Buzzfeed Targets Global Growth through Translation

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The “listicles” on website Buzzfeed draw in millions of users from the English speaking part of the internet. However, the website is planning on attracting, even more, internet traffic by crowdsourcing translations of its seemingly popular content.

If you use the internet for amusement on a regular basis, you have probably come across Buzzfeed.

This website publishes all kinds of “listicles” –  funny lists which for example enlighten us about childhood toys of the nineties or present us with new food hacks. The website is immensely popular in the English speaking world; an article on the Wall Street Journal Online recently reported that the website hit the 85 million visitor mark in August this year.

founder of buzzfeed talking about translation and global growth
You might think Buzzfeed would be quite satisfied with these results, but founder Jonah Peretti [left] is nowhere near done!

According to the Wall Street Journal Online, Buzzfeed’s growth has been limited because of the simple fact that the articles on the website are written in English.

At its current growth rate, the website will probably run out of new visitors very soon. However, Peretti believes many Buzzfeed articles do not only appeal to people in the US or the UK, but are universally appealing. Thus, translating the articles will probably result in more traffic to the website.

But how should these translations be carried out? Peretti actually already has far-reaching plans for this. In a video on WSJ Live, presenter Simon Constable asks Farhad Manjoo about these translation plans.

According to Manjoo, Buzzfeed is planning on having their articles translated in French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese… by using crowdsourcing! He says Buzzfeed is planning on outsourcing its translation to a language learning app called Duolingo.

The article on the Wall Street Journal online explains how it works; the Duolingo app will incorporate Buzzfeed’s articles into its lessons. Of course, students won’t translate “22 Extremely Disappointing Moments in the History of Parking” in their very first lesson, but as their language skills improve, students will be asked to translate Buzzfeed articles. Of course, Buzzfeed cannot rely on one single translation – the translators are still in the learning process, after all – but if enough people carry out the assignment, Manjoo says, the articles will be sent to Buzzfeed to be published on their website.

This crazy idea might work, Constable says, but he also has his doubts; he believes this type of translation might easily insult people.

Manjoo agrees, and also brings up another disadvantage of translations made by crowdsourcing. He believes translating Buzzfeeds funny articles might result in articles that are nowhere as funny as the original. In fact, he thinks the end result can be annoying or even boring!

However, Manjoo says Buzzfeed has been testing the app for months and stated that the quality of the translations produced by the Duolingo users was surprisingly high. After all, it’s always easier to translate to your native language.

Constable also points out a great advantage of crowdsourcing the translation of existing articles; this method enables Buzzfeed to publish articles in foreign languages without having to pay someone to write or translate the content. Manjoo agrees that this method is “pretty close to free.” Moreover, he says it can even generate money as Buzzfeed might be able to sell advertising space etc. on these new, foreign pages.

Even though Buzzfeed has yet to launch pages in French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, Constable already looks ahead and asks Manjoo what will happen if the website starts to explore other languages that are big on the web such as Arabic and Chinese. Manjoo believes that as the structure of those language is very different form the language structure of the English language, this process will be more complicated.

However, the most difficult aspect of the whole operation is that it requires a lot of people that speak, or want to speak, both languages, Manjoo says. At the moment the Duolingo app does not have that many users in foreign languages Constable mentioned, so people speaking those languages will have to wait a little longer before they have access to Buzzfeed articles in their native language.

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