English-speaking technical product users rely greatly on the internet. They can find answers in English to their product enquiries on the manufacturer support sites and user communities.  They solve their problem rapidly, with a comforting sense of fulfillment. But for Hikaru, a Japanese user who only speaks a little English, answers are thin and possibly outdated. What if, by typing a query in Japanese, he could access a broader range of answers, both in his native language and in English?

This functionality requires translating search engine queries on-the-fly; it brings together two distinct fields of expertise: dynamic publishing and localization.
Historical partners Fabrice Lacroix from Antidot and WhP are working on the project. We speak to Fabrice and Dominique Trouche (WhP) about dynamic publishing and the new possibilities that multilingual search can bring to the tech doc reader.

What does Antidot offer?

We offer dynamic delivery for technical content, including DITA. One of DITA’s features is that a content module is authored once and reused in the relevant product variants and documents. Dynamic delivery comes right after DITA content authoring. With dynamic publishing, when the end user of a product needs a technical document, he inputs his product configuration or keywords into the supplier’s web portal and his specific technical document is automatically generated in real time. We remove the burden of generating static pdf documents or HTML pages as publishers used to. This older solution has three major drawbacks: the publisher wastes time generating and updating the outputs; the end user wastes time downloading the pdf and searching for the paragraph that contains the answer to his question, in manuals that can be dozens of pages thick; last when the publisher generates a static file, whether pdf or html, he loses the richness and the back-end work put into organizing and tagging the content. The metadata, for example, disappears.

As minimalistic technical information and web support emerge and replace call centers, dynamic publishing addresses the needs of both the publisher and the end user.

Who are your customers?

Our customers are mainly software and IT hardware vendors, telecom and network manufacturers Our Fluid Topics product suits any industry that uses technical documentation. Most of our clients are in China, Germany and the U.S.

What languages do your customers write in?

It depends more on the nature of the product than on whether the supplier is a global company or not. For B to B, it is widely accepted that English be the only language. For consumer goods, users expect to access content in their native language.

Can you give us recent dynamic publication examples?

What we do with hardware vendors illustrates well the purpose of dynamic publishing. Some projects are for internal use, more specifically for the technical support teams who need rapid access to the relevant content. They troubleshoot over the phone and the customer cannot wait for him to page through thousands of pages of a user manual.  Dynamic publishing indexes at the topic level, in other words small chunks of content. So the support technician finds the solution in short excerpts rather than entire manuals. In external applications, our solution has enabled our customers to add a thesaurus, spelling correction and synonyms that align the published technical content to the queries.

What emerging needs does dynamic publishing address?

As internet users, we have got used to the convenience and power of Google, Facebook and Amazon. B to B technical content is lagging behind. Searching is less fun and the answers fragmented. Ultimately scanning tech docs for product information will be as easy and rich as Google.

What are the technical prerequisites as far as content is concerned?

The obvious prerequisite is that the content be structured, meaning it is fine-grained. The user accesses the precise topic he is searching for. Applying dynamic publishing to PDF files would speed up the search, but not the access to the answer.

Why partner with WhP to develop multilingual search?

Fabrice : Content in multiple languages is a challenge from content creation to delivery. It is an expertise we do not have in-house. Associated to our dynamic publishing solution, it can enable the end user to access answers in languages other than the one he wrote his query in. The goal being set, there are some considerations to address: we want to display only the languages the user understands; we want to filter out regulatory guidelines that do not apply to his country.

Dominique : We add the linguistic functionality to Antidot’s dynamic publishing solution. We process the Translation Memories and terms bases and adjust the output to help the search engine find the relevant information in the target languages. We also help Documentation Managers ensure that their content, once translated, matches the users’ queries. This expertise is very similar to localization for SEO but dedicated to Antidot’s dynamic publishing solution.

We would like to get your feedback, as a member of the technical document publishing community: do you value a search engine capable of answering in multiple languages, the user’s native as well as fall-back languages?

Fabrice Lacroix’s career is intimately linked to the internet. A system developer in the telecom industry, he rose to the position of CTO in 1994, helped create the first French ISP and develop many breakthrough technologies. He founded Antidot in 1999 and Fluid Topics (https://www.fluidtopics.com) in 2012. Fabrice is a board member of several companies where he advises on innovation and the evolution of the software industry. He graduated from ENSIMAG (the “French MIT”) and holds a MS in computing from Imperial College, London.