Why Crowdsourcing Works For Going Global

Crowd sourcing

Photo: CreativeCrowds via Flickr

After reading Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s article about crowdsourcing translation, we thought it might be useful to offer an alternative viewpoint — that crowdsourcing can be a cost effective way to go international, without sacrificing quality.

Pascal-Emmanuel rightly points out that there can be problems with crowdsourced website translations, especially when not done right. However, with the right tools, and the right crowd, businesses can indeed achieve high-quality results at a fraction of the cost of traditional human translation.

The hard reality is that professional translation is expensive.  A big translation agency can charge 30 cents per word, per language, which most startups simply can’t afford.  Contracting with freelance professional translators is generally cheaper, and usually with about the same quality — but can still range from eight to fifteen cents per translated word.  For many companies, this is still cost prohibitive.

But if your business has a passionate, engaged internal or external community that knows your product or service, and they have the proper translation tools, you can get incredible translation results — arguably with better quality that a professional translator who knows nothing about your business.  Furthermore, volunteer translation reduces translation costs, increases community engagement, and enables the business to expand more quickly to a global audience.

Given that most of online growth is occurring outside the US, companies will need to speak to an international audience sooner rather than later.  Pretty soon, an English-only website is going to feel about as dumb as not having a website.  And just because a start-up can’t afford professional translation doesn’t mean it’s not ready to expand globally.  It simply needs a better way of expanding — a smarter way.

Here are five things that must be a part of a volunteer translation process if you want high quality results:

1)    Context is king.  Translations must occur in context. Getting a set of random, individual, non-contextualized strings emailed in a spreadsheet is a recipe for disaster. Is “Home” where I live, or the first page of my site? Is “Paris Hilton” the person, or the hotel in France? Your translators must be able to translate in a contextualized experience.

2)    Crowd control.

The site owner needs full control over the crowd — who can apply, who gets approved, and how they are allowed to participate.  It’s also critically important to remember that your crowd is serving you, and there are a lot of intangible, non-financial ways to reward your top contributors.

3)    Style is everything.

Translators must work from an established style guide and glossary, with pre-approved terms and phrases, and their associated translations. A style guide ensures that everyone knows the proper tone of voice, and a glossary solves problems with modern terms like “Poke,” “Friending,” “Facebook.” Good software will allow for identifying these key terms as well as enforcing their proper use.

4)    Don’t forget the tools.

The crowd must have access to tools that simplify the translation process and allow the crowd to self-police, including the ability to fix poor translations, flag questionable translations, and identify where translations simply don’t fit the space allotted.

5)    Some things are better left to the pros.

Some things probably aren’t appropriate for the crowd, no matter how engaged. specialised marketing materials, terms and conditions, privacy policies, etc. might be better left to the pros.  A hybrid approach of crowd for some content and professionals for other content can be very effective.

This is a particularly timely discussion as the majority of online growth is happening outside of the US. As a quick comparison, over 75 per cent of the U.S. population is online today and the U.S. sees only four per cent year over year growth. Compare this with China that has only 29 per cent online population and 30 per cent year over year growth, and already exceeds the US online population by 150 million people.  It’s easy to see why international is such as startling opportunity, that can be ignored at your peril.

Crowdsourcing translations via an engaged community with proper tools can be a very effective way for start-ups or businesses of any size to capitalise on the international opportunity, now.

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