The dangers of blogging

Toolbox logoI’m a keen reader of Jost Zetzsche’s monthly Tool Box Journal, a newsletter for translators about techie developments in the industry. Jost usually starts with a reflection on a translation-related topic. In August, he wrote a particularly incisive piece called Blazing Trails That Never End, about technically adept translators who reach a certain level of competence and then rest on their laurels, confident that there is no room for improvement.
Jost paints a caricature of such a translator:

“[…] the self-trained translator looks for technology solutions by searching the web, newsgroups, and translator portals and by going to conferences or talking to colleagues. They find a first set of technology that they settle on, though in the early years they continue to change or tweak it as they learn more about the industry. Once they’ve assembled a suite of tools that work for them, however, they feel well equipped and stop looking for improvements.”

He goes on to explain that many such translators achieve a high public profile by writing blogs and taking part in online discussions. This, together with their expertise, gives them power and far-reaching influence.

“When they persuasively describe the technology they use as one of the cornerstones of their success, they quickly realize that it earns them admiration and a leadership position among their peers.”

These blinkered translators resist new technology, fearing it may threaten their privileged position.

“They use their status to rail against the new technology […], their rallying cry becomes the rallying cry of many, with the result that the natural and ever-ongoing development of technology gets stuck.”

Guilty as charged

Naturally, I recognise myself in the above caricature. I write post after post about Studio features and, yes, I do get praise heaped on me when I solve people’s Studio problems. I’m also aware that the SDL marketing department is probably very grateful for every post I publish. But my feet are firmly on the ground. I know that many people understand the bowels of Studio far better than me and can do many more techie things with it than I can.

Original intentions

When I started this blog a few years ago I had no idea that it could have the potential to halt the natural and ever-ongoing development of technology. Wow. That’s a pretty big danger, as dangers go. So why on earth did I start blogging? For far more mundane and self-centred reasons. I blog because it makes me research areas (in technology and medicine) in far more detail than I would if I wasn’t sharing my findings. I enjoy the challenge of writing; it’s a change from translating. And posting a link to my blog saves time when newbies ask the same questions again and again on forums. (Doesn’t your heart sink too when you read on a forum: “Why don’t I get any matches from my translation memory?”)

Golden hammer?

Of course, Studio isn’t the proverbial golden hammer and it doesn’t solve every single problem a translator encounters. If you’re a regular reader of Signs & Symptoms of Translation, you might be under the impression there is little else to my life than translating a medical text in Studio. Actually, I love reading about new developments in translation technology and I enjoy trying out new programs and tools. I don’t always write about them, because I prefer to concentrate on subjects I have a good grip of. But at the end of the day, I admit that returning to Studio is like coming home after being away. So although I don’t rail against other tools and new technologies, I do hear what Jost is saying.

Do you subscribe to blogs that discuss topics that are relevant to you? I do. Likewise, I hope my blog readers find all or at least most of my articles interesting. I try to achieve this by keeping my blog focused. Maybe that’s not a good idea at the end of the day. Maybe I should broaden my blog topic range. Maybe I should be less blinkered and more ready to embrace changes in technology. Or maybe I should simply retreat into my translator’s cave and give up my blog before I do any more damage to the development of technology.

This blog post is inundated with me, myself and I. Let me turn this debate over to you, to hear what you think about the dangers of translators who blaze a trail and then risk technological stagnation. Please leave your comments below.

And thank you, Jost, for airing this thorny issue.

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22 Responses to The dangers of blogging

  1. Siegfried says:

    Emma, in my opinion you don’t fit into the picture painted by Jost. I see no stagnation in your development. As I understand it, Jost is targeting a group of people using their blogs as weapons to fight any new development. You don’t.

  2. mf-ablewords says:

    Thank you for this interesting post, Emma. I can perfectly relate to what you are describing, and my motives of writing and reading a blog are very similar to yours. I agree with Siegfried that you don’t fall into the category described by Jost. And I don’t think railing bloggers can stop the development of technology anyway.

  3. Diana Coada says:

    Well, well. As he’s talking about MT, this is not about ”improvements”, or about losing the ”hard-earned status and identity as a community leader”. It’s about letting clients and newcomers know that producing a good translation and producing gibberish are two very different things.

    I don’t want to be a ”community leader”. What I want is to be paid fairly for my effort without being told that I ”don’t continue my technological exploration”, that I’ve ”stopped looking for improvements” or that I am ”technologically stagnating an entire generation of translators”. Seriously?!

    • I wonder if we read the same article, Diana. Jost didn’t talk specifically about MT (although I do agree it certainly belongs to the new technology debate) and I don’t think that the point of his article (or my blog post) is about producing good translations or gibberish.

      Fair payment isn’t on the agenda here, either.

      I think you and everyone at IAPTI are doing a great job to promote ethical issues in translation. Let’s work together to achieve “improvements” in every way.

