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In June 2006, Jeff Howe, editor at Wired magazine, published an article called «The Rise of Crowdsourcing». In this way, a neologism – crowdsourcing (crowd, sourcing) - was coined.

Ph. Linn
16 May, 2017

Gradually it became commonly used all over the world. The term means a business model based on the attraction of a "crowd" - in other words, volunteers - to produce and distribute goods and services, as well as offering their own ideas or solving definite problems. Typically, such volunteers are the consumers of those goods and services at the same time. Crowdsourcing allows costs to be cut by forcing out expensive outsourcing services. By doing this, the company transfers definite production functions to an indefinite set of people, on grounds of a public offer which is understood without concluding a labour agreement. The following websites may be used as remarkable examples of crowdsourcing: Wikipedia (users can write, delete and correct encyclopaedia articles), Habrahabr (the website visitors themselves create its content), Mail.ru Questions-Answers (the users answer the questions of other users) as well as Threadless T-shirts, a Chicago based company (T-shirt designs are created and chosen online by public vote).

This phenomenon has penetrated into the sphere of translation as well. Therefore, we can start talking about "crowdtranslation" too. Given that the phenomenon is rather new, it has not been denoted by any official term yet. However, you can already come accross such terms as "collective translation", "collective intelligence", "collective mind", "collaborative translation editing", etc. A good example of crowdsourcing in the translation field is Crowdin.net, a service created by Ukrainian developers. It supports more than 90 languages and combines localization and software development processes. Here, the translators can find translation memory, an online editor, proofreading tools and possible translation options from Google Translate and Microsoft Translator. An example of national crowdsourcing technology development may be the Multitran website and dictionary, where you can add and correct lexical entries, as well as Notabenoid, a website which is used for collective translations of any texts, but primarily of subtitles, into different languages. All the texts which are to be translated are divided into a great number of little pieces (sentences, paragraphs, titles). Each translation participant reads a fragment in the original language and offers his own translation. If the other visitors like his translation they mark it with "plus"; if they do not like it, it gets a "minus". All the assessments are summed up and the best translation thus becomes evident. Usually, you can attach comments to each paragraph: to ask for help, ask questions, and discuss a phrase`s translation. The translation can be done both by the entire "crowd" publicly, or by a closed group of people. In such cases, the translation is visible only for this group. That is the main principle of work performed by the "organized crowd".

Despite the fact that the Notabenoid website is used for the translation of whole books and separate phrases, idioms, and even names, it was the collective translation of subtitles for TV series that helped it to gain popularity and made the website so well-known. On the day when an episode of some or other foreign TV series is released, Notabenoid provides the original subtitles for the general public and the "crowd" begins its online translation very quickly. In these cases the audience of translator-volunteers represents admirers and fans of the TV series, eagerly waiting for the plot development in each following episode. As the episode release date is always known in advance (announced, for example, on international movie websites), lots of people visit the website to participate in the translation process or download its result from the moment the original subtitles appear on the network. Whole books and long texts are more difficult for collective translation. For example, the Russian website Translated.by declares itself to be a community of volunteers who translate "blogs and magazine articles, stories which are published by the authors or documentation for open assessment". However, at this website, translations on the following "household" topics prevail: folk medicine, religion, cooking, home and family. There are fewer enthusiasts here, and they are not grouped according to their interests, so many translations get stuck without making any progress, or are translated by the same person who uploaded them. Among the more interesting websites is Cucumis.org, which is dedicated to multilanguage projects. The technology is based on the definite number of points which you can use to pay for the translation: you get the points when you translate somebody’s text, and you spend these points when you ask the other community members to help with the translation of your text. Such virtual "money" solves the problem of text actuality or its absence in full: the translators are motivated to work almost with any documents. Although on the other hand, if you want to get you text translated you must have enough points, be a registered user and take an active part in the website`s activity. The principle "I’ve come, ordered a free of charge translation and gone away" will not work there. You have to spend a lot of time in this community, being both an active customer and a no less active translator.

Crowdsourcing can be used on widely different scales, from a private request to translate a line from a foreign friends’ letter (e.g. translation help in LiveJournal communities), to global projects of international company (e.g. Adobe Systems uses Lingotek`s Collaborative Translation Platform™ to crowdsource its translation projects all over the world).

So, let us lift the veil: what drives the crowd? First of all, it is genuine interest, without any doubt. Translations are done by admirers, fans, people who are crazy about the book, movie, TV series. Still, in this case, we are immediately faced with a problem: do the fans have the appropriate language knowledge, or translation and editing skills? Unfortunately, not every one of them has. That is why there are some grammatical and lexical mistakes, and sometimes even obvious mutilation of the original text.

The second reason to become the translator-volunteer is to get special status, testifying that the thought of its owner has influenced a company`s development, become a company’s "expert", a part of its team. The following magic words: "I have translated Twitter into Russian" or "I’ve translated subtitles for House, M.D." - can raise your profile among your friends and relatives, and the translator starts to believe in himself. Furthermore, in addition to virtual incentives, the companies can offer their volunteers real presents, discounts and prizes, welcome by everyone. Sometimes VIP status volunteers are provided with the opportunity to visit the plant or company and get acquainted with its head in person. As you will agree, in such cases the additional motivation to translate free of charge appears.

The services mentioned in this article, first of all, offer different tools for editing and rather convenient ground to perform a translation process. The project is done in a more comfortable environment, with uninterrupted Internet access. You can hardly attract translator-volunteers to do a free of charge, collective translation of any of your texts which are not interesting to the "crowd", or if the text is not the subtitles for a movie or TV series at such servers.

Moreover, companies still have to pay for the creation of such crowdsourcing communities and for the work of the specialists supporting the web service. Nevertheless, sometimes it is more profitable than hiring a team of experts for new ideas and project development. As for the translation activity itself, hardly any volunteers from the "crowd" would like to translate a big project, first of all, nor can they do it at the appropriate level. It should be admitted that the motivation for translation is still either a strong and unselfish interest, or a salary. Therefore, despite the fact that the phenomenon of "crowdsourcing" becomes more and more popular in the contemporary world, it is a very big "if" that the recently-appeared tendency towards collective translation will go on developing and be able to displace professional translators. Let us leave this business model for big international companies looking for new ideas and solutions for their projects and seeking the advice of the "crowd". The wise Russian nation, as usual, has two opposite opinions (which, in spite of the paradox, are both true) on the matter: "Two heads are better than one", or "Too many cooks spoil the broth".


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tags: Google Translate, Wikipedia, LiveJournal, crowdsourcing, technology, translation memory, volunteer, subtitles, blog, friend, web, Notabenoid, proofreading, author, online translation

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