Friday, March 18, 2011

Guest Author: Crowdsourcing Explained

InterpretAmerica is proud to bring you a guest author for our latest blog post. Nataly Kelly of Common Sense Advisory recently posted an extremely helpful explanation of crowdsourcing on a national association listserve. Although crowdsourcing is a phenomenon which impacts translation more than interpreting, we know that most interpreters are also translators and this issue is relevant to all of us. Her explanation may surprise you, as it gets to how crowdsourcing can actually be a sign of increased paid business opportunities for freelance translators, not fewer. Be sure to check out the links Nataly provides at the end of her article.

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Dear Colleagues, 

I believe I can help clear up some misunderstandings about crowdsourced translation.  The goal of such methods is not to get “free” translation – in fact, the cost of building a crowdsourced translation platform often far outweighs the cost of paying for the traditional translation process.  In other words, the companies that use such models are in fact paying for translation, just not in the traditional manner.  The motive is usually speed and scalability, since companies can also translate information much faster through this type of environment than they can through traditional models. In addition, many find that the ultimate quality is better, since more individuals are involved in the decision-making process of establishing which terms are most appropriate for the target audiences (of which the community translators usually form a part). 

In addition to paying for the development of the platforms, companies often pay language service providers (and freelance translators) to perform many roles, such as managing the communities as well as proofreading the translations, and in some cases, translating certain parts of the environments.  These companies also still pay for translation of all of the content that falls outside of the platforms.  In other words, they are not using this model to “sidestep” traditional translation.  In most cases, they do this because the user communities start doing it naturally themselves, so building a platform is a way to manage it properly, involve translation professionals, and actually ensure that quality guidelines are put into place. 

Another motive is for the client to actually get “closer” to the end user.  Instead of asking a translator living outside of the target market to guess at what the best translation might be, a company can involve hundreds or thousands of actual end clients -- individuals living in the country where it may launch a product or service -- so that these individuals have a voice choosing the terms or phrases that sound most natural to them.  In other words, the users in one country might choose an entirely different phrase than users in another country.  This method of translation actually brings the “end client review process” directly into the translation production process. So, it is definitely different from the standard “translate-edit-proof” model, but it has some advantages over that model, too, for certain types of content. 

As content delivery formats continue to change, we are noticing a trend in the translation world – the delivery formats for translation are changing too.  In many ways, these changes are beneficial for freelance translators.  While these new models are still evolving, the volumes of content continue to grow due to the explosion of user-generated content on the web and the proliferation of new outlets and social media such as Twitter. This means an increased demand for translation services, but also an evolution of the number of ways in which those services are provided. 

Common Sense Advisory has been covering this phenomenon since 2007. For a recent report, we reviewed more than 100 crowdsourced translation platforms, and this is the third full report we have published on the topic of crowdsourced and community translation. In fact, the academic world is now paying attention to this topic as well. Some colleagues and I will be contributing to a themed issue of Linguistica Antverpiensia, New Series – Themes in Translation Studies (LANS – TTS), the journal of the Department of Translators and Interpreters, Artesis University College Antwerp. 

I should also point out that it’s thanks to crowdsourced translation that social networks have enabled many individuals in Egypt and other countries to have their voices heard by people in numerous languages.  

So, this is not a new phenomenon by any means, but it is one that I realize is still new to many people.  In case anyone is interested in reading more, I suggest the following blog posts: 

Multilingual Crowdsourced Translation Enables Egypt to Be Heard around the World
Community Translation Lifts Facebook to the Top of Social Networking World
Freelancers Clash with LinkedIn over Crowdsourced Translation
Google’s Community Translation Project for Health Care
Twitter Migrates into Multilingual Markets 

I hope this information proves helpful to provide more insight on this topic.


Common Sense Advisory
Nataly Kelly
Twitter: @CSA_Research


  1. Hi! Your blog has been nominated for our Top 100 Language Lovers 2011 competition.
    Read more here:
    Good luck!
    Giulia - On behalf of the and Lexiophiles team