      • Diana Coada says:

        But we did read the same article! 🙂 In fact, Jost is also talking about himself here, as a fan and promoter of MT, and as a reviewer of many tools he’s included in his newsletters over the years. So maybe he should follow his own advice and stop writing his newsletters altogether, because he is also ”using his status” to promote ”new technology”. But if he thinks he’s light years ahead, while the rest of us are ”stagnating an entire generation of translators”, maybe he’s forgotten what translation is all about.

  4. Jayne Fox says:

    Emma, I don’t think Jost was writing about you, either. Perhaps we should ask him whom he means. 🙂

  5. Jayne Fox says:

    In fact, I did ask Jost, on Twitter. He said he’s referring to anyone who thinks that his/her technology is the right solution for everyone and evangelizes it that way – and people who tell others not use Trados or MT. See:

    • Thanks for starting the Twitter exchange, Jayne, which I missed as I was sleeping on the issue!

      I did indeed understand that Jost was talking about people who evangelise their technology, because his first solution to the problem was to de-politicize the situation. The aim of my blog is not to use my status to persuade people that Trados is the only possible solution (see the “golden hammer” paragraph), so in theory I’m not guilty of the evangelising accusation, but in practice it’s true that if I write “this latest release of X has changed the way I work” then I’m aware that lots of people (newbies in particular) will be influenced by that opinion. So this status or power needs to be handled with care.

      None of this is news to me. Blog posts such as “SP1: the Good and the Bad” or “Studio and memoQ/MemSource: side by side” are a deliberate attempt on my part to balance my content and reflect what I’m doing in real life.

      However, I still think that Jost’s article has a message for me and that there is a kernel of truth in the midst of [his] hyperbole.

  6. I respectfully disagree. I think there’s not a shred of truth in his hyperbole and he’s got the entire argument precisely backwards.

    I was already extremely put off by the original article, which was vague, dismissive of translators’ work to understand and develop their technology skills, couched in a way that actually misrepresents how much translators struggle to adapt and advance those skills to keep up with client demands and requirements, not to mention accusatory in broad strokes without actually identifying the people he’s referring to.

    This more-than-a-little-hostile thread runs through the entire piece.

    My central problem is that in my (very considerable) experience, translator-bloggers do not aggressively defend a single technology over all others or prescribe them as universally applicable. That’s what technology companies do, and have been doing it for many decades.

    I’m perfectly happy to be proven wrong if Jost wants to name names or identify individuals who unreasonably defend a technology on a level that’s exceeds the unreasonable defensiveness of the technology companies themselves.

    I might also add that his original article caused a wide range of reactions among very experienced translators, including those who have been around a lot longer than Jost has, ranging from a lot of head-scratching on one end to a lot of eye rolling (and even laughter) on another.

    I do wonder if there may be ulterior motives behind the original piece. My own personal sense is that its timing and tone were an attempt to throw shade in the direction of freelance translator activists who had decided it was time to more actively confront a few of the more visible translation technology companies that elbow aside translators and misrepresent markets and facts, and who disrespect those who actually add value to the entire enterprise.

    I hope this is not true, earnestly, but I felt the piece was so disingenuous and vaguely accusatory without benefit of fact that it invites speculation on what in the world could have possibly motivated it.

  7. My ha’penny’s worth: as a Mac owner who doesn’t use the mainstream CAT tool(s) I have been shocked in the past by the attitude of some colleagues who consider these tools as the be-all and end-all of our profession. My value as a translator is in the end result, not in how I get there. Yes – surprise, surprise! – there is (more than enough) work out there for translators who don’t use CAT tools, or don’t use the mainstream ones.

    Overall there’s no danger in blogging, but there can be danger in being blinkered (which by the way I don’t think you are Emma; I don’t use Trados and I’m not a medical translator but you write interesting articles on other subjects too).

  8. I came very close to a blog post on this very topic, but I was about to go on holiday and didn’t want not to respond to any comments. I have deliberately not re-read Jost’s piece in question, so as to refer only to the impression I still have of it some time later – I think that is the key to the picture it paints (or seems to).

    Firstly, I must admit I recognised the description of someone who gets a set-up they’re happy with a sticks with that. I’m happy to accept that I’m not the only one; there may well be hundreds of us 🙂

    But after that, my main reaction to the piece was that it comes in the wake of some fairly robust attacks on various purveyors and promoters of various technological solutions over the spring and summer, and specifically some fairly harsh criticism aimed in Nataly Kelly’s direction over (i) her piece in the Huffington Post on translators & technology, and (ii) a Smartling slide offering customers advice on how often they should pay to have a given sentence translated, highlighted by IAPTI to name but one. I’ve even had a pop at her myself in my own blog about some drivel she wrote on crowdsourcing.

