Translation Crowdsourcing: Will it Put You Out of Business?

Crowdsourcing is huge.

There are so many online platforms that are run through crowdsourcing and now, more than ever, companies are using the power of crowdsourcing to provide translations to their customers.

But first, what is crowdsourcing?

Well, for those that care, the actual word “crowdsourcing” is a portmanteau of the words “crowd” and “outsourcing.”

If you think of it in terms of those two words, you’ll be able to understand it a little better.

So what is it?

Well, it’s basically leveraging the “hive” or a public group of individuals to accomplish a task or solve a problem. That task can be anything:

  • financial
  • design
  • translation
  • writing
  • photography

And the idea of crowdsourcing isn’t simply limited to the digital age.

In fact, one of the major instances of crowdsourcing came in 1974. It was called the Longitude Prize.

The British Government was trying to come up with a way to measure longitudinal positioning in ships and they offered a prize to the person who came up with the best solution.

What about something more close to home? Think about the Oxford English Dictionary. Hundreds of volunteers worked together to catalog words for the first publication of the dictionary.

Now, what makes crowdsourcing so popular today?

One of the reasons is simply due to the Internet. Think about it. In no time in the world’s history has it been easier to connect with people you’ve never met who share your passions, interests, and goals.

We can all become interconnected through the Internet, and when we are contributing to a cause that we have a passion for, and have the ability to do so with other people, we have a sense of pride and fulfillment.

Crowdsourcing and Translation

So what does crowdsourcing have to do with translation?

Well, first of all, it’s important to understand that major companies are using the crowdsourcing model to have the public help them with their translations.

Here are just some of those companies. Maybe you’ve heard of them?

  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Twitter
  • Minecraft

All right, so let’s take a brief look at Facebook.

Facebook famously asked its users to translate its site into over 65 languages. All for free and encouraging translators by giving them reward icons they can put in their profiles.

The great thing about doing this was that the users themselves quality controlled the translations done by other users so as to keep translation quality high.

And believe it or not, the translation of the interface into another language takes only a fraction of the time it would take a translator or team of translators to accomplish the same task. For example, according to an article I read on the topic, the crowdsourcing Spanish translation of Facebook only took a total of four weeks!

Obviously there are some pros and cons to this sort of approach, but for a social networking site like Facebook that has very loyal followers and users, it can be a great way to make people feel like part of the organization without having to compensate them monetarily.

Will Crowdsourcing Destroy the
Translation Profession?

The short answer is no.

If you’re a freelance translator, you are not in danger of losing work because of crowdsourcing.

First of all, only major companies that have a significant number of fans or a large amount of “buy in” from the public will be able to leverage the power of translation crowdsourcing.

Most companies and organizations definitely don’t have the same amount of followers as Facebook and won’t be able to leverage the fans that they do have to do anything on such a massive scale as the companies above.

As such, your normal clientele and customers won’t be able to take advantage of crowdsourcing and will continue to use you (and real translators like you) for all of their translation needs.

So, don’t worry. Crowdsourcing is important. It’s already changed the way businesses have accomplished large projects and will continue to affect the way businesses do their work.

But as a translator, it’s not something I would lose sleep over.


As a translator, focus on the things that really matter. Here’s a book I wrote that lists some of those things that matter to a new translator.

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