Why would you possibly change the name of your company after 16 years?!!

Since February 1, when Oak Hill Corporation became Content Rules, I have been asked this question dozens of times. And today, I’d like to answer the question. Actually, I’m not going to directly answer the question. Instead, I’m going to talk about the market for creating technical content, the dramatic changes I have witnessed over the past 6 or 7 years, and how my company is responding in the marketplace.

Bon Voyage Tech Docs

It was in the mid-2000’s, around 2004 or so, after the dot-com boom and bust, when the promise (actually threat) of offshoring technical documentation first became a reality. I clearly remember sitting across the desk from one of my favorite long-term clients (a documentation manager) at one of my large customers. She called the meeting and here is what she said:

“I’m really sorry, Val, but I’ve been told that I must send the technical writing for this project to India. I feel terrible, but that’s what I’ve been told I must do.”

My reply:

“I completely understand. I can’t compete with the prices in India. But ya know what? I know the quality of using writers who have English as a second language. And I know the hassle of working with that time zone – someone is always in their pajamas. I’ll see you on the other side.”

And sure enough, that’s what happened. The doc work went offshore, only to come back once the managers were completely fed up with the lack of quality and the hassle of dealing with an overseas team.

So, we had a few good years. In fact, we had a few great years. Business was up. Things were cooking. Life was grand. I went to Hawaii on vacation. We thought it would last forever, didn’t we?

Not so fast. Along came the recession. The Great Recession. The big, huge, all-reaching, employment crushing, housing-foreclosing recession. And the bottom fell right out of the market.

In the tech doc world, companies large and small reacted by searching for the cheapest possible way to have content created. And the cheapest possible way to have technical content created was to send it offshore. This time, more countries were added to the list: India, Singapore, the Philipines, and more. The prices were a fraction of what my company, a Silicon Valley-based operation specializing in highly-technical, senior-level talent, could charge.

Oh yes, the quality still suffered. The timezone differences remained a hassle. The difficulties of working with other cultures, still there. And the doc managers complained. But, their complaints fell on deaf ears. Upper management was concerned with one thing and one thing only: containing costs. Other problems that might arise in the process were insignificant annoyances that simply had to be overcome. The content was sent across large bodies of water, and no, it was never coming back.

And on the Other Side of the Street

In another silo, across the hall, or perhaps in another building, and in some cases on a different campus all together, localization groups were growing. The world is a flatter place. The global marketplace has truly arrived and in order to be competitive, companies must sell beyond their borders. Selling to foreign markets means localizing and translating the content (both the product itself and all of its accompanying marketing, sales, and technical content). Translation and localization were taking off.

So, about 3 years ago, I started watching the localization world. And I noticed a few things:

  • More companies were spending more money translating into more languages
  • The cost of the translation was sky-rocketing
  • Companies did not know what to do to contain the costs, so they put continuous pressure on their translation vendors to lower prices
  • Localization teams rarely, if ever, spoke to content development teams

(Click here for a comprehensive list of localization facts and figures from my good friends at the Common Sense Advisory.)

Putting Two and Two Together

So let’s review how this all stacks up:

  • More writing is being done offshore, often by people who have English as a second language
  • More of the sub-standard content is being translated into more languages
  • Companies are spending a huge amount to translate the content
  • Translating sub-standard content is difficult at best, impossible at worst
  • Translation companies are under constant pressure to reduce their prices, often slicing pennies to save customers money
  • Hidden costs of time and money spent on in-country iterations with reviewers are rising uncontrollably

When I put two and two together, it seems to me that the focus needs to turn to the quality of the source content. Having high-quality source content, that is specifically optimized for translation:

  • Provides a much better base for quality translations
  • Makes it easier for translators to translate the content quickly and more accurately
  • Makes the promise of machine translation that much more realistic
  • Saves companies money – often a large percentage of money, with lots of zeros

And guess what else? When content is optimized for translation, it becomes easier to read for all readers – even in English. Think of how many customers who have English as a second language read the English source. Why not make it easier for them, too, while we’re at it?

Content Rules is Born

H.G. Wells famously said, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is Nature’s inexorable imperative.”

It became clear to me during the recession that the fundamental way large companies create their technical documentation had changed forever. No matter how much I wished for 2007, it was never coming back. Technical writing has become commoditized and in so many cases price is the most important factor.

Yet, clearly the need for global readiness — taking content and optimizing it for localization and translation — is growing and will continue to grow as long as companies continue to sell to foreign markets.

Bingo!

Welcome to Content Rules. We have services (turn-key global readiness) that optimize your content prior to localization. Sure, we still write, edit, illustrate, design, layout, and code. And in addition to all that, we save you lots of money.

Val Swisher

Val Swisher is the CEO of Content Rules. She is a well-known expert in global content strategy, content development, and terminology management. Using her 20 years of experience, Val helps companies solve complex content problems by analyzing their content and how it is created.

When not blogging, Val can be found sitting behind her sewing machine working on her latest quilt. She also makes a mean hummus.