Localization World: Are You “Torn” About Crowdsourced Translation?

Crowdsourcing 6_26Earlier this month, I attended Localization World in Dublin.  This was my first localization-specific conference even though Lionbridge is regularly a major sponsor and participant. For me, it was an opportunity to learn more about Lionbridge’s core industries: localization and translation.  The vibe was different than recent crowd conferences I’ve attended, which are often filled with lots of new start-ups, prospects and academics. By contrast, Localization World was attended by very mature service providers, like Lionbridge, as well as localization buyers who have been in the industry for a long time.

The Importance of Evolution

One of the most interesting discussions was the keynote, delivered by Magnus Lindkvist, an author and trend-spotter focused on what society and business might look like in the future. His talk didn’t focus on localization. He talked about the belief that ideas don’t die; instead, they evolve and change.

It’s easy to see why any industry could benefit from this powerful message, but it seems very relevant to localization given the maturity and commoditization of the business. Like other mature industries, localization is facing increasing pressures from all sides. Businesses are pushing for even lower costs while service providers are grappling with how best to use technologies and alternative labor pools. Professional translators are caught in the middle.

There is a growing need to adapt to meet these and other pressures – to be more efficient, innovative and cost effective – but as with any disruption in an established industry, it’s difficult to change.

Determining the Right Approach for your Budget

Readers of this blog know one such disruption for the professional services industry as a whole is crowdsourcing. However, crowdsourced translation will never replace professional translation.  That being said, just like the globalization of the IT industry in the mid to late 90’s, innovation and evolution is upon us. Similar to the IT and professional services industry, the localization Industry has already been globalized so the next possible labor option is virtual – through the crowd.

In the translation landscape, crowd-based translation represents a new way to deliver work.  At Lionbridge, our “translation crowd” consists of bi-lingual native speakers who perform translation tasks leveraging Lionbridge’s lightweight online platform with embedded linguistic tools.

The pricing is up to 50% less than professional translation but the quality, while very good, is not the linguistic perfection that results from a professional model. Crowd translation is an option between professional and machine translation from a cost and quality perspective. The key for organizations is to determine the right approach for each project and content type based on budgetary restraints to achieve the appropriate quality results.

For example, with product descriptions, online reviews, social media forums, tweets and other short form content, context is more important than precise word-for-word translation.  Granting the crowd access to an array of tools allows an added level of accuracy. The result isn’t gold standard, but ultimately, still effectively communicates the material at a cost effective rate.

Recycling Failure

For an industry which is built on a pay-per-word model, finding the right combination of tools may seem daunting. It requires trial-and-error, experimentation and persistence. That’s another message Magnus delivered. “Don’t be afraid to try something again,” he said, “just because it has already failed once.” He called it recycling failure.

Magnus talked about the song “Torn,” a global pop sensation performed by Natalie Imbruglia in 1997. What few people realize, according to Magnus, is that the song was recorded and released no fewer than five times over several years by various bands. The producer behind the track knew he had a hit – he just had to improve on the original idea until it was just right.

Torn by Past Failures

Recycling failure is a powerful concept – particularly in a corporate culture that requires instant success. We’ve all sat in a conference room and had an idea dismissed because someone declared “we tried that in the past, but it didn’t work.” The idea is pegged as the failure instead of examining the circumstances of why it didn’t succeed. Maybe the technology was flawed or the approach went down the wrong path.

What would the outcome have been if we were given the latitude to refine our approach instead of casting it off as a failure?  For the producer of the song “Torn,” refinement resulted in a life changing success.

In localization, embracing and refining new approaches such as crowdsourcing isn’t about eliminating or replacing professional translators. Instead, it holds the promise of reaching new content areas (such as tweets and classifieds) and creating new opportunities where professional translation isn’t currently leveraged. Maybe it’s been tried before, but with technology rapidly changing, the challenge of recycling failure is a goal we should all embrace as localization evolves.

 Have you tried Crowd translation before?  What worked and what didn’t?

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