Crowdsourcing – another nail in the translator’s coffin?

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There’s been a lot of talk, for some years now, about machine translation. We’re at a point where this is no longer something out of the ordinary, not just talk…people use it, companies use it, translation agencies use it…translators use it (whether they admit to it or not).

When the first talks about machine translation started, translators were outraged. Who better to translate a text than a human? A machine can’t do what a human can. It was taboo to even talk about it.

Now…there’s a new prowler lurking around the concept of translator. And no, it’s not another machine. It’s human, a lot of humans actually. It’s called crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing relies on huge numbers of people contributing to the localization of specific content. It can’t be used everywhere, for any type of subject…but neither could machine translation in the beginning.

The beauty of crowdsourcing is that the involvement of each contributor can be minimum. This way, any of us can, at one point, be part of the whole. It’s like giving money to a beggar, to a street performer. You hand out a few coins. The impact on your wallet is minimum. The impact on the receiving end can be huge (provided the giving end is made up of lots, and lots of individuals).

Plus, talking about giving money to a street performer, it’s about being seen giving that money. You want people to see that, you want people to think that you are that type of person, a giving person, a person appreciating art.

That’s what drives crowdsourcing (that and many other things). You translate something and it gets published only if other people confirm it’s a good translation. People started to live for that “like”, for that confirmation that their ideas are good, their actions are worth being appreciated, their pictures managed to capture something beautiful.

Considering all of these things, it’s no wonder Facebook was translated by its users, free of charge! Who said people don’t do things for free anymore? Well, it still isn’t free, it’s just the currency that changed.

Crowdsourcing is rather simple, in concept. The algorithms behind it may be more complex and different from one solution to the other. Basically, anyone can translate! As many words as they want, whenever they want to. This solution works very well in young environments, IT startups, businesses created by young minds, by people that grew outside the conventional way of doing business.

Crowdsourcing is a very powerful tool and it can be much more than just a translation solution. The buzz created can be a very good marketing solution. Imagine how many people will talk about it, about how a certain website is giving their users the possibility to translate its content. Quite a lot! Now…think of the buzz created by the translation of your favorite car manufacturer website! Your favorite drink website?! No buzz there, right?

Ok, maybe crowdsourcing won’t work in translating the minisite of the top model of Mercedes-Benz…but they do have other models, right? Younger models. Come on Mercedes (and many more)…wake up and listen to the crowd!

But enough general talk. Who are these companies that offer crowdsourcing platforms? Well, there are quite few out there. You could start by checking out Gengo, Transfluent or Amara. You might think there aren’t many projects translated by crowdsourcing, but you’d be wrong. You can check out a rather long list of projects that have been processed by crowdsourcing here.

So, look at the list of projects and maybe you will find something that surprises you. You’ll see that not only big names chose to work with crowds. It’s not just Facebook, Twitter or TED that are doing it. Well, perhaps these companies have more loyal users (TED – loyal AND smart enough to be able to translate the content).

From what you read so far you might think the nail in the coffin is rather deep right about now, no? Well, don’t rush to be the first to light a candle just yet. Translating for free (or for a very low price) comes at a cost.

The first cost is…the costs. Probably same costs as a normal translation project. Depending on the project, on the platform, on the users, project management involved, quality control and so on, the costs may get as high as a normal translation project. Good contributors will begin to want more, they will want to get better pay. We are still shooting in the dark now so an ongoing project can backfire at any moment. Because of thousands of reasons.

But try to think of crowdsourcing as much more than a translation process – remember the buzz?

Another cost is quality. You can’t expect top quality from crowdsourcing without some proper quality assurance mechanisms. And you know what those mechanisms are? Humans…translators, professionals. All that crowd content must be confirmed by someone, someone who can really understand the mechanism of translation.

In conclusion, crowdsourcing may be the future in translation, but translators will always be the ones driving it.

Photo credit: Flickr – Incase

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