Last week I was invited to attend another SDL Trados focus group, following on from the one I’d attended well over a year ago, back in November 2016. This was at the company’s new UK Head Office, still in Maidenhead, but considerably larger and swankier – lots of swish coffee machines and trendy-looking furniture. Nice for a freelancer to see how the corporate world has changed since I last worked in-house some 30 years ago! Like the previous time, Trados paid my expenses to stay in a hotel the night before and covered my mileage too; my contribution was my time, but it’s always useful to meet colleagues using the same tools and have the opportunity to put questions straight to the tool provider.
There were about 15 of us on this occasion, a fascinating mix of experienced translators, old and relatively new users, an interpreter and a university lecturer’ plus SDL staff including Paul Filkin and Product Director, Daniel Brockmann – plenty of scope for an interesting day! Fascinating too, to hear about people’s backgrounds and how they came into the profession. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll be saying it again, but it’s so good, as an isolated freelancer, to get out and meet other people working in the same business. Not only do you pick up tips and tricks, but it enables you to put faces to names, and you never know when those contacts may come in handy.
The morning was spent looking back at some of the developments over the year, and since the last focus group, and discussing the benefits of the latest features since we’ve had a proper chance to evaluate them in practice. No new product to discuss on this occasion, although SR1 has come out since the last focus group. I had to confess that I haven’t actually installed the new release yet. Actually, correction, I did install it soon after it appeared, but found it made my version of Dragon (12.5) unbearably slow, so I uninstalled it sharpish, as I value my use of Dragon more than any new functionality! I was interested to hear that one of the perks of the new release is that it is easier to dismiss unwanted fragment matches, as I have been finding it a little irksome to revert to the previous fuzzy match when Trados adds some random text from the termbases/Autosuggest. This was particularly noticeable in a text I’d done just a couple of days earlier, a pdf conversion from German with lots of unnecessary hyphenation, meaning I ended up with random words inserted after the hyphen in the middle of other words. It would certainly have been useful to simply turn back the fragment matching in that particular case, but I’m still not willing to forego Dragon to achieve that… of which more later!
Another new feature in SR1 is Look Ahead; I can’t comment on this for the reasons above, but others seemed to find it useful. Overall, people felt that the new features in Studio 2017 had led to huge productivity gains – one colleague suggested that uplift fragment matching and fuzzy repairs alone had led to a 25% increase in productivity, while others sang the praises of Adaptive MT. I don’t use MT for my work for confidentiality reasons, but my own particular favourite feature has to be the ability to merge segments over hard returns, especially useful when working on converted pdf files.
We also discussed the use of cloud technology: interesting to hear that, according to a recent survey, 47% of translators asked use a cloud-based tool, compared to only 6% in 2013. Equally interestingly, very few of us around the table use a cloud-based tool as a matter of course, although we conceded that they could be useful on the move.
Another question SDL were keen to raise concerned the acceptability or otherwise of a subscription-based product, not unlike Microsoft 365 for example. Some CAT tool manufacturers are heading in this direction and they were clearly interested to see what we thought. The consensus was that it very much depended what stage you were at in your career. We conceded that this might be a useful way for new translators to be able to afford a CAT tool, rather than forking out for the steep up-front cost in the early stages of their career. However, most of us were experienced translators and felt we’d much rather have the option to buy the product outright and have the option to upgrade or not as we felt fit. SDL staff did point out that paying for a service contract did entitle holders to free upgrades, not something everyone is aware of, but you still have to offset this against the outlay for a service package. None of the translators present had taken out service contracts, perhaps because we are more experienced users and know where to turn for support….
After lunch, we were treated to a sneak preview of what might be coming in future versions – on which we were sworn to secrecy! – but also invited to play a rather novel game. We were each given some very realistic toy money (£110 each, if I remember rightly), assigned to groups of 4, and asked to choose, from a selection of 10 or so suggested features, plus one bonus feature of our choosing, how we would invest our pooled money. A very interesting exercise! Each feature had its own price tag, with the ability to use Studio on a Mac costing a steep £150, better integration of Dragon just £105 and other features such as improved alignment, more QA checks or better training a snip at £40 or £50. What was particularly challenging was doing this as a group exercise. While three members of my group were in no doubt that improved Dragon access was essential, only one of us (sorry, Judith!) used a Mac and as such the £150 investment didn’t make our hitlist. My group’s final list included Dragon, better alignment, terminology extraction, more meaningful error messages and a target word count function – admittedly, two of these were bonus features, but we figured a target word count should be easy to do, and hey, we had money left over! Other groups had a slightly different emphasis, including QA and training (onboarding?! – We dismissed the feature outright because of that word!), but it all goes to show that you can’t have everything with a limited budget.
Which brings me back to Dragon: I think I had quite a reputation at the end of the day (if I didn’t have it before!) for being pretty keen on Dragon. However, Daniel Brockmann freely admitted that the system underlying Studio has now been around quite some time and does not lend itself easily to integration with speech recognition software. He didn’t say in so many words that I shouldn’t hold my breath, but that’s the impression I received… All the more reason for me to keep on using my version of Dragon, which does actually work pretty well with Studio 2017, albeit not with SR1. It also crashes if I open pdf files at the same time, but that’s another story!
All in all, it was an extremely useful day. I took away quite a lot, including the view from the other side – why it’s just not possible to incorporate every conceivable feature. Equally, I hope that our contributions will be taken on board by the SDL staff in return, and will help guide future product development. I think it’s great that SDL organise days like this, precisely so that customers can have their say. They anticipate arranging a further six or so similar events over the course of the year, in addition to the usual twice-yearly roadshows (also well worth attending!). If you receive an invitation, do go along and put your impressions in the mix – you can’t say you haven’t been asked otherwise!
Thanks again to SDL for the invitation – and looking forward to perfect Dragon functionality at some point down the line…. 🙂