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Has crowdsourcing translation made exploitation cool?

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what?!?! - Flickr image credit dizznbonnFacebook and Twitter did it. Next it will be the Khan Academy's youtube videos. Even with PBS jumping on the bandwagon, crowdsourcing is still cool.

Actually, crowdsourcing is more hype than hip. Really, take a look at Gartner Research's 2012 hype cycle for emerging technologies. Crowdsourcing is on the upward slope, climbing toward the peak of inflated expectations before it will plunge into the trough of disillusionment.

But perhaps will help it fall into that pit of despair even sooner. I hope so. It will be better not just for my business but for yours as well.

Witmart, which bills itself as a "respected international crowdsourcing company," recently put out a press release touting its crowdsourced translation services. The company is offering customers a pool of 100,000 freelancers who are "100% human-powered." They will translate work of 300 words or less in 24 hours. Then, the customer evaluates the work, sets the price, and pays only for the one they choose.

Here's what's Witmart gets right: human translators are still better than machines.

Here's what's wrong: they pay them like machines. In other words, many of them don't get paid at all, and if they do they get very little. Witmart is offering its customers the low entry price of $0.029 per word. That's not a low price. That's rock bottom.

And this isn't truly crowdsourcing. It's old fashioned, exploitative, underpaid outsourcing.

But most of all, it isn't good for your business. First, you risk quality. As a Busines2Community blogger pointed out, most customers aren't skilled enough in the translated language to choose among translations. That's why they need a translator in the first place.

Trust, skill and positive relationships are central to any good translation project. That isn't going to be found by choosing among a crowd of people who are paid rock bottom wages. No matter how many of them there are.

Second, if you are committed to reaching customers who speak another language, you need more than just translation. You need someone who understands the market and the culture. There are no short cuts. As we've noted previously, that's how costly mistakes are made.

And there is an important ethical difference between Witmart and the others. Facebook and Twitter have a crowd. They are essentially asking their own users to help translate something they want, ultimately providing more value for themselves. And PBS and the Khan Academy are nonprofits. They aren't selling anything. Companies like Witmart are taking cheap and free labor, and selling it for a profit.

What do you think? Is this unethical or just smart business?



Firstly, at .029 per word the translator would make $58 for a day of work. This won't fly in most countries with any professional translator, especially not the traditionally expensive Nordics. The cash here is no incentive, and clearly you are not talking professionals. You do have to wonder who you have doing the translations: a high school Spanish student getting practice and a bit of extra money (emphasis on a bit)?  
All this to say: you want quality translations, you need to pay for it.  
This is exploitative and even demeaning to professional translators out there who have graduate degrees and a lot of experience, who do an amazing and effective job at re-crafting all of one language's subtelties into another tongue.
Posted @ Wednesday, September 12, 2012 2:45 PM by LeeD
Great post Renato - my favorite line: "Here's what's Witmart gets right: human translators are still better than machines."  
By the way, haven't companies like Moravia been "crowdsourcing" translators for decades? Not even close to a new concept and certainly not one that every company can achieve at scale.
Posted @ Wednesday, September 12, 2012 4:44 PM by Michael Meinhardt
Smart business is most often unethical. Do you know of anyone who made money being ethical? Is profiting on stock options ethical? Is also living of dividends ethical? Or doing business with mortgages and loans? What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank? 
We're all in business to make money. Some are concerned with ethics, and some are not. Are those profiting with crowdsourcing solutions different from those profiting on € 0,02 per word for (supposedly) professional translations, possibly relying on TEP to fix a faulty product?
Posted @ Thursday, September 13, 2012 4:23 AM by Luigi Muzii
I wouldn't consider Witmart a translation company, but an intruder in this industry. And the people doing the translations for them (if any) aren't probably translators neither. 
Unfortunately, this happens too often in many industries. 
Anyone speaking a foreign language believes he/she is able to translate, and as they have no idea about this business, they work for any rate. As long as there are 'translators' accepting these rates, these companies will exist.
Posted @ Thursday, September 13, 2012 5:42 AM by Alicia
Funny you should reckon .029 per word (or 58 dollars a day) to be rock bottom when in Argentina you pay your freelancers around 5 dollars per hour or 40 a day.
Posted @ Thursday, September 13, 2012 6:55 AM by Marcelo
Solid post especially re: ethical point at end. Re: FB, Twitter- totally agree. The crowdsourcing there is from engaged communities that *benefit* from the localization.
Posted @ Thursday, September 20, 2012 5:10 PM by Mary Rosberg
Nice photo! The cat's expression is priceless, and certainly appropriate for the topic. 
This type of crowdsourcing is unethical, bad business in my opinion. 
Posted @ Thursday, September 27, 2012 5:03 PM by Tom Roland
I believe this business model is completely ethical as long as the company clearly communicates the risk to its clients. That is, it doesn't deceive clients. 
But I wonder how much they're going to pay translators if they charge clients $.029 per word. With my combination, English to Russian translation, when you pay translator $.029, you usually get a translation that is full of various errors and is no way an end product. And they are planning to pay even less? Good luck.
Posted @ Saturday, October 13, 2012 2:58 AM by Roman Mironov
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