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Crowdsourcing is when a large group of participants help to produce goods or services. Usually, an individual or a company will request the help of volunteers to work towards a common goal. Sometimes they provide monetary compensation. Other times, contributors settle for the participation award. Thanks to the internet, people from all kinds of backgrounds, schooling, and skill levels can work together to solve problems. This kind of business model is rising in popularity. Wikipedia is one of the most famous crowd-created databases. It is freely accessible and can be edited by anyone. As a result, the website is full of an impressive expansion of information. 

In the translation industry, crowdsourcing means dividing work between many different volunteers who are not usually employed under the same company. Crowdsourcing can be a tempting course of action for businesses or clients new to the field of translation. However, there are several additional elements to consider before deciding on crowdsourcing as your solution to overcoming the language barrier. There are both benefits and disadvantages to this translation method. 


One of the main benefits resulting from crowdsourcing is that projects can be completed very quickly. A large pool of participants can finish a task much faster than one specialist. Additionally, having multiple people working on the same project can result in a variety of viewpoints and knowledge. This diversity allows companies to find unexpected solutions to problems. It helps them to have experience, expertise, and viewpoints that they would not have been able to understand otherwise. Additionally, crowdsourcing is very cost-effective. Many crowdsourcing participants are volunteers. If they are paid at all for their services, it is much less expensive than hiring an in-demand specialist. 

Crowdsourcing also has the potential to build a community. When multiple people put effort into one task, they begin to collectively care for the project. This creates tight-knit groups who have a vested interest in obtaining their goal. Crowdsourcing also creates a public spectacle. People volunteering to participate in crowdsourcing are more likely to discuss the product or source with others. This works as inadvertent advertising. As a company uses crowdsourcing more often, it means that their products are being seen by larger groups of people. This exposure can be extremely beneficial for a company or an individual in the long run. 


While there are impressive speed advantages to crowdsourcing, the amount of people who gain access to the source material during this process means that it is difficult to maintain confidentiality. Sensitive information may be revealed to people who don’t have any issues with sharing that knowledge with others. Additionally, crowdsourcing means that project managers or clients have much less control over the translation process. While they can give directions and maintain general order, it is impossible for a project manager to be monitoring all two hundred crowd-sourcing volunteers at the same time. This might result in some less-than-desirable results from people who didn’t quite get the memo. 

One of the most serious disadvantages to crowdsourcing, especially with regards to translation, is that it can result in inconsistent quality. Every translator has their own personal style. When many amateur translators work on different pieces of the same project, their stylistic preferences become obvious. These conflicting writing styles can cause a project to feel disjointed or unconnected. Because of these differences, quality assurance becomes very difficult. It might take long periods of time to edit a crowdsourced work enough so that its quality becomes consistent. 

Lastly, crowdsourcing volunteers are just that: volunteers. Most of these participants are not specialists. They don’t have extensive knowledge on obscure subjects. Some of them may not even be qualified translators. While they do have an impressive variety of viewpoints, this cannot always make up for a lack of understanding. 


While these disadvantages may seem initially off-putting, some companies have found clever ways to mitigate these drawbacks. In addition to crowdsourcing translators, some businesses also set aside a smaller group of those volunteers to do quality assurance. Sometimes companies will also vet their volunteers. They will admit anyone into the group but ask each participant to take a test first to ensure that they can at least meet the basic quality standards of the company. 

Crowdsource translation is at its best when the translated material is non-confidential, general material such as social media posts or public websites. This kind of content doesn’t usually require extensive knowledge of a subject. It is also safe to distribute to large audiences. The US social networking site Facebook has utilized crowdsource translation since as early as 2008. Through volunteer translation work, it was able to translate and localize their content into sixty different versions. By allowing the crowdsource volunteers to handle most translation, they were able to diminish the time, effort, and money it would have taken to translate their content using only contracted specialists. The website recognized that the translations would not be perfect. But they also expressed their hopes that the volunteer translators would improve over time. YouTube uses crowdsource translation in a similar fashion when producing subtitles or closed captions for videos. 

While both the advantages and the drawbacks of crowdsource translation can be compelling, it is important for a client to make an informed decision before deciding whether to use this model. The benefits of faster, cheaper labor coming from multiple invested sources can be surprisingly effective when used in the right circumstances. However, the confidentiality and quality of a project may be put at risk. It is up to every individual client to determine if crowdsource translation is appropriate for their project.

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