Translation Industry News | 27.09.2009

Crowdsourcing: a new approach to translation?

The translation industry has traditionally been characterised by a pronounced distinction between the client, the supplier and the target audience. It is still the case that the majority of translation buyers will approach a single point of contact, either a freelance translator or a translation agency, who then deal with their translation requirements, whether it is a simple file into a single language or a complex localisation project demanding multiple languages.

This type of translation process has largely guaranteed clients a fail-safe quality control, since translation agencies generally work in accordance with the TEP-approach (Translation, Editing, Proofreading), delivering a finished product to the client, which is ready for immediate publication. However, this process is not only subject to translation/editing/proofreading charges but is also time consuming.

In recent years, a new approach to translation has emerged. In these cases, the supplier is not one single contact. Instead, the translation project is issued to a large group of people, as an open tender, and translations are prepared by those who want to contribute. What is interesting is that in these cases, the supplier becomes their own audience.. Due to the large number of parties that the translation is outsourced to, this process is referred to as “crowdsourcing”.

Crowdsourcing became a familiar concept when Wikipedia started developing multilingual content for the online encyclopaedia, thanks to the contributions of Wikipedia-fans, who translated millions of English articles into their own mother tongue. Other major users of this system include Google and the social networking sites Facebook, My Space and Plaxo.

Although crowdsourcing has certain advantages over the traditional approaches to translation – such as quicker turnarounds and relatively low costs – this approach would not be appropriate for all industry sectors.
First of all, crowdsourcing translations only seem to work in a social networking context because the language suppliers are at the same time the target audience. Translation in this manner often requires a certain emotional involvement; without it, the volunteers have no incentive to translate the content.

Secondly, with such a high number of translators, quality control becomes difficult to regulate. Large corporate companies often maintain specific house style regulations which suppliers should adhere to; using crowdsourced translators instead of professional translators could harm the overall quality or consistency of the target text.

It is unlikely that traditional translation businesses will lose business to crowdsourcing translators; the corporate world will always need a product that is guaranteed to be of a high quality, whether it is for marketing documentation, technical specifications or legal material. Whether traditional agencies could use aspects of the crowdsourcing approach is still up for discussion.

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