Translation crowdsourcing is the new black — and you can tweet me on that


Was there any doubt that Twitter would not try to crowdsource its translations?

After Facebook proved that it could use volunteers to go from 1 to 100 languages in two years, it was just a matter of time before Twitter adopted the same model.

Twitter is starting out with the FIGS (French, Italian, German, and Spanish). And here is a video tutorial from Twitter that shows you how how the platform works.

Crowdsourcing is the new black these days, and much of it deserved. But despite the buzz, companies should be very careful before embracing the model.

Very few companies are translation-worthy

Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, TED, and Twitter have legions of fans who are happy to lend their translation skills. But few corporate sites or services are so translation worthy. And there’s the ever-constant risk of translator backlash or burnout. We are in uncharted territory, and as more companies pursue this model, we’re going to see more and more efforts backfire. Hey, maybe we’ll even see companies begin to “pay” their volunteers in non-monetary forms of compensation. Which leads me to…

Crowdsourcing may not save you much on translation

The translation platform, the management of the platform, the management of the volunteers — they all require resources. And the odds are that you’ll still want to retain professional translators to manage the amateurs, which is not a bad thing. There is a peace of mind in having a vendor who does this sort of thing for a living signing off on a newly localized web site before it goes live. In the end, translation crowdsourcing is not about saving money.

As far as I can tell, Twitter has only a thousand or so text strings that require translation. In the time the company devoted to building this translation platform, it could probably have had the site localized in 50 or more languages.

Over time there probably will be cost savings, but I would argue that cost savings should not be the motivator and probably wasn’t the motivator for Twitter.

The platform companies develop to support crowdsourcing should have other measures of success, such as user engagement and testing, partner opportunities, and developer involvement.

For example, on the Twitter Translate information page, this paragraph jumped out at me:

Will my favorite applications be translated, too?
We know that Twitter is not all about, so our global reach shouldn’t be limited to either. That’s why we’re planning to give our developer community access to the translation files so they can create wonderful apps that use the translations, too.

This is where Twitter is headed with the platform, as well as Facebook and Google. Once you have the platform, you can get creative with it — expand it to developers so that they can quickly localize their apps. You can even try to open up the platform for “partner” sites to use — which is what Facebook is now doing.

As companies comes to grips with social media, they are slowly learning to let go. Employees blog and tweet. Customers post content on corporate sites, and now they are co-creating the localized products.

The top-down localization model is giving way to the bottom-up model, and this is a profound change, even if it’s limited to a handful of companies — albeit companies that represent a few hundred million users. I’m still trying to understand how far this phenomenon will go.

Unicode (used creatively) makes your Tweets go further

I’m not exactly a power-Tweeter, so I can’t say I have the need for a tool that stretches Twitter’s 140-character limit.

Still, I get a kick out of Maxitweet.

To understand what it does, here’s an example.

I entered the following text: 149 characters.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely–having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore

And Maxtweet squeezed it down to 136 characters:

Caǁ me ʪhmael.Some years ago–never m㏌d how▕ong precێely–hav㏌gl计ᅱe or no money ㏌ my purse,and noth㏌g particular to interest me onshore

Those funny looking characters interspersed are pulled from Unicode’s wide pallet — such as ێ (ARABIC LETTER YEH WITH SMALL V). This character was used in place of “is.”

Other substitute characters used include “计”, “ʪ”, “㏌”, and “.” (I hope they all appear on your browser. Note that this blog is in Unicode but you may not have the right fond needed to display the characters)

Normally when I see this type of character substitution I think of phishers creating bogus domain names. But for once this traditionally nefarious technique has found a recreational application.

Here’s how the Tweet came across on on my iPhone:


Go Unicode!

The Twitter Domain Rush: Don’t Get “Twit-jacked”

My previous post on Twitter got me thinking about what other companies had registered language-specific domains for their Twitter accounts.

Turns out, most companies haven’t even registered Twitter accounts for their primary brands.

Like who?

Apple, for one.

Here we have someone who apparently likes apples but isn’t Apple:


It appear that Microsoft reserved its account early on, though nothing is there. Microsoft does have about a dozen Twitter accounts that do include content.


Coke — someone who drinks Coke, but not the company.


While Pepsi does have a Twitter account.


The Wall Street Journal has an article out about this domain name rush.

So many questions come to mind:

  • Will Twitter enforce trademarks for valid holders? Usually, the WIPO does this with domain names, but this isn’t actually a domain name in the traditional sense.
  • What percentage of the millions of new Twitter accounts being registered every day simply squatters hoping to make a quick buck? That is, how much of Twitter’s growth actual growth?
  • And what about third-party domain marketplaces — will we see them emerge? Or will Twitter start its own marketplace?

In the meantime, if you’re thinking about reserving a Twitter domain, do it now before getting Twit-jacked…

Twitter and Web Globalization


ICANN recently launched its own Twitter feed. And since ICANN is a global organization, it launched more than one language feed — one in English and one in Spanish.

This is not the most scalable solution. And I’m not trying to pick on Twitter; the issue effects any multinational company or organization.

For instance, let’s say ICANN launches a Portuguese feed for Brazil. The address would have to read Similar challenges arise with French (Canada vs. France). And even the English and Spanish feeds are inherently going to exclude various flavors of the languages.

In addition, if I were wanting to be a pain, I could register icann_ru to beat ICANN to that address. And this highlights a larger emerging issue (and opportunity) as Twitter becomes more corporate and less personal — how to ensure that brand holders have access to their names. I always thought this would be a nice revenue source for Twitter, similar to the way that registries profit from domain registrations.

Ideally, Twitter would allow you to set up one address and then forward language-specific feeds to the subscriber based on their preference — sort of like how language negotiation works now with Web browsers. For instance, if I type in, the language I get aligns with the language preference of my browser.

But therein lies the challenge of Twitter — it doesn’t just send feeds to a browser. It sends the feeds to browsers and mobile devices and even Twitter apps, like Tweetie, which I use on occasion.

ICANN is now migrating its subscribers from icann_en to icann. No word yet on what will happen with icann_es.

What do you think Twitter should do to solve this issue?