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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