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12.02.2018

Margaret Ann Dowling on how technology can empower publishers to solve complex issues

By Ashley Norris

Margaret Ann Dowling has a long history of driving innovation in publishing in emerging, and sometimes challenging markets. She currently leads Create and Translate, a technology powered startup that is focused on aiding publishers to deliver multilingual, scalable, editorial content creation.

At DIS 2018 she will be part of panel that looks at how technology is empowering publishers to address complex issues.

Here she gives some background on her company, talks about conversational commerce and offers her views on the potential of chatbots and automated content.

 

***Registration for DIS 2018 (19-20 March in Berlin) is now available. Save hundreds of euros on the registration price when you sign up before 13 March 2018. Secure your place here***

Can you give us a bit of background on Create and Translate? How was it set up? What was your career path before you joined?

Create and Translate.org started as a research project to establish if there was a solution to share my favourite editorial projects in multiple languages in a cost effective, scalable” On Brand” manner. I finished my last restructuring job at Burda Poland and the Czech Republic and I started a Program at Stanford GSB in Corporate Innovation. The CAT.org Project was what I was assessing through the course of the program.

My career path started 30 years ago. I’m an Irish National from what is called “ Generation Emigration.” After I completed my degree in Psychology and Philosophy in University College Dublin I got involved in Publishing in 1994 In the Central European Emerging markets. I started in business news journalism as a founding member of the first English language independent business newspaper in Hungary we grew the business into Poland and the Czech Republic rapidly from a starting capital of USD 80k.

I always have looked at publishing through the lens of Psychology and Philosophy. It was a fascinating time to see these free market economies emerge and develop and be a part of that. After a number of years the international lifestyle magazines started to emerge. I jumped from business news to lifestyle shortly after the 1997 Hungarian Cosmopolitan launch.

In 2008 Hungary was one of the first markets to really feel the economic hit  of the recession also as advertising  started to migrate to digital. I have been active in mobile with premium SMS since 2003/4 and APP design really early on, but of course with a legacy business structure  It was a case of permanent and unrelenting restructuring and pivoting.

BURDA approached me after their acquisition of G&J in Poland. I joined them as Regional Director to consolidate their business in Poland and Czech and do a digital pivot.  Rapid paced developments in Neural Machine Translation in mid 2016 had me convinced that it was time to really invest my energy in this project.  I figured now is the time to LEAP. 

On the BURDA project, I worked with Professeur Markus Peschl (who is also speaking at DIS 2018) at the Living Core. Our history goes back to 2012 when I applied to attend his MSC in Cognitive Science in Vienna. With Markus at BURDA we explored using their methodology, where the real future of content publishing could be .. and I say this all the time with a deep love of paper and the finiteness of the printed product. .

What would you say is the key problem that you are solving for publishers and how are you solving it?

Cost effective, reliable, multilingual scalable editorial content creation and translation services.

Emerging problem one: When country by country licensing is finally dead and a publisher wants to maintain their global footprint in multiple languages we will enable that move cost effectively and scalably without risk to a brand voice. It is especially relevant for longtail languages.

Emerging opportunity one: We will also enable new brands to go global rapidly in multiple languages. The digital single market is a phenomenal economic opportunity that can only be captured if you have a lean multilingual content creation capability. ( According to the EU Estimates the IOT is a market worth Euro 1 Trillion by 2020 and could contribute Euro 415 Billion per year to the European economy ) 

Each country and industry sector is facing the same reality with a different level of awareness of impact and agility but the end game is the same. We need to completely re-engineer how we make content to take advantage of this opportunity.

Can you give me some examples of the work you have done recently?

Right Now we are mid pitch with Enterprise Ireland – so we expect to have our first customers within the coming months.

What is the key role of technology in content localisation? And what are the main challenges that you face in implementing this?

It’s all technology, that’s why it is scalable. It is very tightly process engineered and precision driven. 

