Dimitris Glezos

Getting Started with Crowdsourcing

As larger, global companies like Waze and Trello are recognizing their communities for their help in translating digital content, more and more customers are asking about how they can leverage their own user communities to crowdsource translations. A majority of these customers are initially hesitant to give community translations a try, asking questions like:

  • How much time does it take to start a community translation project?
  • How do I reach and regularly engage my community?
  • Who is responsible for managing the community as they complete translations?
  • What happens when quality issues arise, and how do I even detect them?

While community translation programs can be difficult to start without the right foundation, they are incredibly gratifying. The ability to connect with your early users in a country is key if you want to win the market. As this TED Talk explains, you have to take care of your first followers if you want to start a movement.

Today, we’re going to share some tips on how to crowdsource effectively and efficiently, producing quality, translated content that engages your multilingual users from around the world.

Setting the record straight on crowdsourced translations

Before diving in, we want to debunk the most common misconceptions about crowdsourcing translations – things that we hear from both prospective and new clients.

Myth 1: You’re going to sacrifice quality if you crowdsource translations.

You may have heard the crowdsourcing horror stories. There’s a company that has a website that needs to be translated into three languages. Said company reaches out to their community to crowdsource translations. An immediate response is surprising and the company is able to crowdsource translations for all three target languages in just a couple weeks. Unfortunately, after the languages are published, complaints come pouring in, citing that the translated content doesn’t make sense and/or isn’t grammatically correct, all which can potentially result in bad press for the company and lost trust among global users.

We’re not saying this scenario never happens, but what’s often left out of the conversation is that most companies that experience early setbacks when crowdsourcing still end up using their community to translate to a certain extent, and some quite successfully. And, many times, these problems can be resolved with a crowdsourcing quality moderation program.

There are stories of language service providers (LSPs) providing poor quality translations too, and most of these stories share a common problem with the crowdsourcing model: throwing content over the fence to be translated with little collaboration doesn’t work. Translating anything – whether a website, help center, or mobile game – requires a dialog with the initial content creators to ensure its meaning is properly interpreted.


Myth 2: You can’t set deadlines when you use your community to translate.

Because your community volunteers to translate and they work on their own schedule, those new to managing a crowd assume that the crowdsourcing model prevents any kind of deadline to be set. In some respects, this is true, because the translations are completed organically. For instance, when Twitter reached out to their community for their initial crowdsourcing efforts, certain languages took closer to a month to be fully translated, whereas Traditional Chinese took only a week.

That said, it’s certainly possible to set a regular translation cadence that ensures projects, even large websites or complicated mobile apps, are translated within a set timeframe. Speed in community translation is a byproduct of a good moderation program. Openly communicating with and steering volunteers (we often call them collaborators) to high priority content is important when dealing with fast-approaching deadlines because it ensures that the most important components of your product are at the top of the list and are translated first.

Myth 3: Your budget is safe if you choose to crowdsource translations.

Community translation is often seen as free or, at the very least, a cheaper alternative to hiring professional translators. But after careful observation of the costs involved, this isn’t always the case. Between your moderation program, research, and software development – and associated time spent on these activities, salaries, server costs, etc – most successful community localization programs incur costs that are similar to, if not more than, contracting work out to a language service provider. The flipside, however, is that you get to engage your community in a way that will continually return benefits in terms of brand engagement and loyalty — difficult to quantify, but highly valuable.

In the translation world, monetary incentives are pretty much off the table, with Orit Yehezkel, Head of Localization at Waze, stating:

“If you give the community money, it’s not a community anymore. They become mercenaries.”

A better way to spend those extra localization dollars is to invest in community building efforts: organizing conferences and meetups for your community, creating programs to recognize them and providing other types of non-monetary incentives like access to beta features. While this may put a dent in your localization budget, it can create goodwill within your community and helps you set yourself up for long-term success.


Deciding what to translate

Once you’ve decided to crowdsource translations, you have to decide what exactly you want to translate. With so many different types of content, attempting to list all of them would be fruitless, but we’ve categorized them into four groups to better share our thoughts. Keep in mind that just because your content isn’t listed here, doesn’t mean crowdsourcing translations isn’t an option.

1. User interface

Translating your user interface into different languages is typically the first translation project attempted, and historically, the most successful because this is what drives most of your community to translate – they want to see your product in their own language.

There are variations on how you would approach the translation process depending on the type of software you’re translating (mobile app vs. website, responsive HTML5 vs. static content) but those variations also apply to how you’d handle this content with a traditional LSP. The specifics here are extensive, so we’ll be addressing them in another blog post.

2. Marketing material

You may have a large amount of marketing material including your website, blog, white papers, and case studies that need to be translated. While some of the content may be straightforward and easy to translate word for word, your community may find it difficult to identify, understand, and translate persuasive content or brand messages like slogans. Certain phrases also don’t have direct translations, and your community may try to translate such phrases anyway. This can result in inconsistent content that doesn’t deliver the intended marketing message. That’s not to say that your community can’t help you with translations, but we do recommend that marketing material is only tackled by experienced community translators!

Read how to increase translation quality for marketing material by creating a glossary for your localization project.

There are some instances when reaching out to your community may be beneficial in testing how your marketing messages will be received in new locales. Your community is likely made of natives who speak your target language, and thus, may be able to provide additional information about buying behaviors, preferences, and even alternative marketing messages that will better resonate with your new audience.


3. Static help centers and FAQs

Whether or not to open translations for your help center or FAQ to your community will heavily depend on the content’s level of complexity. Certain products require in-depth and intimate product knowledge for questions to be helpful to users of all levels. A dedicated community may have the bandwidth and experience to finish these types of translations, but know that it may require the professionalism and expertise of a language service provider.

The same goes for support notes which are often dry and must be delivered quickly within a set amount of time and translated correctly on the first pass. This makes it a tough sell for a community localization project.

4. Terms of Service

Translating terms of service content is best handled by a lawyer. Most of the time, the work required is not just for translations, but to adapt the content to fit the customs and rules of the local country. As a result, this type of content is a poor choice for community translation.

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Now you have some background about how to get started with crowdsourcing. If you have questions about crowdsourcing with a localization automation platform, request a Transifex demo. And don’t forget to read our follow-up post on moderation programs for crowdsourced translations and their importance in successful community management.

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