SharePoint 2013 Machine Translations

Although I’ve shut down new subscriptions to the SharePoint 2013 Beta series (pending a new series titled “Introducing SharePoint 2013” that starts as soon as the public beta of SharePoint 2013 comes out) I still have a blog that needs a bit of TLC.

Here’s an excerpt from issue 5 of SharePoint 2013 Beta, regarding a new feature.

Machine Translations

In the very first issue of this series, I briefly mentioned a new feature of SharePoint called translation services. I again briefly mentioned this in the previous issue, and I thought I should expand a bit on that service because I think it’s a potential great feature.

SharePoint 2013 will support automatic machine translations of documents. This will allow users to send documents for translation and get a new language version of that document returned.

Consider for example that you have a multi-national organization that primarily uses English, Spanish, and German to produce documents, or a government agency required to have documents available in both English and Spanish.

Now, rather than having to rely on slow and potentially expensive manual translations of documents, SharePoint users can instead submit documents for translation jobs that will turn the document both to and from other languages than their original language.

If you’ve ever worked with machine translations such as Google Translate or Bing Translate, however, you’ll probably know that these translations are far from perfect.

I’m quite certain that Microsoft has not come up with a perfect solution, but sometimes convenience is more important than perfect accuracy. Most uses I’ve seen of machine translation are not to produce perfectly new documents but rather to get a general understanding of what a piece of text means.

Further, even a rough machine translation will be a good starting point for a later manual translation refinement.

Technical Details

Machine translations happen on the SharePoint server, but users can initiate translations from any client, including client-side object model clients such as mobile or external web pages.

Translation happens by creating a translation item, which contains the path to both the source and destination documents. Users can also submit entire libraries or folders for translation, in which case all translatable documents in that folder will be submitted for translation.

Note: Only certain file types are translatable, and although it’s not clear which types will be supported, it’s safe to assume that at least Word and possibly PowerPoint will be on the list. Less likely are non-Office types, including PDF documents.

However, certain properties of the protocol documentation indicate that the file types available for translation is extensible, so it may be that third-party vendors can add new file types to proprietary file types.

A translation item can also specify what happens in the case of an existing item. For example, if your translate item destination is DocumentGerman.docx, and that file already exist, you can choose to add a new item to that document’s version history rather than overwrite the existing file.

After creating a translation item, the user then submits the item to a translation job, which is a queued item that will be responsible for the actual translation. The translation job is submitted to the server for processing, to be performed when the server has capacity to do so.

A translation job also contains the language for the destination job. As such, it seems that if you want to translate a single document into several different languages, you actually need to submit the document several times. Conversely, if you have a number of documents that you want to translate into a single new language, you can submit all those documents as a single translation job.

There’s also the concept of an immediate translation job that is essentially a single document to be translated with a higher priority than other jobs.

Further Thoughts

It is not clear what types of languages SharePoint machine translations support. However, it is at least likely that it will be possible to extend the available languages for the same reasons it seems likely that you can extend the supported file types. This may be through language packs, perhaps even as freely available language packs downloadable like any regular interface language packs from Microsoft.

It is also likely that users of Office 2013 will be able to translate documents directly from client applications. Word already supports Bing translations directly from the application, and through Agaves, a new extensibility feature of Office that allows plugins to Office, users should be able to connect to SharePoint machine translations as well.

Note: Keep in mind that this will be a version 1.0 for Microsoft. From experience, it is likely that this will mean a fair number of baby teeth problems likely resulting in a lot of crying and sleepless nights for those responsible.

As mentioned, I’ve stopped accepting new subscriptions for the SharePoint 2013 Beta series. If you’d like to be kept up-to-date on the new series titled “Introducing SharePoint 2013”, feel free to drop by the site to sign up for the USP Journal mailing list.


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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.

7 thoughts on “SharePoint 2013 Machine Translations”

  1. Finally, the functionality that Variations always promised to be. I don’t care if these translations aren’t perfect. They will be a good starting point for further translation, and will provide early previews for target language readers. I also suspect that if this service is available in Office 365, Microsoft will use the data it handles to identify the most commonly translated phrases – so they will be able to use human translators to improve their heuristics.

    Please please please make sure that Welsh is included early on. Diolch yn fawr.

    I wonder if the translation services will also be available via SharePoint web services – so that we can include quick translations in the web parts we develop i.e. tooltip panels.

    1. Darren,

      I’ve always considered that variations must have been Microsoft’s attempt at a practical joke, or a way to see how much they can get the fanbois to promote a garbage dump to test their true loyalty.

      I’m not sure translation services relates, though. Variations doesn’t translate, just display two static versions of a Publishing page (and it’s not very useful for anything else) depending on the language setting of the user. Although it’s actually a feature, I’ve never seen or even heard of a successful implementation that wouldn’t have been much more easily served with a simple ASP.NET control and a workflow or two.

      I should let it be known, for any new readers, that I consider the entire Publishing framework in SharePiont to be a cancer on the product.


      1. Lol, this is a joke, I have experience with sp 2010 and I have used variations extensively, its so easy to setup and so easy to control, no need to make workflow or an control You need to investigate before talking or at least when you have some experience with it then you can talk, otherwise shut up.

        1. Interesting, I’ve only worked ‘extensively’ on two major projects using variations in the past 12 months, so apparently, that’s not enough to realize what it’s all about.

          Of course, when the critique comes from someone who states that “We all know that sharepoint only supports .net 4.0” on July 13 this year, I’m somewhat certain that the need for research and experience may not rest entirely on my hands.

  2. Regarding “Further, even a rough machine translation will be a good starting point for a later manual translation refinement.” – Not sure this is true. I used to work in a localization company (think of translating computer software and documentation) years ago, and ran across many translators who would rather translate from scratch than revise MT documents. It was quicker and made them more money this way.

    Also I have the privilege of a mother tongue which is served machine translated stuff on Microsoft’s KB. The first thing I ALWAYS do is click “Display English original” whenever I read such a document. Machine Translation is that good.

    But I’m looking forward anyway to see how this pans out.

  3. Pingback: SharePoint 2013 Machine Translations | Furuknap's SharePoint … | Mastering Sharepoint

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