Key challenges include: user Interface, lack of technical expertise in the publishing industry in linguistics and CAT tools (Computer Assisted translation tools), but the biggest challenge is lack of ambition to change the world. Publishers and editors love to tell other people what they should doing but are less convinced that they should make those change themselves sometimes.

Explain to me about the conversational commerce side of your business? How does this work? 

Currently we are working on a Virtual Beauty Assistant project which is focused on enhancing the retail experience and merging foot traffic with finger traffic to maintain the dialogue with premium customers. 

We see that to have a long term viable proposition publishing  needs to align with industry sectors who we are existentially connected to. I see beauty and fashion as two core partners in this process. Women are my main target audience and I think that we if can address this issue for more than just the publishing industry we can build a long term sustainable business 

Are you optimistic about how publishers can use machine learning driven chatbots?

Very, but you need to learn have to use the tools and change the mindset. The concept of Centaurs or Virtual Editorial Assistants enhancing the editorial creation process is the next level of editorial content creation. Imagine a world where you have access to all the historical data on a subject in an instant. If Romantic Literature was born of the last Industrial revolution what will be born of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

My view is if I can do it then anyone can do it, and yes it’s a mindset change but I think this is where my collaboration with the Singularity University has been really helpful. They stress that the main places for true Innovation are at the edges, at your weak ties when you combine forces with people out of your industry and this has proven to be very true.

The key to permanent innovation is being able to look at the usual in an unusual way…  our existing publishing companies literally have formatted us into thinking about what we do in a specific narrative and this is limiting. 

Often existing corporate structures work hard on defining how we should think even forcing us how to think… this is death to the concept of innovation on a personal or on a corporate level.

For example I woke up the other morning with the thought 

“If I were an algorithm what would I be?”

In today’s world of publishing to whom exactly could I address that question to get an answer? …

I for one am on a quest to answer that question for myself…

Many publishers are already using automated content? But how do you think its role can be extended? What are the key benefits for publishers - beyond reducing staffing costs?

The heavy lifting of duplication and generic content creation can be automated leaving more time for creative writing and effective storytelling.  I would add,  there needs to be a new codex  for readers to show them what content is human edited and what is not… 

Unfiltered non-human post edited robot created content, hashed and rehashed by fake profiles is dangerous. We need look no further than the recent elections in the US or UK.  I say “great content is to brain as health food is to the body!” .. we need the critical analytic skills of brilliant editors to build a healthy digital universe. We have failed at doing this so far. Having a deep understanding of the recipe of creating engagement through content in my opinion will become even more of a real time art. Like predictive text has enabled us to speed up our writing I think enhancing the creative process with AI enable predictive writing or source matching could be revolutionary. 

Why do you think so many publishers are still agnostic about technological innovation? How do you persuade them to think otherwise?

I think the user interface of a lot of technology is unwittingly designed to hinder the creative process. Possibly this is the main obstacle. A lot of technology is designed with a fixed linear process engineered mind set. We need technology that enhances our creativity and reduces our inhibitions.. 

The role of publishers is to lead opinion and create a greater level of social understanding for their readers. For some this means they will simply choose to  age out with their readers. Which is logical if it is still a financially viable solution even in the case of diminishing returns year on year. I think increasingly as our children come into the workplace we will see some incredible new innovations.

Legacy companies are often populated by people who have very opposing stakeholder positions to the reality of what it takes to really make a change. Not everyone can (psychologically or financially)  hand over the keys of their company Audi and the business cards and say “ this problem is so important to me that I will leave my comfort zone and make it happen with people I still have yet to find.”  

That’s OK because we all want our comfort zone. However let’s acknowledge then what’s really happening is that we are kicking the ball of reality down the road.

If motivation is required let me suggest we look at our children and their needs for our  shared wisdom. If that’s not enough motivation to get people to act I am not sure what else could be.

***Registration for DIS 2018 (19-20 March in Berlin) is now available. Save hundreds of euros on the registration price when you sign up before 13 March 2018. Secure your place here***

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