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November 6, 2009 / ICL

Crowdsourcing: yes or no? | “Crowdsourcing”: ¿sí o no?

Currently one of the hottest translation-related topics is “crowdsourcing”, which was a topic already included in one of my previous blog interviews (see this link).

This week there was a major fuss in Twitter due to, incidentally, the new Spanish version of Twitter.

Some Spanish translation colleagues* who, after learning that the said version had been launched decided to try it, immediately spotted a series of mistakes that undoubtedly revealed that the crowdsourcing system that Twitter had chosen to apply was hardly effective. The “majority-based voting” idea to select the final translation had obviously not resulted, in some cases, in the minimum expected quality (especially the Terms of Services legal part).

I suppose Twitter will probably “fix” all this, at least not to end up with such a “sloppy” Spanish version of their interface. I suppose that, just like their English version is written in correct English, the least Spanish, French, etc. users can expect is to have an equally correct version in their language.

Therefore, this incident made clear that using crowdsourcing so lightly can obviously backfire, when the “crowd” produces such low quality results as the ones we witnessed this week in Twitter’s new Spanish version.

But to me, going beyond this incident as an anecdote, what actually should transcend is the polemic that the crowdsourcing concept has been generating for a while.

Which takes us back to the core of the polemic: crowdsourcing, yes or no?

For starters, let’s make clear that “crowdsourcing” is closely and obviously related to the idea of “freebies” (mostly Internet-related).

During the last months I have read a good number of blog articles, forum debates, Twitter tweets and Internet texts in general about crowdsourcing. You just have to Google the term “crowdsourcing” to get a considerable number of hits.

Enough to get a minimum idea that the crowdsourcing phenomenon stirs hostility among people who view it as a major “ethical” issue, not only related to translation, but to any job that is left (for free) in the hands of a “crowd”, instead of the corresponding professionals.

The thing is, paradoxically, it seems that, on the one hand, we get concerned about this only when a business is going to get money out of this and, on the other hand, when it affects us directly.

For instance, in the case of “open source” software [that is, whose code you can access and which anyone can modify and COPY], you probably are not so concerned about crowdsourcing here unless you are a commercial/for profit software developer.

Hardly anyone seems to have a problem with crowdsourcing in the case of Wikipedia, which is completely based on “the crowd”, though Wikipedia recently started requesting funds from the very same “crowd” that has made Wikipedia such a success.

No one seems to have a problem to get a free account in Twitter, Facebook, which, without falling into exaggerated views about the personal practical benefits one obtains from them, allows them at the very least to have a worldwide public visibility and communication that they would have never dreamed they could have.

Millions of people didn’t seem to have (or still don’t have) a problem with the indirect use of crowdsourcing when Napster was at its peak and anyone could download all kinds of multimedia files through it.

Etc. etc.

So my point is that perhaps we are falling into the trap of applying double-standards when it comes to crowdsourcing.

That is, we are saying it’s OK to have crowdsourcing as long as no profit is obtained by a for-profit enterprise from this, but can we also say that someone who is really Internet marketing/SEO-savvy or at least knowledgeable enough is not going to get any profit through the “free” registration of a Twitter, a Facebook or a mere Gmail e-mail account? In short, crowdsourcing the other way around.

I think that, at the very least, things are not nearly clear enough to “demonize” anyone or to cry “unethical” so strictly.

Some commercial enterprises are definitely going to take advantage of what they can save through crowdsourcing, but many users (if not all) certainly also know how to get profit (including economic profit) from all the “freebies” that precisely those enterprises can offer them.

So far, it seems a “middle ground” has been found in some cases. For example, in the music industry, thanks mostly to ideas such as Apple’s iTunes, of paid music downloads, which has resulted in a fair adaptation of the traditional music business model to the new downloading business model basically imposed by “the crowd” since the rise and fall of Napster when it was free.

A “middle ground” will probably also be found in the translation industry in regard to crowdsourcing, otherwise we risk to constantly repeat the translation quality mess we witnessed this week with Twitter’s Spanish version.

I guess companies, sooner or later, will realize that not all “crowds” are qualified nor knowledgeable enough to achieve the kind of minimum quality work that is required in order for that same crowd to take them seriously.

And last but not least, although crowdsourcing sounds really “threatening” to many translators, I doubt that all companies are going to be as careless to leave the translation of all (or even most of) their sensitive and important documentation in the hands of a crowd, for obvious (security/confidentiality) reasons.

So in this respect it would also be good to reflect/research, without panic and with rationality, about what percentage of the overall translation industry volume could really be “affected” by crowdsourcing.

