Service keeps info clear

If you supply information services to end users, you probably assume they understand what they're reading. That may not be the case, especially if some of those users aren't native English speakers. But there's a nice little service that can assure your meaning isn't misconstrued.

At Reuters Health, a subsidiary of Reuters Group PLC, Geoff Worton, the vice president of sales and marketing, says language translation was one of the biggest challenges in supplying hundreds of health-related news stories to doctors and clinicians in Japan.

"The doctors can understand the bulk of every story in English," he says, "but by giving them a link to Japanese-character language definitions, more obscure or difficult-to-comprehend words or phrases are more easily understood."

The doctors simply click on words they wish to have explained, and a pop-up window reveals a high-quality dictionary definition.

Reuters Health, using RichLink technology from Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sentius Corp., sends its news feeds to Sentius, which runs the stories through a matching program to highlight words that have been identified as needing clarification. Sentius then sends the files back to Reuters Health with the hot links embedded in the news stories, all in about 20 minutes.

With the RichLink program running on a production server, space is allocated so that stories are always available for customers to access on demand; users in Japan are pulling down news, rather than having it pushed. "If we pushed it to them, we wouldn't know if they received it," says Worton.

For Reuters Health, the Japanese definitions helped remove many difficulties without the need for a 24/7 customer hotline or call center operation.

Jane Hunter, managing director of London-based Science Press Internet Services, is also taking advantage of RichLink's Japanese language capabilities. "It's a huge bonus to be able to offer definitions in Japanese in an easy-to-access format," she said, "because the language gap is real."

Hunter sees opportunities within the Spanish and French language markets to offer a drug database enriched with hypertext definitions. "Not everyone has the same level of English expertise," she says. "And hypertext links are much better than having to scroll through a long page of information searching for a definition."

Clearly there are uses beyond the translation market.

Web-based information requiring additional explanation could easily be served using the RichLink format. Safety and regulatory warnings might be preloaded and linked, helping to reduce telephone inquiries while improving employee performance.

That would be a healthy boost for corporate profits.

Pimm Fox is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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