Puzzled Translator: Thoughts on Crowdsourcing in Translation

The world of translation is just as fascinating for outsiders as it is for insiders.

Recently my friend sent me a link to a popular on-line shopping web-site. It was machine-translated, but now the owners started a competition with a prize of $100 for the winner and $50 for the other most active translators.

This competition was called “Проект по улучшению переводов” (Project to improve translation [quality]). When I checked the published statistics, I found out that there were over 60k registered “improvers”, and over 300k translations were already corrected.

crowdTranslations were measured in segments/sentences, so translation unit was not just limited to one word. If we assume that even the lowest-paying agency in the third-world country would offer $0.01 per word (I don’t know how it would be possible for a translator to survive at this rate, but calculations are easier with this number), then the crowd had already provided the services for over $3,000. The current leader of the competition translated/checked/corrected/improved over 38,000 translation units. This person provided at least $380 worth of services in an attempt to win $100. I don’t know about you, but I can only applaud the entrepreneurial spirit of the web-site. That’s brilliant! Top five get $300, while you save thousands.

Before I started writing this post, I thought that I never took part in crowdsourcing, but after a brain-storming session and web-search on types of crowdsourcing, I realized that I was involved in crowdsourcing. The worst part is that some of the times I was not even aware that my services were crowd-sourced.

I know that I take part in crowdsourcing, when I willingly correct typing mistakes in Wikipedia. What I didn’t know is that every time I register at some web-site and am required to enter letters or numbers from the picture to prove I am not a robot, I’m not only crowd-sourced, but the owners are also making money off me, because they are paid to check that picture and numbers match.

volunteers-601662_640I don’t register all that often, and yet I’m unhappy that someone earned even one kopiyka just because I registered. Why would someone work to make other people richer? What makes those 60,000 people provide free translations, so that the web-site owner could earn more money? If they want to be a part of something big, they can always join volunteer movement. Volunteers are at least working for the good of society.

Localization of a web-site is also a good thing if done properly, but I doubt it is a possible outcome with crowdsourced translators. Not all crowdsourced translations are bad; a lot of them are pretty good, but average between “good” and “bad” is “mediocre”. All that happened is bad machine translation was replaced with crowdsourced mediocrity.

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