* Related links:

Algo más que traducir

El taller del traductor

Uno de los temas actuales más candentes sobre la traducción es “crowdsourcing”, si bien ya lo había incluido en una de mis anteriores entrevistas (véase este enlace).

Esta semana hubo un gran revuelo en Twitter, debido, justamente, a la nueva versión en español de Twitter.

Algunos colegas traductores de español* que, tras enterarse de que ya estaba disponible dicha versión, decidieron probarla, inmediatamente encontraron una serie de errores que, sin lugar a dudas, dejaron claro que el sistema de “crowdsourcing” que Twitter había optado por aplicar no había resultado para nada eficaz. La idea de “votación basada en la mayoría” para seleccionar la traducción final no había tenido como resultado, en algunos casos, la calidad mínima que cabe esperar (sobre todo en la parte relacionada con el acuerdo legal de uso del sitio web).

Supongo que Twitter “arreglará” todo esto, como mínimo para que no terminen con una versión en español tan “descuidada” de su interfaz. Supongo que, si la versión inglesa está escrita en correcto inglés, lo mínimo que los usuarios de español, francés, etc. pueden esperar es una versión igualmente correcta en su idioma.

Por tanto, este incidente dejó claro que el uso de “crowdsourcing” a la ligera puede tener un efecto contrario al deseado, si el “público” genera resultados de tan baja calidad como el que hemos presenciado esta semana con la nueva versión en español de Twitter.

Pero a mí me parece que, aparte de este incidente anecdótico, lo que en realidad debería trascender es la polémica que el concepto de “crowdsourcing” lleva generando de un tiempo a esta parte.

Lo cual nos lleva al meollo de esta polémica: “crowdsourcing”, ¿sí o no?

Para empezar, dejemos claro que el concepto de “crowdsourcing” está obvia y estrechamente relacionado con la idea de “lo gratuito” (principalmente en relación con Internet).

En los últimos meses he leído un buen número de artículos de blogs, debates en foros, “tweets” (mensajitos) de Twitter y textos en general en Internet acerca de “crowdsourcing”. Basta con buscar este término en Google para ver que se obtiene un número considerable de resultados.

Suficientes para hacerme una mínima idea de que este fenómeno genera animadversión en las personas que lo consideran un gran problema “ético”, no solamente en relación con las traducciones, sino con cualquier trabajo que se deje (gratis) en manos del “público”, en lugar de los correspondientes profesionales.

La cuestión es que, paradójicamente, parece que, por un lado, esto nos preocupa solamente cuando una empresa va a obtener ganancias mediante “crowdsourcing” y, por otro lado, cuando nos afecta directamente.

Por ejemplo, en el caso del software tipo “open source” [es decir, a cuyo código se puede acceder y el cual cualquiera puede modificar y COPIAR], seguramente a nadie que no sea un desarrollador comercial de software con ánimo de lucro le importa cómo afecte aquí el uso de “crowdsourcing”.

Casi nadie ve en ello un problema en el caso de la Wikipedia, totalmente basada en “el público”, si bien hace poco dicho sitio web empezó a solicitar fondos del mismo “público” que ha hecho de dicha enciclopedia todo un éxito.

Nadie ve en ello un problema al obtener una cuenta gratis en Twitter, en Facebook, etc. que, sin caer en exageraciones en cuanto a los beneficios personales y prácticos que se obtienen de ello, les permite, como muy mínimo, tener una visibilidad y comunicación pública mundial que jamás habrían soñado.

Millones de personas parecen no haber tenido (o incluso todavía no lo tienen) problema alguno con el uso indirecto de “crowdsourcing” cuando Napster estaba en su apogeo y se podía descargar a través de este programa toda clase de archivos multimedia.

Etc. etc.

En resumen, a lo que me refiero es que no sé si estamos cayendo en la trampa de aplicar un doble rasero a este tema de “crowdsourcing”.

En otras palabras, estamos diciendo que está bien el uso de “crowdsourcing” siempre y cuando una empresa con ánimo de lucro no obtenga beneficios de ello, pero ¿podemos también decir que alguien que sea un genio del marketing/SEO a través de Internet o que al menos tenga los suficientes conocimientos al respecto no va a obtener ningún beneficio económico mediante la obtención de una cuenta gratuita de Twitter, Facebook o simple y llanamente una cuenta de correo electrónico de Gmail? Es decir, “crowdsourcing” al revés.

Creo que, como mínimo, las cosas no están ni remotamente tan claras como para “convertir en el demonio” a unos u otros o como para gritar “falta de ética” tan a rajatabla.

