Crowdsourcing is the act of using the general public to take on, generally for free, work that would normally be assigned to contractors.
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Some companies have decided to use crowdsourcing to translate their website, relying on thousands of volunteers to work for them for free (step 6 of the crowdsourcing process above doesn’t always happen) and produce a result that will help them increase their revenue. The results have been of varying quality, with Spanish users of Facebook, in particular, reporting grammatical errrors and confusing terminology.
I can understand why a not-for-profit website might choose to ask its users to translate it in several languages: when budgets are tight, it is tempting to use the skills and good will of others. Besides, members of an online community might have an emotional investment in it and might be only too happy to give up their time for it. The result might not be as good as it might be, had it been done by professionals, but if it’s good enough to attract other users, then the aim has been achieved.
There is a perception out there that, in order to be a translator, all you need is to know two languages. Our profession struggles with recognition and that is why when LinkedIn, a for-profit organisation, sent me an email asking me whether I’d be happy to translate their website for free, to have fun or to get a badge, I was very annoyed, along with a lot of other translators. Not because LinkedIn was choosing to use crowdsourcing, but because, in asking me to give away my services, it seemed to contradict its main aim, which is to help professionals further their career. No professional is going to further her career by accepting to work for free, and as LinkedIn clearly wasn’t interested in supporting me as a professional, I deleted my profile.
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When Twitter announced that it was looking for volunteers to translate its interface for free, I wasn’t surprised. There is a real “community” feel about Twitter, and they knew that many people would be interested in contributing to a website that they feel very much a part of. I won’t be helping, as although I love Twitter, I feel decidedly uncomfortable working alongside amateurs, however talented they are, and being associated with a final result that I might not be entirely proud of. I shan’t be deleting my profile either: Twitter has made no claim as to what it can do for my career or professionals in general, and so I see no contradiction there. All I see is a business decision, with which I disagree: in my work, I strive for quality and I’m prepared to pay for it.
It’s a shame that some big companies aren’t prepared to treat their non-English speaking users with enough respect to hand their localisation needs over to professionals, who are best placed to produce a translation which will enhance the experience of all users, whatever their language. In fact, I can even see how crowdsourcing could be used within the translation process: once the work has been done by translators, it could be extremely beneficial to submit it to the community for comment, to make sure that it responds to its needs and respects its inherent culture. This combination of translation expertise and user feedback could be a real recipe for success.
Crowd photo by TwOsE