Saturday, December 19, 2009

More Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing has been mentioned on this blog before. Applied to translating it means ‘outsourcing’ a translation, usually in chunks, to a community of Native Translators. One of its manifestations is fansubbing, which was mentioned on September 28. And on July 14, I described a large Chinese collective translation network called Yeeyan.

Now comes another such initiative, this time from Canada. It’s called Plurk - awful name but I suppose it’s easy to remember. It’s an upstart competitor to Twitter in the microblogging market. (A microblog, in case you don’t know, is a blog where the blogger recounts minute-to-minute micro-events in his or her life.) It targets a niche market, Asia. To do so, it provides an interface in a number of Asian languages. Yet it has a total staff of only nine, none of them translators. How does it do it? Alvin Woon, one of its founders, explains:
Plurk has won market share in Asia with the help of users around the world willing to translate it into dozens of languages outside of its main lingo, English… When Plurk first launched, we had a translation system where the whole system was translated into 25 different languages in two weeks. It's all done by our users. We have some difficult languages, like Gaelic, Arabic, and Japanese, and it's all done by our users. That gave us a head start, especially in a place like Taiwan. I think it's different here than in Hong Kong or Singapore. People don't speak English here as well, so when they come to Plurk and they see a traditional Chinese interface, they will be like, ‘Wow, this is done by a Taiwanese company.’ There is this kind of connection between the service provider and the user. We have users in Zambia, Denmark, Norway and other places, too… When we launched, some Plurkers from a faraway country said, ‘Hey, can we translate that for you?’ And we said sure, why not. Then, it just turned viral. It's kind of interesting to see how passionate people are about the service. They really want people in their own country to use Plurk. This is all volunteer work, but we do have this kind of reward system in place where you get a badge for everything you accomplish. If you become a translator, you get a Rosetta Stone badge, stuff like that. People are gratified by stuff like that… Now we have groups of translators all over the world. When we write a new feature we will put it all out in text and push it through the system, then all the translators will take them. So all these translators will get an e-mail saying, ‘Hey, there's a new string, please help us translate it.’ It's very democratic. Say you have maybe 10 Taiwanese translators translating a string but they get to vote among them for the best translation and then the system will push the best one up to the live Web page. So we push things out, then they translate it, then they push it in… It's kind of interesting. I think the users appreciate that, in the long run. Once you set up the translation system, it's not that hard to do. I think every social-networking site should try to do that. If you only implement an English user interface, you shut out a lot of users.
So Plurk uses crowdsourcing not only to do the translations but also to evaluate them. The ability to assess translations, including one’s own, is an important aspect of Natural, Native and indeed all translating. If you can’t compare a translation with its original, how can you be sure it’s right, or at least nearly right? The ability starts in children, so it’s not surprising that the Plurk translators have it.

Dan Nystedt (IDG News Service). Plurk Users Bring Microblogging to Many Languages. PCWorld, 2009.

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