Background - Open Translation Tools

Aspiration hosted the first-ever “Open Translation Tools Convergence”. This 3-day event brought together two passionate communities: those creating open source software tools to support translating open content, and those with a need for better tools to support translation of the open content they create.

Aspiration published a paper entitled "Open Translation Tools: Disruptive Potential to Broaden Access to Knowledge", documenting learnings and outcomes from the event. In addition, a video and inventory of open translation tools were also produced.

The event took place in Zagreb, Croatia, from 29 November to 1 December 2007, and was co-organized by Aspiration and Multimedia Institute - [MI2]. Open Translation Tools 2007 was supported by the generosity of the Open Society Institute, with additional support provided by TechSoup.

The event was convened to:

  • Document the open source translation tool landscape - What's out there? And what should we create to fill the gaps?
  • Inventory “open content translation use cases” - What translation support is needed?
  • Strengthen the community of practice around open source translation tools for open content, with a particular focus on delivering value to nonprofit and non-governmental organizations (NPOs and NGOs).

The agenda was collaboratively developed by participants in the time leading up to and during the gathering. Also see additional event background.

Overall, we followed a user-driven approach to map tools to use cases, assessing what is supported by currently available open source software tools and services, and identifying the most pressing needs. Primary focus was placed on supporting and enabling distributed human translation of content, but the role of machine translation was also considered. “Open content” encompasses a range of resource types, from books to manuals to documents to blog posts to multimedia.

The event targeted three complementary outcomes:

  • A mapping of the open source translation tool landscape, enumerating tools and tool categories as well as services, projects and resources, and assessing gaps and opportunities for development. There is currently very little in terms of a directory of translation tools for content publishers, and this event will serve to create such an inventory.
  • An inventory of “open content translation use cases”, with open content creators and publishers describing how they would like open source software tools and technologies to support their translation needs. These use cases will cover a range of tasks (“I need to translate a document into a second language”) and usage scenarios (“I need a widget for my blog that links to open content translation request services and lists available translated versions of my content”).
  • A strengthened community of practice around translation tools for open content for NPO and NGO needs. While many amazing projects are in play all around the globe, there are relatively few opportunities for practitioners in the field of open content translation to meet and collaborate as a community. Open Translation Tools 2007 will provide such a venue.

Context for Convening

Any organization working internationally in more than one language encounters the need for translation of documents; in the growing Access to Knowledge Movement, translation is increasingly a major challenge for open textbook and other content-focused projects. There are some software tools to support such efforts, but there is no comprehensive mapping of relevant tools for NGO/NPO (nonprofit and non-governmental organization) translation needs. In addition, there is general agreement among translation practitioners that tool coverage is hardly complete, with gaps to be filled both in specific feature sets as well as support for different translation workflows. Add to this the advent of collaborative internet-based translation models such as those employed on cross-cultural blog aggregators and the need for such a toolset becomes even more apparent.

NGOs have unmet content translation needs which would be addressed in part by the availability of better tools, documentation and services. The recent publication of the Wireless Networking in the Developing World book was exciting because of its availability under Creative Commons as both a freely downloadable document as well as a print-on-demand offering. But requests for translations of that text to other languages are going unmet because there is not an openly available web-based infrastructure to support delegating and managing translation work on the document. Tactical Technology Collective would like to see their NGO-in-a-Box program distributed in many more languages, and Aspiration's own Social Source Commons platform needs support for making software documentation available in other languages.

The range of creative content publishers at the 2007 iCommons iSummit demonstrated another dimension of the translation problem: as more content is published under open licenses, the demand to make that content available in multiple languages grows accordingly. There are currently few replicable processes and associated tools for getting creative content translated into additional languages, and many content producers simply don't know how to begin the translation process. And further discussion and education is required to raise awareness about the translation implications of various Creative Commons licenses.

