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Nonprofit spreads the word with multilingual website

The global economy is spurring companies to make Web sites in many languages. Translation is the name of the game. Find out how one organization is tackling the task.

Translation became an integral part of The Well Project soon after it launched its website in 2003. The Atlanta not-for-profit is a Web portal for women with AIDS and HIV, a population that is increasing and dying at record rates. "Every 15 seconds a woman is infected with AIDS. Every 29 seconds a woman has died," chief operating officer Richard Averitt said. "We have an extraordinary sense of urgency."

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Most HIV websites function as libraries and repositories for AIDS research, Averitt explained -- useful for highly trained specialists but often daunting for caretakers and patients. In an effort to reach the broadest possible audience, The Well Project adopted a conversational style and pitched its multilingual website to an eighth-grade reading level. The unintended consequence was a rush of foreign visitors. The site became the No. 1 destination for non-English speaking people seeking information on AIDS.

Lean, if not mean, the four-person organization could not afford a translation memory system on a budget of less than $1 million. "We didn't have the tech expertise on staff, even if we could," Averitt said. The content certainly could be outsourced for a "one-off" translation into another language, but that begged the question of how to keep pace with the rapidly changing subject matter. "We make edits every day. A day later, the Spanish site, for example, would be obsolete. That didn't seem appropriate," Averitt said.

Working with Waltham, Mass.-based Lionbridge Technologies Inc., a $400 million provider of translation and other offshore services, and with its content management vendor EMC Corp., which donated software, The Well Project designed a translation architecture that manages and automates the translation process for the multilingual website in real time.

"We were able to plug in Lionbridge's Freeway product, which is a connector to our content management system, Documentum, and build some workflows that then make the translation cycle a managed and automated process," Averitt said. When an editor writes an article or makes changes to the Web content in English, a copy is pulled in automatically by Lionbridge's Freeway product to the appropriate Lionbridge translator or translators. The translated documents are checked one final time by a third-party editor before going back to The Well Project's e-content person for publication on the website.

You have to get yourself outside of the project cost and look at the scope of this new globalized site that you're trying to create.
Richard Averitt 
COOThe Well Project
Minus the software donated by EMC, the project cost about $300,000. Averitt said it might have been cheaper to hire a small company to do one-off translations.

"But then we don't have the ability over time to leverage that into anything else. To be able to use the Software as a Service model by getting Freeway as part of it, and not being concerned about our own translation memory and having to manage all that, we felt it was a much smarter investment," Averitt said. "You have to get yourself outside of the project cost and look at the scope of this new globalized site that you're trying to create."

The multilanguage platform is now a two-way street, with local sites producing and sharing information with the U.S.-based site.

It helps to be passionate about spreading the word. The driving force and founder at The Well Project is Averitt's sister, Dawn, who learned she was HIV positive at age 19. "A middle-class white girl from a conservative Southern family dying of AIDs made no sense to us," Averitt said, adding that the family kept his sister's illness secret at first. She in turn relentlessly researched treatments for the disease, and with family support became one of the first women enrolled in a then-experimental treatment using protease inhibitors. She is now married with two small children, a fate she credits in large measure to her access to cutting-edge information. "Our mission is broad and simple: to change the course of the AIDs epidemic by focusing on women. We want to get relevant information to HIV women and the people who care for them," Averitt said.

The Well Project harbors no illusions that the bulk of women with AIDS get on the Internet every day, Averitt said. But its research shows that the large majority of peer AIDS counselors and caretakers, indeed some 85%, have an email address and use the Internet. "The Internet is the great leveler. At the end of the day we want to use technology to get information everywhere and anywhere to any people who want it."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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