Today, many enterprises are globally distributed and operate in a multi-language setting. For example, a car manufacturer creates images of his portfolio and uploads them to a digital asset management system. Car dealers from around the world search this database to retrieve the latest product photos and brochures. They will only find relevant material if metadata and keywords are maintained in their language, too. Therefore, a digital asset management system must provide full multi-language support.

However, what does full multi-language support actually mean? Taking a closer look shows that there are different levels to multi-language support, which I discuss in detail in this post.

Software UI in different languages

One very obvious requirement is that the client software used should be available in multiple languages. Most users prefer working with a graphical user interface localized in their native language. A localized user interface is especially important for occasional users, e.g. the car dealers downloading the latest product photos and brochures. As they are not working with the tool on a daily basis, they are less willing to invest too much effort into learning it. Instead, the tool must be adapted to their needs, which is greatly supported by a localized user interface.

Let’s take a look how Cumulus handles this. A Cumulus user can select the UI language. In the case of our our publishing portal Sites, the initial language is selected based on the preferred language set in the web browser. Therefore, most occasional users will never need to manually switch the UI language as pages are automatically served in their preferred language.

Cumulus Sites login page served in Japanese.

Full support for foreign character sets

Having nice UIs is ideal, but we also need to enter, maintain, and read data to do our job. For this purpose, mankind came up with quite a few languages in the past 5,000-something years. For example, today Wikipedia is available in more than 280 different languages. And many of those languages don’t use Latin characters at all, but instead have their own characters like us Germans with our strange umlauts (ä, ö, ü) and our beautiful but often neglected ß.

For a modern software tool, it is essential to support those characters, because users should be able to maintain information in their native language and also correctly display them. The screenshot below shows a notes field in Cumulus maintained in English and Japanese.

As you can see, it is possible to mix different characters in a single field as done in the Japanese notes. So when you look for a DAM system, make sure there are no problems with non-Latin character sets. Otherwise, you will run into trouble as soon as you go global.

Here is a screenshot of the notes field in Cumulus maintained in English and Japanese.

Localized metadata description

In the screenshot above, we saw a notes field maintained in two languages. However, a Japanese user might not know what “notes” means. Therefore, it must be possible to translate the name of metadata fields, too. This is also possible in Cumulus. Depending on the preferred language, the name of a field can be shown in the preferred language if available. The following screenshot shows the above example, but this time how it would look to a Japanese user.

Here is an example of Cumulus for a Japanese user.

The names of all metadata fields shipped with Cumulus are already translated. In addition, an administrator can provide a translation for all custom fields created. Some fields might include a fixed list of options to choose from (e.g. different status values for a status field), which can, of course, also be translated. Again, this is an important piece to ensure great usability.

Metadata in multiple languages

The final element in a truly multi-language solution is support for maintaining metadata in different languages. For example, usage rights of a photo might differ between countries. Therefore, a Japanese car dealer is not interested in the English legal constraints in case there are specific ones for Japan.

Cumulus provides full support for maintaining metadata in multiple languages. Besides translation of metadata of a file, Cumulus also allows translation of categories and keywords. Here is an example: I created a keyword “Scooter” to tag photos of such motorbikes. I also translated this keyword to German “Motorroller” and Japanese “スクーター”. In the following screenshot, I’m signed-in as an English user searching for the Japanese translation of the keyword.

Here is a screenshot, signed-in as an English user searching for a Japanese translation.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the search functionality is intelligent enough to discover that my Japanese search term is the translation of a keyword and that I’m most probably looking for files tagged with this keyword. Again a great helper to strive in a multi-language setting!

Maintaining localized metadata

There are different approaches of how to get localized metadata. Let’s discuss the most prominent ones:

  1. Metadata is maintained by a central unit also responsible for translation. Such a user configures its client in a way that he can directly enter a metadata field in all required languages without manually switching between them.
  2. Translation is done by local users. In this case, they configure their client in a way to show a field only in their preferred language. If the field is not yet available in their language, a default language is displayed instead. If they encounter such an un-translated field, they enter the translation.
  3. Translation is done by an external agency. Periodically, a Microsoft Excel or CSV file is sent to the agency for translation. In larger settings, this can be an automated workflow, exporting content to be translated every night and updating assets with translations as soon as the translations are uploaded by the agency to some drop folder.

As with all aspects of a DAM project, carefully planning is also key in case of translations. First, make sure you only have as few metadata fields as possible to minimize the overall maintenance effort. Second, make sure you establish a common vocabulary and also come up with approved translations for the most important terms (think of the business objects in your company!). Third, review what really needs to be translated and for which languages. And finally, make sure you’ve got a DAM tool to fully  support multi-language settings.