An Open Letter To My Friends @Medium

From A Translator Without Pants

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My dear friends at Medium,

My name is Dmitry Kornyukhov and I’m a proud member of a secret organization called “Translators Without Pants”. What’s up with the name, you say? Well, apparently (thank you, Noah Ritter for this new buzz word) my closest friends at Medium, believe that translation is no longer a form of art that requires such goodies as education, skills, knowledge, experience or calling for that matter, and can come free of charge. And since human history knows no examples where a man could buy his pants for free (damn you, greedy pants sellers!) I’m forced to join this under-appreciated group.

But wait a second… you not gonna believe what just happened! A big company sent me an email, saying that they need my services and they can pay generously for it. What a twist! I thought those people were only true in fairy tales, especially these days, where marketing folks keep persuading us that it’s okay to work for free. What a relief! I guess it’s time to say: “Bye bye, Translators Without Pants” and “Hello, Translators With Pants and Dignity.”

But jokes aside, what we are having here is a classic situation where another great company (read: Medium) is standing on the edge of a rabbit hole called “Crowdsourcing”. It may sound attractive, but don’t let it fool you, my dear friends at Medium, there are more pitfalls that you could possibly imagine. That’s why, as your friend, I feel like it’s my sacred duty to warn you and, hopefully, other young startups about everything what could be lost in translation, when it comes to localizing your website by harnessing the power of the crowd.

Crowdsourced Translation: Friend or Foe?

Some people would assume that since I’m a professional translator, who makes a living by selling professional translation services to companies and individuals, I should be disgusted by the whole idea of crowdsourced translation. Surprisingly, I’m not. I do believe, that crowdsourced translation could yield some great results. But in order to achieve those results you got to do some serious home work. Most of the time, the amount of time, effort, energy and money (yes, crowdsourced translation can cost money too) you spend on training your crowd in order to achieve some meaningful results pretty much equals or even higher than those that you could’ve spent by simply hiring a small army of professional freelance translators. You might be wondering:

If it’s so difficult, then why do big companies keep using crowdsourced translation?

Well, my friends, there are many reasons, but the most common is:

Misleading Advertisement

You’ll be surprised how naive end-clients could be. And almost every single crowdsourced translation platform is using this to their advantage. How often do you see companies advertising low-cost translation services which are rendered by “professional translators”. Okay, let me say this once and for all:

The number of professional translators who are willing to work for $6 an hour equals: ZERO.

And $6 an hour is not something I came up with, this is an actual offer I received from a “young and rapidly growing crowdsourced translation platform with a network of 35,000 professional translators

Six freaking dollars! I don’t know about you folks, but here, in Ontario, it is $5 lower than the minimum wage that you could, you know, earn by flipping burgers at McDonalds. The fun part is that those companies charge their end-clients something that is 3–4 times higher than the money they actually pay their “professional translators”. So, I think, it’s pretty obvious now that such words as “quality” and “professional services” are nothing but false promises, because (spoiler alert!):

Professionals don’t work for peanuts.

So, my dear friends at Medium and other young startups, please think very carefully before you use crowdsourced translation. Because the results can be devastating: your precious money going down the drain, garbage translations with zero responsibility from the so-called “professional linguists” and a tremendous damage to your brand, which is really hard to recover from. Remember that fascinating story by my fellow entrepreneur Sacha Greif about 5 dollar logos? Just like with the design or any other creative profession, you get what you’re paying for. So, if you are really serious about what you’re doing, if you love your brand, if you care about your audience, it‘s in your best interests to work with professionals who take great pride in their work.

Where Is The Bright Side Of Crowdsourced Translation?

As I’ve mentioned above there are unique cases, where crowdsourced translation can work for your company. But you have to follow some strict rules in order to succeed:

Rule 1: You got to have a mind-blowing product/service.

Even my friends at Medium do not fit into this category, despite being a unique platform with sleek design. And the explanation is pretty simple:not every story is interesting enough to read (and translate). In order to force someone into doing something for you for free, they must be really enjoying what they’re doing. So, that being said, you’ll likely succeed crowdsourcing translations if you are either an innovative app of some sort or a social network. Because those are the things the crowds are most interested in. And all of the above use fairly simple language. But if you are a technical startup or, in case of Medium, a place where creativity flows from every single page, finding a crowd tech-savvy or creative enough sounds like mission impossible.

Rule 2: You need a huge fan base.

Medium is popular. I give you that. But how many of your fans can speak and, more importantly, write in several languages? And here is a twist:

Speaking several languages doesn’t necessarily mean that you can be a translator.

Being a translator takes much more than that. It’s, first of all, having a linguistic education and knowing the theory of translation, being able to perform a proper research, understand the subtle meaning of the text, being able to capture the style and the tone of the author.

This is art and not some sort of mechanical task that you can do by a click of a button.

Rule 3: Ensuring consistency.

If you’re planning to use crowdsourced translation this will be your major concern. The quality of your website must be consistent on every single page. No one will ever take you seriously if one page or story is translated perfectly while the other is translated by a machine (or not translated at all).

If you want to conquer new markets and attract new audiences you got to make sure that your message sounds as if it was written in their native language.

This is a simple truth. And this can only be achieved by professionals. Crowdsourced translation will always sound as if it was translated (and that’s not a good thing). So, even if you decide to use crowds for your website you’ve got to at least hire some full time editors for every language pair.

Translating Medium

So, tell me, my friends at Medium, where do we go from here? As you’ve mentioned in your email you’re “still experimenting”. Well, that sounds promising. I hope that the feedback you receive from professionals like me and other creative folks will be used with proper care. Medium deserves something SO MUCH BETTER than poorly edited machine translation. Hell, even a properly edited machine translation (which is truly an oxymoron) will be far from everything my friends at Medium stand for: quality, style and enjoyable reading experience.

I think translators deserve the same level of treatment as other Medium employees. Because we will be responsible for your global success. We’re doing an important job along with your amazing programmers, designers, developers, engineers who enjoy and I quote:

Stock options, 100% covered health benefits, competitive salaries, financial stability, playing softball or basketball, snacking and drinking together on Friday afternoons.

We are a part of your future, please, treat us equally, that’s all I’m asking for. You’ll be surprised what amazing things we can achieve together.

Your Russian Friend.

Dmitry Kornykhov

Dmitry Kornyukhov

Entrepreneur. English-Russian Translator. Video game localization specialist. Helping small and medium-sized businesses go global. Loving every minute of it.


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