Crowdsourcing Translation: Pro or Con?


by Dina Kessaniotou, Project Coordinator at Commit

An important advantage of the “connected world”, apart from the unlimited access to all kinds of information, is that it brought together previously “disconnected” people, groups or crowds – giving them the opportunity to become more active and engaged in the world around them.

The concept of “crowdsourcing”, meaning the involvement of non-specialists to tasks that were traditionally held by professionals, found a more fertile environment to evolve. Localization could not be an exception, being an already open-minded field by nature. The continuously increasing needs for localization make us want to sit back and reconsider the pros and cons of crowdsourcing. Let’s see some basic points:

What is considered as the main and obvious benefit of crowdsourcing is cost saving. People are much less compensated than professionals – or work for free.

Moreover, there is no doubt that crowdsourcing ensures more availability – it is much easier for a big community of people to achieve super-fast turnarounds than a restricted group of professionals working on a specific project.

Thanks to crowdsourcing, more languages are saved from oblivion because when it comes to minority languages it is not always possible to find professional support. The input of the crowd is extremely valuable at this case.

On the other hand, the value of professional services is undeniable. Not because a community of volunteers cannot provide good translations, but because of the possible lack of expertise and skills. If we think that even experienced linguists are not always qualified for all kinds of projects, we can easily imagine that it is even more difficult to find specialized people in a free community. And then the basic purpose of localization can be lost: we want to speak the language of our audience in order to approach them in a more direct way. But this cannot be achieved without high quality translations.

Going further, why should we expect from non-specialists who work for free to provide high quality translations and be responsible for the accuracy of their work? We would therefore need a specialized pool of reviewers in order to ensure the quality of the final translations. And we should always take consistency into account, which is one of the most important aspects of the content we provide. But how easy is it to keep consistency among people in a free community?

Another basic characteristic of crowdsourcing, is that it should be open to everybody, by definition. How easy would it be to handle the risks that this open model can incur?

It is obvious that a strong professional support is necessary for the coordination of crowdsourcing. Should we still think of crowdsourcing as a much cheaper solution for our localization needs?

All that being said, one would think that crowdsourcing has mainly disadvantages. This is not true. Because we haven’t still mentioned the most valuable benefit of crowdsourcing: the input of people. The feedback of our clients or the users of our products. In short, the “wisdom of the crowd”. This is the opportunity we have to listen to our audience and an alternative way to get their feedback. The more input we have (and this is a matter of statistics!), the more likely we are to end up with the best suggestion.

Summarizing the pros and cons of crowdsourcing, we could say that it can be a very fruitful process if put in place based on some standards. The ideal way to use it is in parallel with professional support and as a separate process. But we should be sure that we are able to mitigate the cons in order to benefit from the pros…