Pros and Cons of Crowdsourcing Your Product Translation

So, you’ve decided you’re ready to translate your product into new languages. There are three main options for translating your product content: professional translators, using internal resources, or crowdsourced translation, also known as community translation.

Before choosing a method, here are some questions to help guide your decision:

  • Do you have a strong community of users? What percentage of your community is from other countries and speaks other languages?
  • How often is your product updated? How many new strings does your product team publish, with what frequency?
  • In how many languages do you want your product to be available? Which are the top markets and languages you’ll be targeting? Will you choose languages based on expansion goals or retention goals?
  • What is your budget for translating your product? Is the project already funded? If not, where will budget come from?
  • What internal resources can be dedicated to translation? Do you have full-time localization staff, or people who can manage the project for a certain timeframe?

Crowdsourced translation is, quite simply, when a community of people, often your own users, translates your product on a volunteer basis. It is a common practice for products that already have a strong user community, love the product, and primarily use the product for free. Crowdsourcing was initiated by companies like Facebook, Twitter but has recently been popularized and used successfully at companies like Waze, Trello, and many others.

Advantages of Crowdsourced Translation

  • Community Engagement. If your users are fond of your product and are willing to engage more with it, crowdsourced translation makes a lot of sense. Users help you tell your product story in their native languages, becoming even more engaged. Crowdsourcing helps you engage more with users too. When crowdsourcing your translation, you will have to create a place for your translators to collaborate and communicate together. This naturally becomes a community within your user community where everyone feels they are part of a team with a common mission.
  • Product Expertise. One of the main benefits of crowdsourcing your product translation is that no one knows your product better than your own users. Because of their deep familiarity with the subject matter, their translations are more likely to stick to your brand message, and tend to sound more natural than translations by translators who lack familiarity and first-hand experience with your product.
  • Ease of Recruitment. Finding volunteer translators may sound difficult, but people who use a good product and want others to benefit from it are often happy to participate. When I first started managing Trello’s crowdsourcing translation program, I was very surprised by the the spontaneous and positive reaction of the users I had contacted. The message was consistent:  “I love using Trello, I would be very happy to help translate it into my language, so that I can invite more people to use it and be part of Trello’s growth.” Some volunteer translators are also very interested in helping because they want to preserve their native languages, such as Basque and Irish Gaelic.
  • Costs. Crowdsourcing a translation is by nature free. Compensation can be made in many ways other than money. The average number of languages per global website at many large companies was 28 as recently as two years ago, as The 2014 Web Globalization Report Card highlights. You can easily imagine how big your budget would need to be if you decide to go with professional translators. If you don’t have any budget for professional translation, as is the case with many companies starting out with global expansion, crowdsourcing becomes one of your only viable options.

Disadvantages of Crowdsourced Translation

  • Sustaining the Pace. One major challenge with relying on crowdsourced translation is making sure the engagement of the community will be stable and that people will remain engaged up until you reach 100% of strings translated. When I managed the translation of 16 languages at once with volunteers, I noticed that the crowd was very excited in the first 2 weeks and would easily translate 60% of the total of strings within this period, but achieving the full 100% would take up to 3 months and a lot of motivational outreach.
  • Consistency. It’s very unlikely that the person in charge of the crowdsourcing program speaks all languages being translated. It is therefore very hard to ensure consistent, high-quality translation, especially when the translations are created by inexperienced translators. However, there are solutions you can put in place to prevent big mistakes and to set a framework for quality and consistency.
  • Timeline. Being too demanding on the timeline with volunteers borders on the immoral. Most of the time, they are doing it on their own free time and may not be able to respect deadlines or milestones as paid translators would. Be prepared to accept that a translation that could be done within 10 or 15 days by professional translators can take up to 4 months to be completed by volunteer translators.
  • Maintenance. Onboarding and motivating volunteers for a short period of time and for a big project is somewhat easy, as they can easily see their progress and the purpose of doing it. But it is very hard to keep people motivated to translate small batches of string that are created for every new update of your product. Therefore, you might want to consider launching a product in another language using crowdsourcing to get through the initial burst of content, but then relying on professional translation for maintenance in the future. Professional translators will also more easily stick to your deadlines and therefore it will be easier for your dev team to launch new features or products on schedule.

Crowdsourcing your product translation is certainly an adventure, but one that you can undertake if you have the time to commit to it, along with a strong community, but lack a large budget to get started.

Alexia Ohannessian

Alexia is International Marketing Lead at Trello, where she launched the product in 21 languages through an innovative crowdsourcing effort and now manages international marketing efforts. She has previously helped numerous companies create expansion strategies for Latin America. Alexia has lived and worked in three different continents. She is originally from France and lives in Brazil.

Leave a Reply