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Project Spotlight: Planet Read

Introduction

Planet Read is an NPO based in India aiming to improve literacy by implementing Same Language Subtitling (SLS) on various audio and visual content. Planet Read looks to increase access to literature and reading opportunities through the implementation of SLS across its digital platforms. As of today, Planet Read’s extensive reach is evident in their YouTube channel’s success which currently has 623,000 subscribers and almost 6 million views. The SLS service is provided through a volunteer-based program and recruits volunteers to translate the stories which are then provided for public use. Once these volunteers have finished translating their pieces, the work is then passed on to a volunteer reviewer who looks to confirm the accuracy of the initial translation and bring up any outstanding bits of language that may be improved on. Finally, after the work has been translated and reviewed, it is published and accessible on Planet Read’s website and YouTube channel.

The Problem

When reaching out to UW Blueprint, Planet Read wanted to explore if there was any way to improve the efficiency of the story translation and review process which is currently manually done by email and word documents. Their current workflow had only recently switched to the Google Docs ecosystem in which translators and reviewers would attempt to work on a piece together through the use of its collaborative features. However, they found that they were still experiencing some bits of the same functional problems which created a bottleneck in the translation and reviewing processes.

The Solution

When evaluating why this wasn’t working, our team found that Planet Read simply had needs that went beyond Google Docs’ capabilities. Planet Read wanted to be able to auto-configure emails that went between translators and reviewers, to be able to separate the original text as well as the translation text, and to make the collaborative experience between translator and reviewer more streamlined and intuitive. With these discoveries, Blueprint decided to build a custom web app to address Planet Read’s needs.

Blueprint drew inspiration from a handful of similar translation platforms in order to formulate a solution that worked best for Planet Read. Some example platforms that our team looked at included Smart Cat, Google Translate, and Story Weaver.

Reviewer platform giving feedback on a story translation
Admin platform to manage story translations

Requirements

The solution that Blueprint is currently developing for Planet Read is a web platform that looks to empower its users. The high-level goals of this platform are narrowed down to:

  1. To allow translators to select and translate stories
  2. To allow reviewers to provide feedback, and approve story translations
  3. To allow admins (Planet Read staff) to export story translations, approve story translations and users, and manage ongoing translations

Furthermore, the platform had to include several account management and tiered authentication roles for the purpose of administration (i.e., an admin portal that would allow for easy administration and management of the users, stories, and story translations on the platform).

User Workflows

The solution has two key user workflows which take on the perspective of the translator and the reviewer.

The translator’s journey throughout the platform would essentially look like this:

  • Log in
  • Select a story to translate
  • Translate the story, line by line
  • Submit for review
  • Get feedback on the translation
  • Address comments and iterate on translation
  • Once the translation is approved (by reviewer), story translation is complete

The reviewer’s journey throughout the platform is a reflective process of the translator’s except with the obvious task replacement that is translation → reviewing:

  • Log in
  • Select a story to review
  • Approve or flag the story translation line by line + leave comments
  • Iterate on translation once translator addresses initial edits and comments
  • Approve the story translation, story translation is complete!
Homepage for translators and reviewers

In addition to these two workflows, the third user journey that had been mapped was the administrative experience which looked to cover management of the overall platform. Admins are able to:

  • See all story translations
  • Delete and reassign translators/reviewers
  • Export finished story translations
  • See all users and promote their language approval(s)

Technical Overview & Challenges

When our team initially started working with Planet Read we found that there were a couple of niche challenges to overcome. One of our core challenges was integrating with the limitations of Planet Read’s hosting server. This introduced several complications as the server wasn’t capable of running Docker and could only run Python as well as JavaScript. In addition to this, the server itself could only support MySQL whereas our team initially started out using Postgres. Therefore we had to migrate from Postgres to MySQL which presented unique challenges in itself.

A key decision we made while working on the project was to migrate from Python REST API to Python GraphQL API as we felt it was a better fit for the project given the complicated relationships between stories, translations, and users. However, some friction was associated with this decision as Graphene has a less active developer community and we found ourselves bumping into challenges that were very specific to our project (i.e., limited transferable knowledge applicable to our development process).

A noteworthy win to mention here is that this was the first project that Blueprint had developed using exclusively Starter Code which is an internally developed Blueprint software meant to assist and standardize our development process.

Design Opportunities & Challenges

From the design perspective, our design team took the time to deliberate whether to proceed with Google Docs (which could be iterated upon with built-in applications) or to develop our own web platform. Ultimately, the team decided that while selecting Google Docs built-in applications could help Planet Read with their problem — there would be too many makeshift compromises that could be better isolated and solved through an internally developed platform.

Admin platform to manage a specific translator

Our designers made it a key priority to build a translation experience that was akin to Google Translate or Smart Cat as they had found that these solutions had executed the translation experience very well. In addition to this, we wanted to make sure that we were thorough in fine-tuning the capabilities of the admin portal as well as what the Planet Read team could do about user administration and translation management. Here is a sample user flow that our designers came up with for the admin portal:

Translator and Reviewer Management user flow

The Planet Read Project Today…

Today, the project that we’re developing for Planet Read is still in development. The team is looking forward to releasing a finalized product for Planet Read by the end of this year.

