Facebook is causing quite a stir with its announcement to have its members perform free translations of its website. Using “crowdsourcing” to perform translations certainly saves a company lots of money–its free afterall–but at what costs?
Right now Spanish, French, and German are up an running, and other langauges such as Catalan, Dutch, Polish, Turkish, Danish, Norwegian are open for translation. See facebook translation for more information on the program. Right now there are a lot of bugs, especially in the new languages, and there are lots of errors. Many of the discussions, i.e., using the tu or Vd. form in Spanish, are details professional translation companies have worked out year before. I am sure that the quality of the translations will improve as the amateurs are weeded out through the rating system.
But the larger question of soliciting free translations vs. paying for translation services remains. As director of the Translation Center, I have been fighting to get the rates up for translation services. We find that amateur translations end up costing more to fix in the long run, cost your business much prestige in terms of how it represents itself professionally, and cost valuable time for employees who could be working productively on other things. And the fact that Facebook is a multi-billion dollar company resorting to such exploitative tactics contributes to the insult.
The discussion online seems mixed. Criticism exists: CNN on Facebook Translations cites an Ana Torres from Madrid who calles the translations in Spanish “extremely poor,” citing “outrageous spelling mistakes” such as “ase” instead of “hace” (for “makes” or “does”) and usage of the word “lenguaje” for “language” rather than the correct “idioma.” Other reviews are positive, such as FaceReviews, where Rodney Rumford writes, “I love it. There are already 839 people translating the site to Spanish. All for a whopping cost of ZERO Dollars. Users also vote on translations (up or down). This just might be the first high visibility use case of a facebook application for mass collaboration. Hello Wikipedia.”
I am greatly interested in how other translators feel about crowdsourcing and translation. For better or worse, the trend is here to stay.