The Benefits and Dangers of Crowdsourcing in Translation

A Guide to Crowdsourcing Translations: The Pros and Cons

Crowdsourcing has been around for a while, having been enabled by the expansion of the Internet and global real-time access to information. This form of group effort towards a common goal, usually through problem solving, innovation or efficiency improvement, has been made possible through the increased interconnectivity many of enjoy in our daily lives.

In keeping with this instant communication trend, crowdsourcing for translation has appeared. With the number of international businesses, globally marketable products and multilingual platforms on the rise, far more language variations are being sought for such products and services  than ever before. Understandably, many companies want to reach as wide an audience as possible, but at the least expense. Professional translation and localisation have long been the gold standard for commercial use, and for good reason. Rigorous quality assurance, as well as consumer-driven demand for fast, reliable communication have ensured that successful cross-language conversations have been possible in almost any industry for many years now. Crowdsourcing potentially offers the chance to cut associated costs to just a fraction of the professional equivalent whilst providing incredible scope for the scalability of larger projects.

Crowdsourcing as a Concept

The driving force behind crowdsourced translations is the old adage; ‘the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’, or, to put it more simply, if two minds are better than one, surely thousands of minds are better than just a chosen few. However, it’s worth considering whether this idea stands up even if the few are more relevantly qualified and are being appropriately paid for their efforts. Without the checks and balances of the regulated professional sphere, the room for error can increase exponentially. Therefore, if the risks are so high, is it really worth it?

Who Can Benefit from Crowdsourcing Translations?

Of course, crowdsourcing has major advantages. It’s low cost, if not free, it’s fast and can be used for projects on a scale that is beyond the resources or time frames possible for traditional translation provision. There’s a good reason why not every business has had their marketing material, products and websites translated into every conceivable world language and dialect; it’s simply not economical. Crowdsourcing has filled that gap, allowing global companies to reach out into obscure language markets, expanding their offerings and all by employing the translation abilities of their own consumers. This is usually achieved by relying on the benevolent attitude of consumers and their genuine vested interest in the success of the product, service or localisation effort. This is especially true for sectors such as online gaming, where a large community of gamers can come together to increase the usability of existing multilingual translations, or in some instances, offer entirely new linguistic subsets for the game in their native tongue.

Shared Benefits

Even Facebook chose to crowdsource translations to improve upon their investment in an AI system so as to provide on-the-spot machine translations for their over 1 billion users worldwide. This service could not realistically have been provided by professional translators due to the sheer volume of communications shared continuously through the Facebook platform every day. The demand for fast translations is just too high to offer real-time human translation. Instead, by relying on machine translation and crowdsourcing feedback from engaged users of their platform, Facebook is able to benefit from mass translations, as well as proofreading and editing that come without the hefty price tag of a professional service. Similarly, users of the platform benefit from human input into the available machine translation, which allows for easier cross-language communication and thus promotes interconnectivity. Significantly, these benefits may well counterbalance users’ expectations of translation perfection, as the primary focus is on effective, rather than perfect, communication.

Not Suitable for All Translations

One significant drawback to this method is that the vast majority of translations are submitted by amateurs, which gives no guarantee that their corrections in the form of ‘feedback’ are accurate, nor that every editor’s intent is to positively contribute to the process. Projects like these need to rely heavily on the good intentions and goodwill of the ‘crowd’, which means it may not be an ideal tool for translating a brand’s important marketing content, or in any instance where quality is of paramount concern.

Is Crowdsourcing a Good Option for Your Business?

In a business setting, you need to consider how crowdsourcing translations might affect your brand image. Professional translators not only offer flawless, quality-controlled translations, but they also ensure the tone and style of your communications remains consistent, for which crowdsourcing offers no such guarantee. Rigorous quality control measures have long been the backbone of translation and localisation,  any crowdsourced translations are heavily reliant on the widely varying abilities of the different translators that engage with your content.

One option could be to proofread and edit all crowdsourced translated materials. However, this could prove to be more expensive in the long term. At the same time, if the proofreading process is also crowdsourced, your project will be vulnerable to mistakes and mistranslations that will not be rectified. Importantly, it will be your business that will be held responsible for the effectiveness of your crowdsourced translations.

Return On Investment; Results Matter

While there are undoubtedly benefits to the crowdsourcing method for larger scale, non-critical translation projects, when it comes to the reputation of your business, you need to be sure that this option is actually best suited to your needs, and that you’re willing to undertake the inherent risks. At the end of the day, the most reliable approach is to invest in a highly experienced, qualified linguistic team to ensure you are saying what you intend to and in a way that will resonate with your intended language market. Ultimately, in translation, as with so many other things in life, you get what you pay for.


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