As a global company with a presence in almost 200 countries, Airbnb’s product needs to be intuitive for different cultures and highly localized for each language. User research, however, focused primarily on the English-speaking members of the Airbnb community, as the little multilingual research that had been done was very time intensive. This created a gap given the highly diverse Airbnb community – a gap the Airbnb Research team was committed to closing.
In 2017, Airbnb launched the International Community Panels (IC Panels), a six-month research project involving participants in nine non-English speaking countries with week-long cycles across the months. Though they had an internal localization team, the team’s top priority was localizing content for the Airbnb product and marketing materials. The IC Panels required incredible speed in order to incorporate feedback into the rapid product development cycles, so this was far outside what the localization team could handle.
And that’s where Multilingual Connections came in.
With just one week per research cycle – nine languages, over ten thousands words each, and up to 35 linguists ready to go Friday evening for a Sunday delivery – this project required a partnership that emphasized communication, clarity of workflow and a high degree of speed and accuracy.
“The only way to ensure dependable, fast, quality translations was working directly with a nimble translation company that could flex with my needs and that would see my translations as a top priority,” noted Wyatt Hayman, Airbnb Research Program Manager. “Multilingual Connections was fully willing and able to create new processes and adapt existing ones to meet the challenge of the IC Panels program.”
Accommodating such a tight turnaround required the best of technology and human translators, in addition to a strong collaboration between both teams.
Airbnb was using an experience management platform, as well as Google Drive and Google Sites for sharing questions and responses among researchers. On Multilingual Connections’ side, they leveraged their TMS (translation management system) and CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools, together with their team of international linguists and project managers.
Once participant responses were received, Airbnb would export a CSV from the platform to share with Multilingual Connections via Google Drive. From there, Multilingual Connections leveraged their TMS to help automate the process of splitting the files and assigning them to their linguists. The CAT tools allowed Multilingual Connections to share a glossary with linguists to ensure consistency as well as leverage translation memory to expedite the translation process.
As translated files came in, project managers used CAT tools to perform a final QA step – checking for extra spaces, misspellings, missed translation – and then shared a master file back through Google Drive for analysis by the Research team. Other separate components of the project focused on design translations, where Multilingual Connections translated and handled the desktop publishing requirements.
Did everything go perfectly every single time? No. Problems arose. Mistakes were made. But translation is more than a transaction, and when there are opportunities to learn and improve, they’re taken seriously.
The impact of the research is already being seen, and the Research team hopes to expand its IC Panels program to include more countries, languages and additional types of community members. Thirty six different researchers within Airbnb have utilized the IC Panels to inform the work of their product teams, and 80% report that the data has lead to an impact on the product. Prior to the IC Panels, these researchers would only have used data from English speaking members of the Airbnb community. The IC Panels have fielded 439 questions over the last 4 months. Since the IC Panels allow Airbnb to share questions with the same people multiple times, it also reduces the survey burn-out on the larger Airbnb community. Engagement with the IC Panels has been very efficient with an 80% response rate from the members.
“As an anthropologist and former user researcher myself, I’m committed to finding flexible options for supporting research, both in corporate and academic settings,” said Dr. Jill Kushner Bishop, Founder & CEO of Multilingual Connections. “We love working closely with clients and finding the best ways to support their goals, and our relationship with Airbnb is a great example of that.”
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