It was nice to wake up this morning and see this article in the New York Times about the emergence of machine translation and volunteer translation (aka crowdsourcing). These are two very important developments that every companies needs to be aware of — and possibly champion.
That said, I do wonder how this article is going to be received by the translators of the world who actually expect to be paid for their services.
For example the for-profit, invite-only conference company TED saved about $500,000 using volunteer translators. Clearly TED could have coughed up the money.
I can see this article spurring on CEOs across the land to think that they too can get free translations.
One thing I mentioned awhile back is that you need to be translation-worthy to get away with pro-bono services, particularly if you’re a for-profit company.
Facebook, Google and, now, TED appear to be translation-worthy. But I wouldn’t expect to see, say, General Motors succeeding in this area (though they could certainly use the help).
But the larger issue here is to the extent that volunteer translation for companies that can afford to pay for translation undermines the translation industry. I don’t believe machine translation undermines human translation because companies generally use it to translation text they would never have hired people to do (or they use it as a first pass before bringing on the human translators).
But volunteer translation is different.
Are volunteer translators taking money away from their colleagues? After all, TED and Google and Facebook certainly can afford to pay. Or are volunteer translators raising awareness for the value of their work, thereby benefiting the translation industry as a whole?
Personally, I think we’re entering a dangerous area where companies that don’t know better are going to think they don’t have to pay for translation. This all reminds me of Seinfeld‘s George Costanza’s aversion to parking garages: Why should I pay, when if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?