Crowdsourcing Translations can help Identify Global Demand says Localization Expert

Crowdsourcing Translations can help Identify Global Demand says Localization Expert

According to a globalization expert, the willingness of volunteers to translate a company’s product gives insight into its potential on the global stage by acting as a test for interest and demand.


On website Gigaom, John Yunker has written an interesting article about the translation of software.

Yunker, a web and software globalization consultant at Byte Level Research and author of The Web Globalization Report Card, says many companies approach him with the question if their product will have success on the global market.

To this, he always answers with a counter question: is your product “translation worthy”?

Translation Worthy?

For Yunker, translation worthy is not something companies can decide upon themselves – he uses the term in reference to ‘translation crowdsourcing,’ a phenomenon in which people translate online content such as apps of website into their own language for free.

According to Yunker, a number of big online companies such as Google have used this method. When it was first released, the online search engine relied on volunteers to improve their service. If users are so enthusiastic about a type of software that they will translate it without being reciprocated for this, Yunker says, it is safe to say the product will have global success.

Next, Yunker goes a little more deeply in the example of Facebook, which he believes is one of the biggest success stories of translation crowdsourcing.

The online social network created a translation crowdsourcing platform in 2007, which was immediately found by foreign users that loved to contribute to the translation of the website. Within two years, Facebook expanded its languages from one to 74!

Of course, Yunker says, Facebook had the financial means to hire a professional translation company to carry out the translation for  them, but translation crowdsourcing meant users were engaged in the business of the company. Moreover, it resulted in translations of a higher quality as users could vote on the best translation.

A company that is following Facebook’s footsteps is the China-based Xiaomi.

This smartphone company develops its own hardware and has created an Android operating system called MIUI. Similar to Facebook, Xiaomi has asked volunteers to translate this system, which they can do by adding and improving translations on online platforms. And according to Yunker, the company has achieved great results – the online platforms are available in 25 different foreign countries and claims to have over 30 million users.

Xiaomi hasn’t found just anyone to help them with their translation crowdsourcing, Yunker says; in October last year, the company hired Hugo Barra, who also lead the development of the original Android software. According to Barra, Xiaomi will first target Southeast Asia and will expand from there. He also states that online platforms can indicate on which markets an official launch of the software will be successful. The more users from a certain county of language, the more likely a launch will succeed.

Willingness to Translate Content = Demand

According to Yunker, translation worthiness is a good way to measure the quality of any product destined for the global market. If customers are willing to translate a product, they will probably buy and/or use it too.

Yunker advises software companies to add a translation element in their products to allow users to translate the software themselves. User forums in local languages can also be of great help, he says, and third party crowdsourcers like Duolingo can also create new ways to offer products to new markets.

Users can provide insights into the demands of users and the necessary cultural adaptations, Yunker says. Moreover, the word of mouth it can generate might lead to new users as well. Yunker believes that companies which discover that their product was actually not worthy of translation at the end of a translation process should not throw in the towel; their product might still be successful, but it does signal that businesses might have to change their ways a little. Maybe website localization and social networking is needed for a little community building, Yunker says, or another similar product is already on the market and companies should first strengthen their position on the market.

Emma Tidey
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