Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pinterest Uses Employees’ Moms for Spanish Translations

Only two weeks have passed since the official death of the social media bubble, when Facebook’s IPO floated on the wide open market seas and proceeded to sink like a nylon bag filled with a late Mafia informant and a bunch of rocks. However, its ethos of deprofessionalizing translation lives on. The latest shooting star in the social media space, Pinterest, recently unveiled the exciting announcement that, following in the heels of Facebook and Twitter, it also wanted free low quality translations from its user base. In an attempt to be coherent, it decided to announce it with a poorly written blog entry in Macaronic Spanish. This a print screen of the original version:

That prompted a lot of grumbling by Spanish translators on Twitter. For example, aside from the faulty punctuation, a phrase like “Llamando a los favoritos bloggers hispanohablantes!” is just awful.

Seeing the growing outcry, I tweeted (in English) that Pinterest has apparently “done a LinkedIn” (this is a reference to the firestorm occasioned when LinkedIn called for translator members to translate the site for free, a curious request for a social media site that is supposedly designed for establishing professional connections.) As occurs quite frequently on Twitter, my 140-character message prompted a query from a stranger who turned out to be the very Pinterest employee who either wrote or was responsible for the blog post. The ensuing exchange, in all its endearing innocence, is copied in extenso:

 SP text poorly punctuated and written. Text stilted. Hint of crowdsourcing. Social media synonymous with low quality.
 As noted, the style is wooden. "Soporte técnico multilingüe" is a halllmark of not very professional linguists, etc., etc.

At this point, the flustered woman told me that her mom had helped her translate it. However, when she saw my incredulous response, she decided to erase this tweet in which she indicated she had hired a relative for a defective translation (which I think is more than just a little dishonest):

 "You mom helped you translate it"? Are you for real? A serious company should invest a little more than a call to a relative.
 Just for the blog post. I will fix.
 OK, but hire a couple of professionals. I'm sure it wouldn't kill Pinterest to invest a couple of bucks in its corporate image.

Yep, you read right. The Pinterest employee told me that the translations should be fine, since they were done in collaboration with her mom, who is from Argentina (whew! I was worried there for a minute!). Anyway, a few hours later the blog entry had been improved after some input from several colleagues who contributed their time for free (personally I would not donate my time pro bono to a company that is going to crowdsource its translation work and also plans to float for a bilion dollars; investment banks are in low esteem right now, but at least they pay their outsourced suppliers):

This reminds me of the case of Smartling, a start-up that provides crowdsourced post-editing of websites. The problem is that its home page couldn’t decide whether it was in Spanish or English.  After a few snarky Twitter messages, the company corrected the mistake. Pinterest’s case is only slightly less depressing, since after all its core mission is not translation. Just another vignette of the 300-car pile-up that is the translated social Interspace. 

Anyway, I sure hope that Sarah's mom was compensated for her work, regardless of what I may think about its quality. But somehow, I doubt it.

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center, and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.


Curri said...

¡Grande, Miguel!

I got more upset by the fact that they kept giving excuses. They told me that the things I thought wrong were because Latin American Spanish and European Spanish use different grammar rules (!!!) and that "Well, I have found only two sentences without the inverted exclamation mark"... As if that wasn't important. Well, if you have paid a professional translator as you said, there should be NONE!

It seems blaming Latin Americans every time there is a proor translation is the preferred method of clients, when grammar rules are the same in Spain, Argentina, Mexico or Philipines.

Thanks very much for this entry, Miguel. I would not have explained better :)

Ah, and please, send it to the Pinterest employee... see if they learn how important quality is for users.

Curri said...

Ah, and I forgot to say that I also saw that tweet where she was saying that her mum had helped her to translate that blog post. I couldn't believe what I was reading...

Miguel Llorens M. said...

Thank you for the comment, Curri, and for confirming the existence of the smoking gun "mommy" tweet. I have given up on social media companies. Their xl8 philosophy is part and parcel of their business plans, which is free free free.

Curri said...

All apart from Tumblr, which at least they pay someone very professional to localise and manage their community. And you can see and feel the difference! :)

Jack Welde said...

