business around the globe. Your company Web site can do everything from providing sales information to taking customer orders and fielding tech support questions, so practically any business can call the world its marketplace. But as more non-English-speaking people are getting online, you won’t be able to tap fully into this global market unless your Web site can communicate in more than one language.

To reach potential customers who speak in different tongues, companies must localize, or translate their Web sites into each language they want to support. To help them do so, Lotus has developed software that makes the process of localizing a Web site a little easier. Bundled with Domino Designer R5, Domino Global Workbench is a separate application for creating and managing multilingual Domino Web sites. (Its previous incarnation, Notes Global Designer, ships with R4.6.)

Workbench doesn’t magically do the actual translation, changing "click here" to "cliquez ici." Real people must still do that (although Workbench can work with automated translation technology, as I’ll discuss later). Instead, Workbench streamlines the process of localizing the design elements in your site’s user interface, such as text in buttons, images, and navigation bars. Specifically, Workbench lists each design element in a glossary and references them in a separate database. Human translators then manually enter new text for each element. Workbench uses the translated terms and referenced elements to create a copy of the site that sports a localized interface. And finally, humans enter translations of the remaining content.

In addition to saving you from having to recreate translated versions of your site’s structure and design elements from scratch, Workbench includes features that help you manage content across the multilingual versions of your site. So a change you make to the English can be more easily propagated across the French, Italian, and German.

Here’s a look at exactly what Global Workbench does and doesn’t do.

The Domino Global Workbench window is the place where you manage the source, glossary, and tagged databases that make up a translation project. Here we see the design elements (the items to be translated) in a source database called Test Discussion 5, along with a list of the actions to be performed on them.

A Step-by-Step Example

Let’s say you want to localize an English Web site into French, German, and Italian:

  1. First, you use the Workbench project manager to set up a new project for the translation. (If you need to translate more than one site at a time, you can create other projects, too.) Give this particular project a name, such as GroupComputing.
  2. Next, you select the Domino database containing the design elements to be translated by opening the new project in Workbench and entering the file name and path to the database. This is known as the source database.
  3. You then create a glossary database for the project by going to the Notes client and using the Global Workbench 5.0 Glossary template (installed in the client when you install Workbench). At this point, you also specify the reference language you’re translating from (in this example, English), and all the languages you’re translating to (French, German, and Italian).
  4. If you want to track information and error messages during the process, you can use another Workbench template installed in the Notes client to create a Reports database.
  5. You’re now ready to create a tagged database, which is a copy of the source database where each translatable element is replaced by a unique tag. To do this, you return to Workbench, select the glossary you just created, and enter a file name and path for where you want the tagged database stored. Workbench creates the tagged database and lists it in its window. If you want, you can scan the Reports database at the bottom of the window for any error messages.
  6. Next, you must open the glossary database and prepare it for translation. If there are any design elements you don’t want translated, select those now. They’re tagged appropriately so translators know not to waste time on them.
  7. After marking the glossary, hand it off to your translators, who manually replace English terms in the glossary with French, German, and Italian.
  8. When the glossary is translated, you’re ready to build your multilingual site. When you do so, you choose whether to create a separate translated database for each language or combine all languages in one database (I’ll elaborate on this option in a moment). After you make your choice, Workbench combines translated items from the glossary with items from the tagged database (which it identifies using the unique tags) to create one or more translated databases.

Voila! You have French, German, and Italian versions of your Web site.

The Domino Global Workbench process works like this: First, you select the source database containing the design elements to be translated. Workbench lists these elements in a glossary; human translators open the glossary and manually enter translations. Meanwhile, Workbench creates a tagged database, a copy of the source database where each translatable element is replaced by a unique tag. Finally, Workbench uses the tags in the tagged database to retrieve the translated text from the glossary and create a translated database.
A Choice of Database Configurations

As I mention above, when you localize a Web site into more than one language, you can choose to create either a separate unilingual database for each language, or a single multilingual database that incorporates all languages.

If you take the former route, a separate database of design elements is created for each language. In the example above, you would get a French database, a German database, and an Italian database. This requires that your Web site have a page up front where people choose which language they want to use to view your site. If they choose French, they’re sent to the French database; if Italian, they’re sent to the Italian database, and so on. This might be a good model for a company with offices worldwide, where a Domino server at each country location serves the local language. Local developers and content providers can maintain their version of the site, and users can enjoy a faster response time from a local server.