Here are some comments the Planet Read team shared on their experience working with us on this project!

We have been coordinating with the Blueprint team for several months. It has been a rewarding experience as I regularly connect with the team during the project. I have learned much through these smart and skilled individuals. However, the best thing with the Blueprint is that I get to interact with people who care for society, human wellbeing, and actually act on the same even during these extraordinary times! I share a quote below to complete this feedback for the lovely people at Blueprint.

“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?”- Rousseau

From Arvind at Planet Read

The Team

Kristy Gao

  • Program: 4A Computer Science
  • Role: Project Lead
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? The experience of mentoring, making high-level technical decisions, and building tech for Planet Read has been extremely rewarding!
  • Any final comments? I am so excited to deploy the project and help Planet Read organize same-level subtitle translations more effectively. They have such a wonderful impact and it’s a true honour to get the chance to join them in their mission to improve literacy.

Neha Javed

  • Program: 2A SYDE
  • Role: Product Manager
  • What was the biggest challenge you experienced while working on this project? Maintaining alignment between developers, designers, and the client.
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? It is so rewarding to see the client’s reactions to our final designs. It’s such an amazing experience to see our project grow from just an idea to a functioning platform!
  • Any final comments? I am incredibly thankful to be part of such a hardworking and dedicated team! I am really looking forward to seeing this project ship and see the positive impact it has for Planet Read!

Grace Yip

  • Program: 4A Global Business and Digital Arts
  • Role: Designer
  • What was the biggest challenge you experienced while working on this project? Keeping at least one full sprint ahead of the developers and consistently communicating with them to ensure our designs are feasible.
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? It has been wonderful working alongside such a passionate team and watching the Planet Read project come to life.
  • Any final comments? I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of our final product, and I hope that the platform will help promote affordable reading opportunities worldwide.

Melissa Chan

  • Program: 1A Life Sciences
  • Role: Designer
  • What was the biggest challenge you experienced while working on this project? It was hard to design some screens that were both pretty but also functional. Finishing designs in a short time span so that we could show them to the client was also challenging.
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? I really liked how the project is able to help people in real life! I also really enjoyed learning how to work with a project team, collaborating with other designers, and communicating with developers. Everyone is very talented and I feel very honored to be a part of the team.
  • Any final comments? I am looking forward to seeing people using the final product and working on more high-impact projects!

Andrew Guo

  • Program: 2B Software Engineering
  • Role: Developer
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? Working on a project with real implications, where choices affect real users.
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? The learning curve for many parts of the stack, as well as time management with school.

Jennifer Chen

  • Program: 3A Systems Design Engineering
  • Role: Developer
  • What was the biggest challenge you experienced while working on this project? Balancing Blueprint tasks with school/co-op/other commitments has definitely been a challenge!
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? Seeing features getting designed and built out by this enthusiastic team of students has been incredibly rewarding! From code reviews to coffee chats, to team socials where we get surprisingly passionate about how we rank fruits on a tier-list, it has been a great experience overall working on this project!
  • Any final comments? Looking forward to continuing to work with such driven students on these projects, and seeing the impact we can make on various non-profits!

Lynn Kim

  • Program: 3A Systems Design Engineering
  • Role: Developer
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? It’s really rewarding to be working on a project that has a positive social impact! Also really awesome that I get to work with a super cool team. Will definitely remember all the coffee chats, socials, and anti-Kevin memes fun times.
  • Any final comments? Excited to see this project through to the end! will miss the team though.

Armanya Dalmia

  • Program: 3A Software Engineering
  • Role: Developer
  • What was the biggest challenge you experienced while working on this project? Finding a balance between work, school, and Blueprint has probably been the biggest challenge I’ve faced, especially granted my poor time-management skills.
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? Seeing the project come together from the ground up has been great to see, along with being able to work with some great people.
  • Any final comments? I’m very excited to see the final product of the team’s hard work!

Philips Xu

  • Program: 2B Computer Science
  • Role: Developer
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? As a developer joining the project in its second term, I really appreciate the welcoming and comfortable team environment — just good vibes overall! From coffee chats and fun socials to sprint retros, it’s been such a pleasure working with great people to build a meaningful project while learning a lot along the way. I’m super thankful for the opportunity to work with such an awesome team!
  • Any final comments? Looking forward to more fun times with everyone and I’m excited to see the project through to the finish line!

Jennifer Lu

  • Program: 2A Software Engineering
  • Role: Developer
  • What have you found rewarding about working on this project? This is my first term on Blueprint, and I love how friendly and helpful everyone is. I’ve learned so much and made some great memories (from playing WikiRace to ranking fruits). It’s also rewarding to see my work make a positive impact.
  • Any final comments? Looking forward to seeing the platform deploy and also working on more projects with Blueprint!

Previous Team Members

While they’ve moved onto other projects, here are some members of the Planet Read team that helped lay the foundation for the project in earlier terms!

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