Algunas empresas con ánimo de lucro definitivamente van a aprovecharse de todo lo que se puedan ahorrar mediante “crowdsourcing”, pero muchos usuarios (cuando no todos) definitivamente saben también cómo obtener beneficios (incluidos los económicos) de todos los recursos gratuitos que justamente dichas empresas les puedan ofrecer.

Por el momento, parece que se ha logrado llegar a un “término medio” en algunos casos. Por ejemplo, en la industria de la música, gracias más que todo a ideas como la de iTunes de Apple, de descargas de pago de la música, lo cual ha tenido como resultado una justa adaptación del modelo tradicional de negocio de la música al nuevo modelo de negocio de descargas de música que impuso justamente el “público” tras el auge y caída de Napster cuando era gratuito.

Seguramente se logrará un “término medio” también en el caso de la industria de la traducción en lo que respecta al uso de “crowdsourcing” o, de lo contrario, corremos el riesgo de repetir constantemente el enredo de mala calidad de traducción que presenciamos esta semana con la versión en español de Twitter.

Creo que las empresas se darán cuenta tarde o temprano de que no todo tipo de “público” está cualificado ni tiene los conocimientos suficientes para lograr la clase de calidad mínima requerida para que ese mismo “público” las tome en serio.

Y por último, pero no por ello menos importante, aunque la idea de “crowdsourcing” suena realmente “amenazadora” para muchos traductores, dudo que todas las empresas vayan a ser tan imprudentes como para dejar la traducción de toda (o la mayoría de) su documentación en manos del “público”, por razones obvias (seguridad/confidencialidad).

Así que en este sentido también sería bueno reflexionar/investigar, sin pánico y con racionalidad, sobre el porcentaje del volumen global de traducción que se podría ver realmente “afectado” por el uso de “crowdsourcing”.

* Enlaces relacionados:

Algo más que traducir

El taller del traductor




Leave a Comment
  1. Kirti / Nov 6 2009 19:12

    I think it is worthwhile for all of us to dig into this to better understand where/if it makes sense for Buyers, LSPs and Translators.

    Much of the criticism of crowdsourcing assumes a zero sum game or market. The thinking is, that if the crowd is involved, a professional translator is displaced and denied payment for services they would generally have rendered for payment. To some extent this may even be true in a world where source content grows by 10%-20% a year and where very standard localization source content is the only focus of the crowd effort like FB and LinkedIn which to my mind are NOT good examples of the real potential of this phenomenon.

    However, I think as the web becomes much more global and corporate website is the first point of contact for information of high value to global customers, the picture changes.

    I think the more likely scenario we face today is that the amount of source content growth is much more dramatic. It is quite possibly 10X or maybe even as much 100X the amount of source content that the localization industry translated last year. The demand for more information to be translated is growing exponentially.

    So then how does a global company looking to grow in new markets solve this problem? Or increase content for existing global markets as community content grows in importance?

    1. The global companies are not going to be given much more (if any at all) money to accomplish this
    2. There are not enough translators to translate 10X or even 2X the source content let alone 100X which is where we are quickly heading
    3. There is not enough time to use a standard TEP process even if money were no object

    So these companies either accept that this cannot be done, or they try completely new approaches to address this need. I think that an emerging model to allow 10X content to be translated at high quality levels is developing and has the following characteristics:
    • Increased use of MT (especially SMT that can learn and continuously improve)
    • Increased use of translation technology platforms (not SDL) that enable large scale collaboration with robust tools and processes
    • Much better interchange of linguistic data across platforms and products and vendors (which by definition rules out SDL)
    • Initial guidance and steering of these “massive scale” projects by skilled language professionals
    • Increasing involvement and use of the bilingual community (or crowd) to get large projects done especially in “new” markets
    • The development of virtuous cycles that enable large amounts (millions of words) of content to be progressively translated at higher and higher quality

    I think we are already seeing evidence of this with the Lionbridge “Translation Workspace” announcement, Lingotek has a crowd and translation management environment designed to help you use both professionals and volunteers and identify quality drivers, and Asia Online is introducing Language Studio Pro to enable the MT piece to be much more tightly integrated into this process: ( ). Moravia is one of the first LSPs to jump into this new model and I am sure we will see more enlightened LSPs also do so in future.

    I think an emerging model for very large amounts of content will be Statistical MT + Expert Linguistic Steering + Professional Translation + Community or crowds

    Can anybody else suggest other ways to address a 10X or a 100X growth in source content that begs to be translated at as low a cost as possible?

    There are also very active discussion going on about this subject in LinkedIn in the Localization Professionals group as well as the G11n – Globalization Professional groups

  2. ostrov / Dec 3 2009 16:59

    Thank you,
    very interesting article


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