Localization business cases: Sourcefabric

· 7 min read

Software localization is not just an aspect merely in the product cycle, but especially for international open source projects or such products that involve a community of contributors in their distribution. Berlin-based software house Sourcefabric is one such company that understands how to build a community of contributors around their products. We wanted to know how they do it, and how localization helps then get their product out to where it is needed (many of their applications help non-profit organizations), so we asked Theo Schwinke of Sourcefabric and his colleagues Kristin and Daniel a few things about their work.

What kind of an enterprise is Sourcefabric? What are you doing (differently) and what are some of the products you release?

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Sourcefabric is a Czech non-profit organisation with branches in Berlin and Toronto, and representatives around the world. We provide news organisations with the open source software they need to produce quality, independent journalism, often in places where being an independent journalist is difficult or dangerous.

Our current products include the Newscoop content management system, Airtime broadcast automation system, and the Booktype print and digital book publishing platform. Superdesk is extending the range of tools to include Live Blog and Citizen Desk for real-time news reporting and verification. Airtime Pro was the first of our SaaS products for media in which we offer hosting, support and other complimentary services for a monthly fee. Booktype Pro was launched in October 2012 and we also offer managed hosting for Newscoop and Superdesk servers.

In how many countries are you active, and in how many languages are you currently making your products available?

We have users all over the world, with some of our most significant deployments in Central and South America, Africa, Central Europe and the former Soviet republics. The specific languages we support differ from product to product, depending on demand. For example the Newscoop administration interface is available in Georgian, a challenging localization because of its unique alphabet, while Airtime is available in Korean. We have recently improved the Arabic support in Newscoop for both the administration interface and readers, which has forced us to tackle issues with right-to-left text in web browsers.

What are some of the next steps Sourcefabric is taking in terms of product, technology and community?

We have several major releases in early 2014. We've been working closely with a large German self-publishing service on new functionality for Booktype, our book publishing and collaboration tool. Also in the first half of the year, we'll release a new article edit screen and read/write API for Newscoop, our open source news CMS.

We just launched our Live Blog mobile app and we're soon going to release a new version of the web app. The improvements to Live Blog come thanks to our partners at Zeit Online and Finnish broadcaster STT, both of which have been using the software a lot in their news coverage. Their feedback on the software and platform has been extremely helpful, and we want all our users to look at the code and send us suggestions. To do that, we're doing a lot of Google Hangouts and soon we'll be putting together hackathons, workshops and other events to get the community more involved.


With all these tools, we're more interested in attracting partners to help us with development than we are in finding clients. That kind of cooperation will help everyone faster and produce better software than if we just build it and sell it. And we find that it's a model that appeals to many news organizations, even big ones. In fact, we're starting one such partnership in Australia, but we can't say much more about that right now.

Can you say something about the importance of open source licensing for your company?

We believe that a free press is essential to a free society. But independent journalism faces so many pressures -- economic, political, logistical. Open source doesn't eliminate those pressures, but it does give news organizations more security.

Open source minimises or, in some cases, completely eliminates expensive licenses. There are no forced upgrade costs like you get with proprietary software, and no vendor lock-in, so you don’t get stuck with a platform or service you’re not happy with. All this pushes us to provide better and better service, which better serves our mission.

What’s more, when you adopt open source software, you become a part of an international community of users who share their experience and developers who are continually making the software better. Plus open source software is just more robust, more durable, and it lets you easily integrate third-party tools. We build on many of the standard open source foundations, including Linux, Apache, MySQL, Postgresql, PHP and Python.

What are next markets and languages that you want to extend your activities to?

Our track record shows that we can work in pretty much any environment. We have clients everywhere, from southern Africa to Brazil to the Caucasus. We have no geographical restriction. We are currently trialling Citizen Desk in Mozambique for election coverage, and we have a number of projects coming up in Azerbaijan. We’re also seeing increasing interest in Airtime from India and the Middle East. And thanks to LingoHub, we are already localized in 15 languages and we've started on 15 more. This ability to work with local journalists in their local languages is a real strength for us.

Do you have a designated localization expert in your team to oversee the multilingual strategy part of your product cycle?

Yes, Daniel James heads up our documentation and community activities, helping users to translate the interface for each software product into as many different languages as possible.


How did your localization process look like in the early stages, and how does it differentiate itself from how you work now?

We began with a mixture of built-in tools, such as the Localizer which is part of the Newscoop administration interface, and external tools including Poedit. The main limitation of those approaches was that translators are often not too familiar with development processes, and so it was easy for them to make mistakes when exporting or committing the resource files. Also, the lack of online collaboration features meant that two translators would sometimes duplicate the same strings, leading to frustration when they realised that their time had been wasted.

Now we manage translations using LingoHub, we avoid the risk of formatting errors or duplicated effort. The new GitHub push-back feature is especially exciting for us because we use GitHub as our primary repository for development projects.

How do you involve your community in the product cycle and the translation process?

Sourcefabric is very keen to engage and involve our community in improving the products. The Sourcefabric forums are one point of contact between our developers, community members and users. Feedback on beta and stable releases is reported via the Sourcefabric ticket system, which helps us prepare new releases.

We encourage volunteer translators to contribute at any time, especially in the window between the beta and release candidate after we freeze any new strings. This in turn enables the community to update localized documentation with new screenshots, showing those new strings in their own languages. Whenever we release a software update or new manual we make sure to give kudos to those community members, without whom we would be able to reach far fewer people around the world.

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