;   Medical Translation Insight: Crowdsourcing will hurt software localization firms - ForeignExchange Translations

Crowdsourcing hurts software localization firmsQuite honestly, aren't you getting bored of all of the "buzz" around crowdsourced translations? I know I was getting tired of it. It's too much, too repetitive, and too irrelevant to our business.

That is - I was bored until earlier this week, when I stumbled upon Evernote's crowdsourcing efforts.

Evernote is a two-year-old software startup whose products allow you to "remember everything" by taking notes, snipping web text, and amassing voice memos from your PC, Mac, phone, you name it. Even though I haven't used the tool, two million folks out there are using it, and the company's product is getting good reviews. Too small for the big localization companies, clients like Evernote have provided steady work and good margins to many a smaller software localization provider.

Apparently, those days are gone.

About a year after its founding, the company announced "We Want to Speak Your Language" and, noting that localizing software is "a tremendous task", asked users and the world at large for translation help.

The most amazing thing about this? Responses to the company's request for help have been extremely positive. So positive, in fact, that the company seems to have greatly expanded its goal and now has localization efforts underway in 16 languages.

Now Evernote is, I am sure, a fine company with a good product. But it's a for-profit company and unlike Facebook's crowdsourced translation efforts it doesn't support "a community". I am truly astonished that they are able to pull this off.

This doesn't bode well for:

  1. Small, non-specialized software localization providers who have relied on smaller software developers for revenue; if Evernote can do it, I would expect any "B2C" software company can have a go at crowdsourcing translations;
  2. Freelance translators who have built-up a practice around this type of work and end-clients; they are being displaced by translators (professional or not) who do it for the fun of it - "digital sharecroppers".
But it would be short-sided to blame companies like Evernote for trying to save money and reach global users more quickly. The AQtext blog put it best by quoting Nicholas Carr's concept of digital sharecroppers:
...the sharecroppers operate happily in an attention economy while their overseers operate happily in a cash economy. In this view, the attention economy does not operate separately from the cash economy; it's simply a means of creating cheap inputs for the cash economy.
There is a whole lot of hurt coming to parts of the translation business...

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  1. Thomas said...
    I don't share the writer's opinion. It seems to me that the crowdsourcing users just reinvented a new form of begging. As such, they met early succes because people like to feel good by giving. But that ressource will dry out once several beggars hit the market... Volunteers will get tired of being asked too often, and as a result won't do any translation any more.
    Translation Paris said...
    I disagree too because there is too much abuse in getting free translations that puts professional translators out of work.

    Same goes for the free work that Microsoft gets done (but they are so poor!).

    Same goes for not for profit whose accounting systems show high profits while they get pro bono translations.

    Same goes for moderators who complain they are not paid for moderating when they were stupid enough to volunteer for profit earning companies in the first place, and they know it!
    Udo said...
    I don't think it would necessarily work that well for all B2C companies. Both Facebook and Evernote are free (as in beer) and have a huge, devoted customer base.
    But I am not so sure that crowdsourcing actually always delivers inferior quality, like LSPs/translators like to suggest. Compare the crowdsourcing approach (actual users who understand and extensively test-drive their translations) to the often used "professional" approach of translating the software strings without much reference in Excel or XML format. Add some professional linguists as editors, and the overall quality should be even better.

    Anyway, professional translators should get out of their scarcity mindset. There will be plenty of business as source content keeps growing exponentially.
    Andres Heuberger said...
    Thank you all for the great comments!

    I used to share Thomas' view (early success with "begging" that worked because it was novel) but I am not so sure anymore... The enthusiastic responses to Evernote's call for translation help really make me think that this thing "has legs".

    Also, I do think that Evernote is all that different from Facebook. Yes, Facebook is a for-profit company but users (rightly or wrongly) see themselves has having a stake in the community.

    Evernote, though, is "just" a software company that has a free version but wants to charge money for its product (for the premium version and, until recently, the iPhone app). There is a user community but the emphasis is on "user".

    Like Udo, I am not sure about the quality argument. Companies that use crowdsourced translations are run by smart people. They understand that acceptable translation quality is required.

    It seems to me that this an example of the 'x' market in translation, dividing lower-end, "just passable" translations from the really bad translations that compete with MT output.

    Does anybody have any other examples of for-profit companies that crowdsource translations?
    DavidGrunwald said...
    Dear Andres,

    Thanks for this great post which opened my eyes to some tools/platforms that I did not know of.

    I understand translators' fear of losing their livelihood due to MT and crowdsourcing. I also understand your point about localization firms losing revenue as well.

    But as we have learned from history, technology can not be stopped. Ask the dinosaurs (if you can find one). My own feeling is that people should adopt a "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude when it comes to MT and crowdsourcing. If the concept is viable, then why can't localization firms use the same tools as Evernote in their localization process and cut their costs. If they do that, maybe the Evernotes will use their services more and not do it in-house. And if translators can work 2-3 times as fast using MT/crowdsourcing, then how will they suffer? They will have lots of work and make more money due to increased throughput.

    It reminds me of a movie from the 1980s (Other People's Money with Dan DeVito) that had a great quote: "You know, at one time there must have been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip
    you ever saw. Now, how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?"

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