If, instead, multiple languages must be served from a single location—say your company has only one Web team, or people in a local region speak a variety of languages—you might do better outputting to a multilingual database. In this case, Workbench stores the French, German, and Italian design elements in one database. Your developers have only one database to maintain. Furthermore, people don’t have to choose a language when they go to your site. Instead, the Domino server determines a user’s language by looking at the language setting in their Web browser. It then automatically displays content in the appropriate language.

Synchronize Updates Across Languages

A new feature added to Workbench 5.0 is synchronization. In a synchronized database, whenever a document is created or changed in one language, other languages are automatically updated to reflect the change. All you or your translators have to do is manually translate any text contained in the change and then review the content after it’s in place to make sure it’s presented appropriately.

When you set up a database for synchronization, you flag each form within the database as one of the following:

  • Translatable says that all documents created with the form are to be translated and synchronized. If you change a document in English, for example, the change is noted in a database view that lists all outstanding changes to be translated. Translators monitoring this view supply the new text, which is plugged into the appropriate language’s site.
  • Global indicates that documents created with the form are to be synchronized but not translated. If you plug in a new image that’s the same for all languages, for example, the image appears in each version of the site, but no one is notified of the need for translation.
  • Local signals that documents created with the form are to appear only in their original language and so are neither synchronized nor translated.

One other thing about synchronization is that when you synchronize a multilingual database, a language switch bar consisting of a flag for each available language appears at the top of your site visitor’s Web browser. People can click each flag to switch between languages. (The switch bar doesn’t appear for unilingual databases.)

Schneider Electric’s Multilingual Web Site

Schneider Electric is a $650 million subsidiary of the European manufacturer Group Schneider, which specializes in the electrification and automation of industrial machinery. Schneider Electric has seven plants in the United States, Germany, and France.

In September 1997, Schneider Electric decided to build a multilingual extranet where country managers and sales organizations could quickly access product information and technical support. Schneider had already decided to use Lotus Notes, Domino, and Domino Designer for messaging, groupware, and Web development. Now the company wanted to globally distribute product launch documentation, catalogues, industrial specs, brochures, and sales presentations, updating localized content in minutes instead of weeks.

With the help of Transaction Information Systems (www.tisny.com), a systems integration house and Lotus premium business partner in New York, Schneider built an industrial-strength multilingual extranet, called Enterprise, in Domino 4.6.

Using Notes Global Designer (the 4.6 version of Domino Global WorkBench), Schneider and Transaction Information Systems translated all the design elements in the original extranet to alternate languages, creating a multilingual Web site. For instance, when French-speaking users enter the site, they see a French screen, navigate through the site in French and call up documents in French. Wherever possible, French users are presented with a French user interface.

"Rather than just the content of the site, all the design elements—the keywords on buttons, text on navigators, text on graphics—appear in the user’s preferred language," said Mark Elder, vice president of strategies and solutions, collaborative applications technology, at Transaction Information Sytems.

"By providing native-language support, we speed the global adoption of e-business systems," said John McElfresh, director of e-business at Schneider Automation. "If we can provide true multilingual support over our extranet, we believe our tactical advantage over competitors in each country will be enormous."

Finally, note that you can synchronize languages across unilingual databases, or you can synchronize all languages within a multilingual database. But you can’t synchronize unilingual databases with a multilingual database.

Automatic Translation Technology Available, Too

If you want to try out the latest translation technology, you can replace or augment your human translators with on-the-fly content conversion. Workbench can be used with the Domino Translation Object to connect a Domino server to machine translation engines, which can at least take a first stab at making your prose intelligible in other languages. You will still probably want real people to review and refine the output. In addition to the translation object and a translation engine, you need the Alis Translator for Lotus Domino (for more information, see www.lotus.com and www.alis.com). This technology also opens translation capabilities to developers through LotusScript or Java.

Whatever your resources for localization—be it human talent or automated technology—building a multilingual Web site will make the difference between getting people around the world some information about your services versus no information at all. These people may turn out to be valued and paying customers. If you have a Domino-based Web site, Global Workshop can provide a lot of the functionality and flexibility to help you complete job.

TONY PATTON lives in Louisville, Ky., and has been working with Notes/Domino for longer than he cares to say. Check out his new book, Practical LotusScript, available from Amazon.com. E-mail: asp01@aye.net.

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