Crowdsourced translation is a relatively recent phenomenon, and one that thrives on the technological medium known as the Internet. It basically refers to a translation project in which the source material is made open to multiple people – sometimes even millions at once – for tandem and possibly cooperative translation, as opposed to contracting said project to one individual or specific group. Also known as “community translation” or “collaborative translation”, the term’s roots lay in the concept of “crowdsourcing”, also a relatively recent idea.
Wikipedia defines “crowdsourcing” as follows:
Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing them to a group of people or community, through an "open call" to a large group of people (a crowd) asking for contributions. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task (also known as community-based design and distributed participatory design), refine or carry out the steps of an algorithm (see Human-based computation), or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science).
Recently, a variety of online-based companies have been utilizing the crowdsourcing method for translations of their respective websites’ contents. Some of the more high-profile projects have been those conducted by online social networking sites such as Facebook and Hi5. Crowdsourced translation, when properly managed and administered, can make extremely large projects of unwieldy volume go much more smoothly and quickly, and in some cases even make the translation of the material even more accurate. On the other hand, if not properly managed and quality assured, it can create days, weeks, or even months of extra fix-up work for the administrators. This is especially true when specialized terminology and/or distinctive writing styles are required for the finished product.
There are many advantages to crowdsourced translation – especially for websites/services such as the aforementioned. One of these advantages is that on top of (usually) being free of charge, it also allows for more rare or minor languages to be translated not only accurately but also in proper modern parlance. Another advantage would be the fact that the source material is, by the nature of the act, translated just the way the end users would want it to be. This not only helps boost user satisfaction, but also provides the company in question with a way to avoid complaints about “unnatural” or “improper” translations, since they can always answer such accusations with a “it’s not us, it’s you” deflection.
Some freelance translators and translator associations are against crowdsourced translation, especially when the work is done free of charge, because they feel that it takes away valuable work opportunities. Unfortunately for this section of the translation industry, in some cases – be it due to financial reasons, time restraints, or other causes – crowdsourced translation is not only the most effective way to go, it’s sometimes the only method plausible. Facebook, for example, undergoes constant criticism by its users regarding its language and terminology, but in crowdsourcing the site’s recent multilingual translation, the company responsible not only saved literally hundreds of thousands – if not millions - of dollars in translation/proofreading/quality assurance fees, they were also able to get the site’s terminology and general linguistic feel just as the end users preferred.
As crowdsourced translation continues to evolve and expand into other areas of business in general and the world of online translation in particular, we can expect to see new technologies and translation methods based on or related to this practice crop up gradually. Whether this is a good or bad thing is a subjective matter, but one that will no doubt become more and more a source of discussion in the days and years to come.