Sunday, July 19

Crowd-sourcing: Is it cheap labor or a glimpse of what's to come?

Businesses are always looking for ways to cut costs, one of the latest methods is crowd-sourcing. This phenomenon is rising in popularity, but what does it mean? In a nutshell, businesses are soliciting everyday people to use their spare time to create content and solve problems for free. Some of these businesses include social networking websites that were developed in the Internet age of collaborative user-centered technologies. Now we find well-intended amateurs and hobbyists doing the work of professionals.

Crowd-sourcing has affected all industries, including translation and localization. Social networking sites like Hi5 and Facebook allow their active user community to contribute translations of metadata and their user interface.

Recently I attended a workshop where Ghassan Haddad, Director of Localization of Facebook, presented on the success of their crowd-sourcing approach. One of the appeals of crowd-sourcing is the speed of translation. He stated that nearly 100% of the French Facebook content was translated overnight. The Spanish and German sites were translated in one week.

He further elaborated that while many translations are questionable, volunteers are able to vote on their preferred verbiage, and since this is a site for the people, why not tailor it according to their needs? For quality assurance, Facebook employs language experts who review the translations offered by the volunteer translators. Haddad stated that the cost savings vary because investment in technology offsets some of the savings attained by getting "free" translations. Their main cost advantages are achieved through unsupported languages, process automation, and the ability to prioritize text.

Currently LinkedIn, the online professional networking site, finds itself in the hot-seat because Nico Posner, product manager, surveyed its users to see whether they would consider translating the site for free. Many translators frowned upon this request because this is a for-profit site requesting professional services for free. Some translators found it demeaning and consider it exploitation, nonetheless there were translators who were more than willing to participate.

As a professional translator and interpreter, I do not believe businesses should implement crowd-sourcing to replace the work of professionals. However I am interested in understanding how this phenomenon has and will continue to impact our profession. Crowd-sourcing is not the apocalypse of the translation profession. Like all things in life, change is inevitable and the Internet has changed many professions. Take librarianship for example, the field continues to thrive despite having Google at our disposal. Google and the Internet provide access to information like libraries, however unlike librarians, Google does not know how to distinguish reputable and credible resources from non-authoritative work, nor can Google collaborate with you in your research quest.

Can crowd-sourcing help businesses and translators? Yes, after a professional translator has completed their target translation, crowd-sourcing should be used as an additional tool to ensure that products and websites are tailored to meet the needs of their market. It should not be the first thing that businesses turn to. CAT tools, automatic translation, and crowd-sourcing will change the way we do some business, but none can replace the professional translator's cognitive ability to analyze the syntax, orthography, register, synonyms, colloquialisms, and idioms of multiple languages and culture.


Michael said...

Nick, I appreciate your post as one of the calmer voices in the current discussion. Can I add two points that I have difficulties with?

1. It seems to me that crowd-sourcing is a method of procurement and would not automatically mean "for free." Many translation agencies "crowd-source" larger projects, or else they would not be finished within a reasonable time frame. It seems to me that we need to clarify that asking anyone to translate for free and asking a large number of (paid) professionals to come together on a project (to speed up its delivery) are two very different things.

2. I am very suspicious of arguments that tell me method x "tailors [language] according to their [the audience's] needs." In many, many years in the field I learned to defer to the technical knowledge of subject-matter experts and to question the linguistic expertise of people without language training. The unspeakable results of amateur crowd-sourcing, quietly cleaned up by professional translators and editors, are rarely written about – probably because they are so unspeakable.

Nick Arce said...

Good Point Michael! It is true, translation agencies do employ crowd-sourcing as a method to speed up projects (Paid). Other businesses/online entities use crowd-sourcing as a way of getting services for free. It is important to distinguish both.

Thank you for your contribution!

Anonymous said...

Great discussion!!
Thanks for sharing.

Stay connected with friends at global personal networking.

Anonymous said...

I agree that we should use qualified professionals.

Anonymous said...

A complete one day or one week translation? Yes, the internet has certainly changed many professions! The last sentence sums it all up though. Sandra

Translation Services said...

Very nice nick!!

Roman Mironov said...

Crowd-sourcing is indeed here to stay. Wikipedia, Linux, other open-source software are all great examples of crowd-sourcing efforts, from which millions of people benefit daily free-of-charge. Many think that knowledge and software are meant to be free by design, so that they can be used by anyone, regardless of their financial status, location, etc. Perhaps, translation will eventually drift toward this model as well, because it plays a similar role of making information, hence opportunity, available to people who might otherwise never be able to use it.