October 13, 2011

Transifex: The GSoC Project that Translated Itself in an International Business

 

"Translating free software is one of the first wedges that we get into a culture new to free and open source software, and people want to work day and night to bring this amazing stuff to their country and language," Karsten Wade, Senior Community Architect at Red Hat, said in a recent interview. "Transifex is vital because it is that initial gateway for opening a new country to FOSS, and it does such a fantastic job of it."

What is Transifex? Transifex is a Google Summer of Code (GSoC) success story. Back in 2007, Dimitris Glezos was a graduate student who applied for Google Summer of Code. "I worked with Dimitris in the Fedora Docs Project," Wade says. "He was one of the project leaders with me, where I learned how much he kicks ass." Wade says that when he found out Glezos was in GSoC, he jumped at the opportunity to be Glezos' mentor.

"I remember wanting to become an open-source developer badly," Glezos says. "For a long time I was searching for the one project that would make me passionate enough to dedicate time and get my creativity rolling." He says that GSoC provided the opportunity for him to create his own project and devote a summer to solving a big problem in the localization community. The main problem they were up against was the need to provide translators a way to submit translation files to a number of backend versioning control systems (VCS) Fedora offered.

In July 2007, Glezos wrote about his GSoC project on the Fedora Project mailing list, saying, "I believe the whole project opens up some exciting opportunities for translations. Small projects hosted outside of big ones now have a chance to get some attention from translation communities without the requirement to relocate their code." Wade says that the idea for Transifex originated with Dimitris, but it was a direct outgrowth of problems the Fedora translation community had with an unmaintained solution that was written and hosted by Red Hat. The Fedora translation community needed a new solution that would bring a real web workflow to open source translation. "Part of Dimitris' community genius was recognizing that the solution was useful beyond Fedora, so while he wrote the initial code for us, it was always meant to be for anyone and everyone," Wade explains.

Glezos says that as his GSoC mentor, Wade helped him tremendously. "He empowered me to aim for a system ready for use by Fedora and encouraged other Fedora groups, such as Docs and Infrastructure, to adopt the system." Glezos was so excited about the project that it was ready ahead of schedule, which allowed time for polishing and getting it ready for production. Wade says that Glezos' ongoing enthusiasm for the technology and wider open-source translation community made it clear to him that the project had a long life beyond the first summer.

From the beginning, Glezos says he felt that solving the problem of submitting files to VCS was only the tip of the iceberg. He believed that developers and translators needed an automated service to interface between them and reduce the technical and maintenance overhead. "Having seen how well Transifex worked for Fedora, I decided to re-write it from scratch to have a more solid code-base for future expansion and extend it with new functionality," he says. Although Glezos worked on the project when he got home from his day job, he wanted to work full-time on Transifex. "By presenting to a few open-source conferences, I confirmed my iceberg suspicions and the business opportunity," he says.

Wade was surprised at how quickly Glezos formed a company around the project. No one would hire Glezos to work on Transifex, so Glezos started Indifex in 2008. "Perhaps it's better this way," Wade says, "so the expertise of Indifex is shared with customers the way the expertise of Transifex is shared with the community."

Indifex now has a team of eight hackers located around the globe: Greece, Spain, Brazil, and India. In addition to Red Hat and Fedora, projects and companies that use Transifex include Intel, Nokia, Firefox, Django, Joomla, Mercurial, Creative Commons, and freedesktop. There are 1,700 projects on Transifex.net, plus a bunch of private projects. "Transifex is open-source, allowing admins to invest safely, extend freely, and avoid vendor lock-ins," Glezos says. Also, it combines workflow automation "handling of source content acquisition, translation, and publishing " and crowdsourcing the work to an online community of volunteer and professional translators. Transifex runs a common, upstream SaaS localization hub, which Glezos says bridges lots of small islands of efforts that used to be isolated. He says that from the beginning, Transifex was built to solve complex localization problems, so it scales well for large projects.

Wade thinks Transifex has a unifying effect, and its team, which focuses on translator needs and works in a fast, iterative, innovative manner, will keep the project relevant over time. "The more that it's clear this tool is the preferred way to get important work done, the more it will be used, the better it becomes, and so on," he says. The vibrant Transifex community doesn't hurt, either. "A strong community is an important value-add of adopting a good, popular open-source technology," Wade explains. "Similar to the right to fork, you may not always utilize that community, but having it be there means you can sleep at night."

Wade predicts that the biggest risk to Indifex could be organizations trimming their community project budgets, but he doesn't currently see that happening. In fact, he thinks he's seeing the opposite. "Companies and institutions relying upon better open source are understanding that the infrastructure of participation is one of the most important things they provide, and Transifex should be at the heart of that infrastructure," Wade says.

In early September, Transifex rolled out new features, such as support for private and proprietary projects. "Support for private projects on Transifex was our number one most often requested feature," Glezos explains. "It will allow more projects to benefit from the service and expand the community of translators." The project also announced new pricing plans for premium features. Transifex is free and unlimited for open source projects. Private and proprietary projects can choose from the Free plan, which allows two users and up to 2,000 words; Basic (€30), which allows 10,000 words and five users; or Plus (€300), which allows 50,000 words and 20 users. Enterprise pricing is also available, but you'll have to request a quote for that.

Glezos says that lots of great stuff is planned for Transifex. "We're actively working on features that will further improve the translation quality and collaboration, increasing the service's usability and experience, and making it easier to translate mobile applications and websites," he says, adding, "The best is yet to come."

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