To address the debate about professional vs. crowd sourcing translations, I would like to offer a recent experience I had in an unrelated field.
I brought some 50 year old pictures that I wanted scanned to a photography store. I could have done the scans myself, but the store was offering a very inexpensive promotion.
Before I would let the store have the work, I spent 20 minutes with the owner vetting them and establishing my requirements. My number one priority was that the originals remain undamaged. Not only did I emphasize this multiple times, but I reviewed the scanner and its feeder, etc. In fact, we made changes to how the pictures were collected after scanning, to assure the pictures would not be bent as they exited.
My second requirement was timing. My deadline was a plane flight a few days later. I also went over resolution, color accuracy, pricing and some other fine points with the owner. He provided all sorts of assurances and testimonials. The scanner was state of the art and very expensive. He would handle the scanning personally to protect the pictures. I questioned how often they did projects like this and he described numerous similar projects and their extensive experience. They were professionals.
As you have no doubt guessed by now, the process broke down, in multiple ways.
- The scanner glass and reader were dirty causing the images to have lines and marks on them. I noticed this and they redid all the scans the next day.
- Some pictures were damaged. They weren’t bent or mangled, but ink from some of the darker pictures transferred to the scanner rollers which then transferred ink smudges onto pictures of a pure white wedding dress.
- The scanned images are networked to a server for making CDs and other processing. The server CD burner stopped working. To resolve the problem they transferred the files to another machine to make the CD. This machine had different software on it which for some reason reduced the resolution from 300 dpi to 90 dpi. It also cropped some pictures (for a reason that is not understood) lopping off heads and other undesirable changes.
You can imagine how upset I was at the damaged originals. Later I reviewed the CD and discovered the low resolution and cropped images. I spoke with the owner. The scans were still on the server so they made a new CD.
I’ll leave out the remaining details. Suffice it to say that I returned to the store each day 3 more times until I finally had uncropped images of the right resolution, (but showing the now ink-stained wedding dress.) I missed my deadline and spent as many hours with the store and owner as I would have spent if I had scanned the images myself.
The owner, throughout this, was surprised and upset by the problems, immensely apologetic, worked overtime to satisfy me and brought in other staffers to rush through equipment and other fixes and to be as timely as possible. He spoke, I believe sincerely, of honoring his commitment and trying to make me whole, and happy.
Now I hope some of you see the relationship with translation.
Many organizations and individual professional translators in the industry are protesting the use of crowd sourcing. The claim is that quality will suffer.
I know many of the folks in the industry and I do not question the training, skills, attention to quality and passion that goes into providing good translations. As with the store owner, it is a matter of personal pride, that the work be excellent and the customer satisfied.
However, if we look at the user community and their satisfaction, we see that the intent does not become achievement. Translation is not just a product of the wordsmithing of an individual. It is a process involving several people, tools and equipment, different kinds of both source material and expected outputs. There are many potential points of failure.
Every experienced translation client has stories of missed deadlines, broken promises, and translations that were rejected by end-users. Many of you will assert that nearly all of the problems with the scanning project could have been managed better and either prevented or anticipated with contingency plans. The same is true for translation projects that go awry. Nevertheless many do go awry.
There are going to be projects that require special skills and attention. These are best attended to by professionals with the relevant experience, and not just professional translators, but organizations that are attentive to the entire process.
However, today the industry frustrates its clients with mediocre project management, inadequate workflow and translation memory tools, poor IT practices and lack of interoperability. It delivers translations that are rejected by user communities with surprising regularity. As long as the failure rate is high enough to cause distrust, clients are going to consider the do-it-yourself solution (i.e. crowd sourcing).
It is a realistic solution as well. For the games market, the burgeoning social networking market, and other markets, end-users are able to self-select the most desirable terms and phrasing. Professional translators do not have a particular advantage here.
For some of the languages of Africa and elsewhere, there aren’t sufficient translators, or established glossaries that professional organizations can claim an advantage either.
Clients will not believe that quality will universally suffer under crowd sourcing until the industry improves reliability of its professional services overall and clients are comfortable that they will get value for the dollar.
I know I won’t be using a professional scanning service until I have a need that I can’t fulfill on my own.