This is a guest post by Kirti Vashee, VP Enterprise Translation Sales at Asia Online and member of dotSUB’s Board of Advisors. You can also read Kirti’s blog eMpTy Pages, where he writes about translation technology, localization and collaboration.
The phenomena of a crowd or community stepping forward and doing real translation work, often for no direct financial compensation is something that troubles many in the professional translation world. Mostly because they see this activity as work being taken away from legitimate professionals or they see it as a ploy to reduce prices.
While in some cases their fears may actually be justified, in the most successful uses of this approach I think it is clear that this is not true.If we look at some of the most successful examples of crowdsourced translation in practice, we can see that they have many if not all of the following elements in common.
A Crowd/Community That Is Invested
TED Open Translation Project – Volunteer translators are often inspired by the content and wish to share it with their friends and countrymen. June Cohen has said that the volunteer translators in general do better quality work than the many of the paid professionals, who in itially did a few translations to seed the project because of their passion for the subject. This effort has now enabled almost 20,000 translations into 80+ languages of really challenging material.
Facebook – Users who wish to build and expand the friend community in their particular language group. This effort has enabled Facebook to grow rapidly in international markets and accomplish very rapid coverage across 60+ languages. Had they used traditional means to do this it may have taken them years to get to the same point.
Microsoft – MVPs (top accredited reseller partners) who wish to make technical support knowledge about Microsoft products more easily and widely available in their markets. Their efforts are rewarded by lower support costs and also an increase in product sales as more and more users look for self-service knowledge base information.
Asia Online – Student users provide corrective feedback to continue to improve the translation quality of the Wikipedia and other knowledge content that is initially done by highly customized MT engines and paid translators.
The students themselves will be the primary beneficiaries of this content, and their efforts will enable them to access high quality educational information. The volume of this information will likely increase a thousand fold.
Yeeyan: 150,000 volunteers who translate tens of millions of words on a regular and timely production schedule because they view what they do as high social value.
Software Infrastructure That Facilitates Contribution & Participation
In all of the cases above the companies involved crowdsourced translation initiatives need to invest in software that enables tasks to be parceled out, evolve as tasks change, enable efficient administration, maintain quality, gather feedback, and build self-sustaining eco-systems. The tools developed by dotSUB, Lingotek, Yeeyan and Asia Online are all unique collaboration and translation workflow management tools that enable these kinds of initiatives, They make little or no use of industry standard tools like Trados and TMS because of the highly proprietary, rigidity and archaic nature of these tools. These new-generation tools are much more open and are designed to evolve with technical and process advances on the internet today.
The Importance of Engagement and Higher Purpose
It is interesting to note that translation is not the primary business of any of the companies listed in the examples above. In every case the goal and intent is to make more information available faster. Even for many of the corporations that are exploring crowdsourcing, the rationale is more about customer engagement than cost savings. It is also important to note that none of these initiatives could even be attempted without the use of automation and large-scale community support and they are enabling initiatives that would not be possible otherwise. This is also true for Facebook who still had to use professionals to translate legalese that their community was not interested in translating. The role of communities is likely to increase in future as more of the world comes online.
As we move forward we will see much more video come online and already it is clear that the old approaches will not enable us make this new content multilingual in effective timeframes, crowdsourcing and automated translation will be necessary tools for an organization that seeks to communicate across the globe. As Clay Shirky has pointed out, the ‘cognitive surplus’ of the online population is a force that can be harnessed under the right circumstances and for the right purposes. It is likely that the professional translation world is going to see significant disruption in the coming years, as innovators figure out how to build sustainable models around community engagement, technology and organizational mission.