    Now all or some of this may have slipped under Jost’s and indeed Nataly’s radar. But the fact remains they co-produced a book not so long ago, so one imagines their contact is fairly frequent. I’m afraid that in my less generous moments, I essentially considered the article to be a veiled “stop picking on Nataly” piece. That could merely reflect a focus on aspects of which I am most aware, while there is undoubtedly much going on that escapes my attention. Even so, more generously viewing the piece as a response to general criticism of several parties over recent weeks and months, it still caused Jost to slip in my estimation. Not that he’ll lose any sleep over that, I’m sure.

  9. Thanks a lot for your comments. It’s interesting for me to see how my work in general and the article in question in particular are being perceived. Here is what I believe in and what I have learned over the years in which I have been using and writing about translation technology and translation: There is very little that is common among us. Not only do we translate out of and into different languages (which has an enormous impact on the technology that we can use efficiently) but we also translate for very different markets, for different clients, for different requirements and in fact have different requirements ourselves. The set of technology tools that we use to do all this is naturally very different.

    I’m a great fan of technology — but after 10 years of writing my newsletter, speaking at many conferences and talking to translators and technology vendors I know that there is no one set that’s good for all. In fact, I think that the ideal set of translation technology constantly evolves for everyone. Case in point: I’m not a great fan of machine translation in my own work, I’ve tried it many times and it has never given me an edge or made my work better. Recently I found a way to use the suggestions of many different MT engines as automatic suggestions on a subsegment level for one large project. It worked really well and the client was very happy. I tried the same process on other projects since and it only slowed me down. What works for one set of requirements did not work for others.

    The reason why I called my newsletter and my book “Translator’s Tool Box” is to reflect the fact that it’s helpful to know about existing tools (technology), file it away and use it when it’s helpful — some of it often, some of it more rarely, some of it never. Just like in a tool box.

    I wrote the piece because I’m under the strong impression that we (and I specifically did include myself in the article) have a tendency to view technology as black or white and like to let everyone else know about that. That is certainly true for tool vendors (and it’s sometimes confusing when representatives of vendors are also seen as community leaders of sorts) but it’s also true for you and me. Technology is nothing, has no value, has no meaning, in fact — it’s all but a tool. That’s what I’m trying (and sometimes failing) to promote and in the piece I tried to ask the community in large and especially the more experienced among us to lose preconceptions, look at the varied nature of the world of translation and realize what works for me today might not work tomorrow and very likely not for my colleague to start with.

  10. While I appreciate Jost taking the time to respond – and I feel his carefully measured words are at least somewhat closer to reality – they do strike me as furious backpedaling in the face of warranted criticism from multiple people.

    To wit, let’s briefly review what Jost actually wrote in the original post:

    “They readily embrace gradual change in the technology they’re already using because they’re able to integrate it quickly into their expertise portfolio, thus retaining their position as one of the public champions of “their” technology. But the more fundamental paradigm changes — where the existing technology is completely replaced by something new — are more difficult. Really difficult, in fact. These threaten to challenge their hard-earned status and identity as a community leader, and might even imperil the important business opportunities that arise from that identity.

    “So what do they do? They use their status to rail against the new technology, converting the perceived identity threat into a platform that allows them to predict doom for the community as a whole. Since they do indeed have considerable influence, especially among less experienced translators, their rallying cry becomes the rallying cry of many, with the result that the natural and ever-ongoing development of technology gets stuck.”

    None of this bears even a passing resemblance to the notion in his response above that he’s “asking the community to lose preconceptions.”

    What he wrote was a full-throated attack on blogging translators, accusing them of “railing against the new technology” and “converting the perceived identity threat into a platform that allows them to predict doom for the community as a whole.”

    It’s important to be clear about why the original post caused such a visceral reaction.

    It’s interesting that my own response to Jost’s article was very close to Charlie’s interpretation above.

    I think translator activists are standing up and refuting in public a lot of the self-serving nonsense being brayed about by individuals who lack the technological background to even make those comments in the first place, but feel emboldened by having been hired to be the public face for translation technology companies with deep VC pockets that feel no constraints about inventing self-serving fiction that works against translators’ interests, and then broadcasting it.

    In the case of Nataly’s comical blog post – seriously, it became increasingly funnier as she went along – the comments section was filled with insightful, thoughtful and devastating refutations of all her points by experienced translators who actually are technically trained and have been working with translation technology since before Nataly was a novice telephone interpreter.

    And Nataly is a nice enough person to agree with all the comments, fair enough, but in sort of a bizarre twist never actually states that the net effect was that she’d just been completely refuted.

