Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crowdsourcing Translation: Power To The People?

Crowdsourcing is becoming more and more common nowadays. With the increased importance of the internet, this was almost inevitable. What exactly is crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing is a method of outsourcing a task to a large, almost infinite, number of people. An open-ended invitation is sent out to an unknown group who then work on a solution to a problem. Usually anyone can provide a solution and the best solutions are chosen via a rating system or peer assessment methods.

Do you reckon you'd get a good translation from these guys?
Probably not.

Crowdsourcing can be used for translation too. Why not? If you have something that needs translating why not present it to every translator you can and get them to do it? It's cheap since the translators are not usually paid. Everyone pitches in a suggested translation and then the community votes on the best translation, known as crowdvoting.

Crowdvoting works almost everywhere, except Florida.

There are several key issues with using crowdsourcing for translation purposes. Firstly, there is little to no quality control. If only under-qualified translators are submitting and voting on translations, then the end result will most likely be a poor and inaccurate translation. Secondly, if all translations are done as individual parts, there will be no consistency amongst translations, as several parts of a single sentence could be translated by multiple individuals.

Furthermore, there is nothing to stop malicious entries. If you are familiar with the internet you know that it's full of lunatics. Occasionally, an incorrect translation can slip through the cracks when one person writes something "funny" and a group of internet nutjobs decide it would be amusing to vote this through as a suggestion. Think Wikipedia.

Sometimes crowdsourcing can be very powerful. Wikipedia is a fine example of what can be achieved if you find a good community of passionate people. Of course, you can't cite Wikipedia for academic purposes and it hasn't always got the quality of Encyclopaedia Britannica, but it's an excellent resource for killing time and learning about things you never thought you'd even read about. We love a good Wiki link-hopping session!

It's no Wikipedia! It probably doesn't even have an entry on memes!

Can crowdsourcing translation work? Is it a replacement for qualified paid professionals? We think not, but given the economy, sometimes a poor translation is better than no translation.