At SXSW this year there was a lot of talk about internationalization and global web design. One recurrent theme debated in panels such as Taking Over the World: the Flickr Way, Lost in Translation? Top Website Internationalization Lessons and Glenda Sim’s and my core conversation on Global Design: Web Sites for the World was the issue of translation. The main problem being how to source, quality assure and fund good translation that talks to people rather than alienates people. The recurrent solution in all three sessions was to crowdsource translation.
Wikipedia describes crowdsourcing as “the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call”. This is an approach which is very similar to how Wikepedia itself crowdsources content. In the context of translation of a website this means simply inviting your users to offer translations of your templates and content.Large corporates, small companies or organisations all face the problem of translation. Even when there is a budget for translation there is often still an issue of quality control. One organisation I spoke to said that all translated text could only be published on their site once it had gone though four rounds of edits. Costly both in time and man hours. The reason for such extensive edits was to ensure that translated text was checked for literal translations that were out of context. A couple of the stranger examples given were”crowded camp” instead of “concentration camp” and “Enter” written in a sexually suggestive way in Russian for a submit button.
So when does crowdsourcing translation work? In the corporate world this is unlikely to be a huge hit for a number of reasons. Firstly it may not be the route that a large organisation wants to go down as they may have a strong house style and brand that needs to be stuck to. The bigger issue, to my mind at least however, is that people are going to be less likely to want to offer translations of sites such as these as they have no real stake hold in the sites and typically are not emotionally invested in these sites.
Crowdsourcing really comes into it’s own when you think of it in a social networking context. Sites such as Flickr, Facebook and WordPress have communities of users that are hugely passionate about what they consider to be their sites given that content is contributed to and generated by themselves. They therefore have a real interest in feeding into the translation process.
Facebook openly crowdsources translation by rolling out a loose translation of the site (some have claimed by using Babelfish) and then letting the users do the rest. Indeed the final French version of the site was rolled out on Sunday 9th March and almost immediately I spotted this status update from a French friend of mine: “Frederique is trying out facebook in French and is having a good laugh”. Facebook would do well to get her feedback as she is a translator by trade and has worked on translating series such as Sex in the City and now translates games. You can’t really get much better than that!
Crowdsourcing translation for blogs also fascinates me. I love the idea that a reader spots a post that resonates and inspires them and then goes to translate it. There are a number of plugins that the humble blogger can use to support translation of their own content. Worldwide Lexicon is a site that supports collaborative translation and has a plugin for WordPress: the plugin enables your readers and volunteers to view, create and edit translations to any languages they speak. This is something I’m definitely going to try out.
So what do you think? Is crowdsourcing translation the way to go for you?
Finally if you weren’t able to make it to SXSW you’ll be able to catch some of the panel discussions podcasted via the SXSW site. I’ll be posting about these together with any slides made available as they get published.