;   Medical Translation Insight: Will crowdsourcing change the translation business? - ForeignExchange Translations

Will crowdsourcing change the translation business?For years, the talk about the coming age of crowdsourcing in translation seemed like a bunch of hype. But when the New York Times writes a piece on the topic, it's time to pay attention.

Today's article A Web That Speaks Your Language highlights efforts by TED and Global Voices to use crowdsourcing as a way to make content available much more broadly, by translating it for speakers of other languages.

The Times article highlights interpreters earning $100,000 annually who also volunteer their time for the Global Voices project. Even more interesting is TED's experience of successfully switching from using professional translators to crowdsourced volunteers - and saving $500,000 in the process.

So, does crowdsourcing translation work for pharmaceutical and medical device companies? Maybe.

Beyond the concerns of companies entrusting their strong corporate brands and style to unknown volunteers, the bigger issue is that people are going to be less likely to offer translations for corporate materials in which they hold no stake and have no emotional investment. For instance, it's unlikely that companies could crowdsource the translation of packaging and labeling information.

Crowdsourcing translations really comes into its own when you think of it in a social networking context. As the experience of Facebook has shown, for-profit companies can leverage the enthusiasm and language skills of their user base to achieve their business goals.

Drug and device companies are increasingly venturing into social networking. Sites such as J&J's Diabeteshandprint.com have communities of users who are hugely passionate about what they consider to be "their" sites given that content is contributed to and generated by themselves. They would therefore have a real interest in feeding into the translation process.

The viability of crowdsourcing is giving rise to translation companies like myGengo that are structured to offer clients the best of both worlds: low rates by taking advantage of crowdsourced translations and some level of accountability and quality control.

So, are crowdsourced translations the future of our business? Probably not. Will crowdsourcing play a role in some sectors of the translation business? Probably.

UPDATE: Newsweek ran an article on TED's Open Translation Project this past Friday. Thanks for the tip, Rina!

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  1. Anonymous said...
    I really do not expect to see the day when people would voluntarily take part in crowdsourcing of medical device IFUs, patents, EMEA documents etc. Proprietary and critical information will always be translated by experts. I think my niche is secure.

    Tapani Ronni
    JLibbey said...
    I agree with the previous poster. Although translators may be willing to volunteer their services for some projects, their years of studies and training do need to be compensated.
    Bob Donaldson said...
    As indicated by the previous comments, two aspects of "Crowdsourcing" are commonly conflated. One is the approach to accomplishing the task. The first, massively parallel translation efforts supported by a collaborative environment, does not necessarily require the second, free.

    At McElroy Translation, we are among those who are experimenting with "Managed Crowdsourcing" ... not as a way to reduce cost, but as a way to increase throughput. There is also a great potential for increased quality when the power of the (pre-qualified) crowd is brought to bear in a controlled collaborative environment.
    Barbara Thomas said...
    I agree with my colleagues regarding pharmaceutical and medical device documents, simply because of the inherent legal responsibilities.
    However, I wouldn't be surprised to see some scientific literature translated free of charge, particularly if initiatives to make it available online at no cost prosper.
    Jose Henrique Lamensdorf said...
    Fortunately, most - if not all - the TED videos are "talking heads", so there is very little - if any - action to see there. Hence people can focus on reading the subs, no need to watch the images. It makes me wonder if it wouldn't be better to simply provide the complete text and a still picture of the speaker.

    Another aspect of crowdsourcing is that it's voluntary, unpaid work. So translators can choose what they will work on, which doesn't necessarily match a customer's needs... nor their deadlines.

    Quite frankly, I had a look at the presentations available at TED. Very few speakers known outside their respective niches. None that I'd be eager to pay to watch their lecture. I intended to translate and subtitle ONE of them, just to show how it's done professionally, however I was demotivated by the options available. There is much more interesting stuff on YouTube, at least for the time being.

    Crowdsourcing might change the translation world, as it offers a venue for karaoke-like translators, instead of singers, but I don't think it will change the translation BUSINESS in any way.

    No matter how greedy businesspeople may get, they won't outsource, for instance, a formal catering service to the local girl scouts.
    thetranslationpeople said...
    Although crowd sourcing is now becoming popular I personally believe that critical and important personal information will always get translated by experts.
    Flo said...
    I think you are 100% correct, it's hard to imagine that professional services for fields like medical or legal would be replaced by crowd-sourcing. On the other hand, there is definitely a place for such crowd-sourced translation (like TED or other non-commercial projects), so it's here to stay.

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