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ClientSide News Magazine picture Many techniques exist for creating and maintaining websites and applications that support multiple languages. The most established sites use Unicode for text, use proper date, currency, and numeric formats, and they store error messages in resource files. All of these practices are thoroughly documented and supported by modern web implementation platforms, such as Java and .NET, which makes it possible for web teams with limited prior knowledge of these practices to get up to speed.

What’s missing, however, are design and implementation standards or best practices that take into account an ongoing localization effort. Specifically, few guidelines illustrate how to design, build, and maintain multilingual websites and applications that make optimal use of translation memory and that facilitate the continuous synchronization of content.

The Open Global Web Architecture (OGWA) fills this void. Introduced by Idiom® Technologies, OGWA provides a conceptual framework that web developers can apply to virtually any process for building web applications and sites. Idiom also provides an open source implementation of OGWA that can be used as reference for learning or building a multilingual website or application.


Consider a situation in which your web team wants to build a website or application that supports the languages of visitors from multiple regions or countries. Where do you begin? There are a number of questions to consider:

  • How do you optimize design and content for translation?
  • Where do you put files and content for different languages, different presentations, and different sections of your website?
  • What are the best techniques for combining global content with local and regional content, including content that’s translated?
  • How do you synchronize content between the site of origin and other sites?

Prior to OGWA, no standards existed to address these issues. As a result, many organizations were required to begin from scratch when building even simple web applications that support multiple languages. Often, the resulting implementation made it difficult to keep the application or site synchronized across its many languages.


OGWA is an approach. It is comprised of a set of best practices and recommendations that can be used with any content or globalization management system, including, of course, our own Idiom WorldServer™. Once implemented, OGWA makes it easier to build and maintain a multilingual web presence.

OGWA is based on our eight-year track record of enabling web globalization efforts for international leaders such as eBay, Citrix, Continental Airlines, Symantec, and Travelocity. OGWA is also inspired by our experience assisting language service providers that stake their success on delivering world-class translation and localization services.

The OGWA approach is ideal for situations in which content is written in any language and translated into any number of additional languages. It accommodates combining content that is synchronized across languages with content that’s region- or language-specific.

You can adopt OGWA in its entirety, or you can use only selected concepts that fit your needs.


OGWA is a set of best practices that organizations can adopt in whole or in part. It removes many of the complexities of executing a multilingual web strategy:

  • Structuring how content is stored to account for regions and languages
  • Designating what content gets synchronized to which other languages
  • Synchronizing content, including sending content for translation
  • Optimizing design and content to maximize the benefit from translation memory


    An OGWA site or application is organized as a collection of self-contained individual sites, each for an identified combination of regions and languages. Together, these individual sites comprise a global website. Site visitors may come from all over the world or from a single country. For example, a US state agency might choose to implement a website with a target audience that includes both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking citizens of that state.

    In a web application or website implemented according to OGWA principles, each piece of content is either an original content object produced by a content creator or a non-original object created by an automated process.

    OGWA defines a site structure that allows various regions and languages to be out of sync without breaking any pages or causing any unexpected side effects. This allows each language to be launched on its own schedule, rather than delaying the launch of certain languages until all translations are complete.

    The OGWA golden rule

    OGWA is based on the fundamental rule that all non-original pieces of content can be derived through translation memory, copying, or other automated processes. While this might sound simple, it has broad implications that range from designing templates to designating content for certain languages. This principle is what enables automatic synchronization of content across multiple languages and sites in a global website.

    OGWA page design

    Individual pages in any self-contained site can contain languagespecific, culturally-accurate content authored and maintained locally or elsewhere in any language. OGWA provides the flexibility to manage this content in a variety of ways:

    • Create content and maintain it centrally for translation and for display on all sites in all supported languages.
    • Create content and maintain it regionally for translation and for display on a small grouping of sites.
    • Create content and maintain it locally for display on one site in one language.

    It is this combination of adherence and flexibility that enables organizations to strike the right balance between centralized efficiency (and consistency) and localized relevance.

    OGWA optimizes translation memory

    OGWA provides standards for creating and using source files that account for changes that result from translation, such as changes in text length and cultural relevance. When source files change, translation memory can be used to automate the propagation of changes to translated versions of the file without manual localization engineering or DTP work. If files change only because markup has been modified, synchronization of translated files can be accomplished without assistance from translators or reviewers.

    OGWA and content management systems

    Effective revision control with a content management system or source control management system is important. Such control is required to label and release point-in-time site versions for constantlychanging site changes and ongoing translation processes. While OGWA does not require the support of a content management system, its concepts apply to most systems, making it an appropriate solution for virtually any technology environment.


    The Idiom website offers an OGWA Resource Center ( There, you will find an overview presentation, a complete OGWA specification, and a sample multilingual website based on OGWA principles. Released under the Apache License 2.0, this reference version of an OGWA website is freely accessible and can function without any specific content management system. The fictional site, “eGate Computers company,” shows how to combine global, regional, translated, and local content using OGWA principles. Plus, it illustrates how OGWA principles apply both to static marketing content and transactional pages. The reference version is intended primarily for learning, but it can also be used as a starting point for a live multilingual web application or website.


    OGWA is designed to meet the needs of organizations of all sizes. Organizations without a global website can use it to establish a multilingual, multicultural presence with a minimal investment in time, staffing, and technology. Those with an existing global web presence can leverage OGWA practices and guidelines to improve savings and productivity on a large scale. Regardless of requirements, OGWA places minimal extra burden on site developers and web producers. Moreover, using OGWA requires no new special skills or tools. It is based on best practices developed from years of globalization experience. OGWA offers the right balance between structure and flexibility, a balance that can apply to a variety of environments.


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