Add to this set of scenarios the general information gaps that exist. Many NGOs have a general lack of awareness about the rationale and need for local-language content. The vast majority of open source software developers are largely uninformed about what is missing and how they can contribute to translation and localization tools and efforts. Even those who are motivated to translate and localize content lack access to documents detailing how they should approach localization, what processes to follow, and concrete budgeting parameters. In considering these knowledge gaps, the mandate for convening stakeholders becomes more clear.

Aspiration is friend and ally to stakeholders in the scenarios described above. With the support of the Open Society Institute, we hosted the Localisation Developers Sprint in Warsaw in late 2004. To address the set of challenges described above, we organized Open Translation Tools 2007, bringing together leading open content translation practitioners with the tool developers, projects and other stakeholders. The event mapped out the landscape of open content translation software for NGO needs, work to define gaps and identify solutions, and publish all outcomes in a maintainable, broadly available format that supports ongoing documentation and collaboration efforts, using the Social Source Commons platform as the central repository for collecting and maintaining the body of knowledge.

Open Translation Tools 2007 will took place in Zagreb, Croatia, from 29 November to 1 December 2007, and was co-organized by Aspiration and Multimedia Institute - (MI2). Open Translation Tools 2007 was supported by the generosity of the Open Society Institute.

About Aspiration

Aspiration is a global leader in the design and delivery of innovative technology gatherings for nonprofit and nongovernmental audiences. Our event philosophy and facilitation focus on maximizing collaboration and peer sharing, while making sparing use of one-to-many and several-to-many session formats such as presentations and panels. We believe the ultimate potential and power of any convening lie in the collective untapped knowledge and experience of the participants, and we strive to tap that vast store by maximizing dialog, creativity and idea exchange.

Over the past several years, we have convened and co-organized over 45 highly interactive events across the globe. We focus agendas around user-oriented dialog that connects all the stakeholders in software design and development, and model our events to reflect the diverse and network-oriented nature of the communities we convene.

Aspiration is also developing the Social Source Commons, a platform for collaboratively mapping and documenting the universe of software tools relevant to nonprofits and non-governmental organizations.

As part of our community building work, Aspiration operates the San Francisco Nonprofit Technology Center. The Center is home to 6 organizations working in nonprofit and social change technology, and offers training and meeting space as well.

For more information about our work and programs, see

About Multimedia Institute - [mi2], Zagreb, Croatia

Multimedia Institute [mi2] is a Zagreb-based non-profit organization that sprang up in 1999. [mi2] brought together an emerging generation of local civil activists, media practitioners, independent cultural actors and social theorists who are pursuing five principle tasks:

  1. to present digital culture and to pursue new media practices relevant for critical social and cultural action,
  2. to promote and develop socially inflected approaches to technologies, particularly free software, free culture and open acces,
  3. to protect public space and advocate inclusive urban policies,
  4. to present contemporary philosophy, social and media theory,
  5. to strengthen independent cultural sector and to advocate progressive cultural policies in order to support progressive tendencies of socio-cultural reformism.

[mi2] is internationally mostly recognized through the activities of its free content publishing label - EGOBOO.bits, its meetspace - net.culture club MAMA and its free software work. It's in house mi2lab development team is working on four free software projects: most notably, on its own flavor of wiki optimized for heavy handling of multimedia content - TAMTAM, and a set of financial administration tools optimized for NGOs - NGOde. To complement the free software development, the mi2lab had a residency program for free software developers from the Eastern Europe, Central and South Asia.

[mi2] is committed to promote, advocate and educate in the free software, open standards and free content and to reflect on their impact on wider social and cultural context. In 2003 together with Amsterdam based Tactical Tech it organized the SummerSource social software camp. In 2007 together with iCommons it organized iCommons Summit. It is regularly organizing education in free software tools and free publishing. Wishing to enable the local creators to license their creative works under the adequate free content licenses, the [mi2] did the Croatian localization of Creative Commons public licenses.

"Thank you for bringing together these incredible people, modelling a welcoming stance, and empowering us to develop real relationships!"

Participant, Dev Summit
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