    Readers of these comments who follow me on Twitter no doubt saw that at the time Nataly’s article came out, I challenged Jack Welde, Smartling CEO, at length on Twitter about how wildly inaccurate and misguided the article really was. It was mostly a 2-hour exchange where Jack thought he could try to charm me out of my 25+ years’ experience. He certainly can’t afford to buy me off by a cosmic margin, which is a Smartling specialty, so I suppose that’s the only other option available. Maybe we’ll pick up the debate over a few drinks at the ATA Conference in Chicago. 🙂

    In any event, I think we’d all agree there’s great value in keeping the focus firmly on the actual statements and positions that people advocate and publish in public and holding them to standards of veracity that are at least in the same cosmic neighborhood as reality.

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  12. It is, of course, easy to see the connection with Nataly and other interested parties of that camp, who have involved Jost and others in their well-financed, long-term strategy of disinformation and undermining of professional standards and ethics. Whether the perceived connection actually conforms to reality is beyond my ken and my interest; I appreciate the scope of Jost’s efforts to inform the rest of us on a wide range of technologies working from the difficult position of a prior background far removed from technical concerns. In all my time as a commercial translator he has been my best source of information on a wide range of technical tools, and with the wide coverage he aspires to, it is impossible to get every detail right. I have always appreciated his aim for balance in considering the views of each side and avoiding, as much as possible, “ideology lock”. It is certainly true that the great diversity of professional challenges faced by translators make the concept of “one solution fits all” more than ludicrous, but at the same time it is clear that certain solutions must assume a far lesser position than their profiteering advocates claim, and it is perhaps unhelpful to the public good not to explain this with plain words and all due vigor.

    Like Mr. Hendzel, I have some difficulties reconciling the original statement with the quite reasonable explanation here. I think my initial reaction on reading the newsletter was a rather shocked WTF and a decision to avoid and argument with a colleague whose continued contributions earn my abiding respect even if we can’t agree on some matters. And as for the company he keeps, I’m up to my ears in much worse as an indirect consequence of my personal language learning strategy, and Jesus spent way too much time hanging out with tax collectors and whores, so I’ll refrain from joining any stoning of a good fellow who might seem a little too close to TAUS, the CSA, Smartling and that ilk at times.

    Whatever the original and present intention of Jost’s statements, it’s good that they be challenged respectfully, not because of anything involving him personally, but because we need more open discussions of technology, its real value or lack thereof, and the interests which stand to profit from it. To the extent that he has stimulated and escalated such a discussion, I can only be grateful. And naming names is OK and necessary I feel. God knows mine gets mentioned often enough in the myriad LinkedIn threads and other sources where I am denounced by name as a Luddite and one utterly ignorant of technology (surely the consequence of 40+ years of involvement in IT and research science). Or I am clearly the target of indirect attacks like that vile piece a while back on the GALA site talking about the “haters and naysayers” who deny the value proposition of MT as the cure-all for our communication woes. (I can’t forget the hand-wringing of the MpT profiteers at a Berlin GALA event where they clearly recognized and admitted among their own how little they had to offer and the coercive nature of their advocacy strategies.)

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  14. In the light of all these fascinating comments and clarifications, I now realise:

    That in this garden there is light and shade
    As well as smiles.
    In this garden there are quarrels and tears.
    In this garden not only is there truth
    But the odd untruth.

    [Apologies for my incompetent translation of a verse from Atención by Nicanor Parra]

  15. siancooperpublic says:

    Hello all. I am not a blogger – I am an intending blogger, when I get a moment. I am also a new technology investigator and tryer-outer – when I get a moment. But as a happily very busy translator (at the moment), and student translator (for another year) and person (with a non-translation life), I don’t actually get many moments. So, I am always very pleased to read the comments, guides and findings of others (when I get a moment).

    But I do not assume, simply because someone writes a popular blog, that they are God, know everything, and are always right. Nor do I assume that their solutions are always right for me. So whatever opinion all and any may state, trumpet or tentatively put forward, I consider it my right and duty to make my own mind up about what is useful to me.

    I am personally more frustrated by the industry-wide demand for Trados as THE tool. There is a great deal about SDL (as opposed to the Trados product) that I do not like and would like to disassociate myself from. If more people were willing to allow me to use MemoQ, believe me, I would use it more. Similarly there are others that I would like to investigate (if funds permit).

    I believe the demands of clients and agencies centred around Trados as the sine qua non are FAR more influential and restrictive of technological advance and change than any blogger’s voice (even your pleasant and mediating one, Emma!)

    • Hi Sian,
      Great to hear you’re an “intending blogger” and glad you haven’t been put off by this post, or any of the comments!

      It’s interesting that you say there’s an industry-wide demand for Trados. I use Studio not because of clients’ requirements, but because it’s my tool of choice. The only exception is on-line projects with shared TMs, when I have to go with whatever the agency uses. Otherwise my clients only want the target translation, or at most a TMX.

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  17. Diana Coada says:

    Agreed. Jost’s explanation has nothing to do with his original post.

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