Miguel, your description of Smartling is flat-out wrong. Smartling does not provide "crowdsourced post-editing of websites". Smartling provides software that automatically ingests web and mobile content for translation, manages custom translation workflows, manages human translators/editors/reviewers, and delivers the final translated content via a global network of servers or via API. As a result, our clients are able to launch high-quality multilingual applications in as little as a few weeks -- a fraction of the time traditionally required to localize an application, including high-quality, human translations.

Further, our customers can choose from a variety of flexible translation options for the actual translation work -- including their favorite translation agency or professional translator, our network of professional translators -- or in certain cases, their own crowd of engaged community members (gasp!)

Would we recommend crowdsourcing the translation of legal content, highly technical materials, or financial content? Nope, we would recommend professional translation from translators skilled in that vertical -- perhaps someone like you... But for companies with a passionate community of users who know the product or service intimately, crowdsourcing translation using high-quality tools to manage the translation process among a large group of participants can be a terrific way to increase community engagement -- and typically with much faster turnaround.

It's generally not about "the money". I'm pretty sure Pinterest can afford to pay for professional translation, but I suspect they are looking to incorporate their existing passionate community into the translation process as a means of increasing engagement -- while moving at the speed of Web 2.0 businesses. And they will be successful in doing so.

Miguel Llorens M. said...

Okay, let me see if I get this straight. I described your company as 1) a provider of crowdsourced post-editing of websites and stated that 2) you failed at translating your own website. You say this is "flat out wrong" and proceed to do the following:

1.- You state that you provide crowdsourced post-editing of websites. 2.- You do not refute the evidence that your company failed at translating its own website.

By my accounting, what you call "flat out wrong" is "100% right," but that may be a translation problem.

But seriously, folks... Your jargon-filled response misses the point. My point is that when you leave localization to employees' moms or crowds or start-ups such as Smartling (that know nothing about translation), you are ensured of getting second- or third-rate results. The citizens of the Web 2.0 deserve better.

Jack Welde said...

Nope, incorrect again. I'll try to keep my response less "jargon-filled", so you can follow.

1) I've never said we do "post-editing". As a professional translator, you certainly know that the term "post-editing" generally means human editing over machine translation, which is not what we do. You've chosen "jargon" that you hope will be provocative with your readers, even if 100% incorrect.

2) We didn't fail to translate our own website. You were clever enough to snap a screenshot almost a year ago that showed some English on our Spanish home page. We had made some last minute changes to our English copy, and the Spanish translation was not yet complete. So we had a choice of 1) delaying the launch, 2) using poor quality MT, temporarily, or 3) leaving it in English for the short period of time before it was fully translated by the professional translators. We chose to launch, and I would make the same decision today. It wasn't a big deal, and the translation was completed quickly and professionally, and was deployed via or software immediately upon completion. Most importantly, this "incident" certainly has not hurt our growth as a company.

3) As I said in my prior comment, many of our customers use professional translators to perform translation -- translators like yourself (although you seem pretty angry, and not much fun to work with...) Are you saying that you are a better translator than every other professional translator? I guess the citizens of Web 2.0 only deserve the quality you personally can provide?

Your argument is tired, Miguel. You are the equivalent of the Microsoft software engineer who claimed that open-source software wouldn't work because only professional software developers working at Microsoft could produce high quality software (see: Linux, MySQL, MongoDB, Apache...) Or the folks at Getty Images, who claimed that the amateur photographers at iStockPhoto could never produce the quality of professional photographers (see Getty's later acquisition of iStockPhoto...) Or the leadership at the major news publications dismissing bloggers as amateur hacks (see Daily Beast's acquisition of Newsweek...) Crowdsource translation is simply another distributed model, and with the proper tools and the proper people can produce very high quality results -- and can work alongside professional translation.

The fact is there is plenty of work for professional translators, especially the good ones. And Smartling is delighted to work with some of the best translators in the business; we respect their craft and the high quality work they do.

PS: Since you love to point out errors in other people's work, your headline on this blog is inaccurate. From your own narrative above, it sounds like only one employee's mother may have been asked to assist with translation. And yet your headline says "Pinterest Uses Employees' Moms" -- in English, the use of the word "Moms", as well as the the apostrophe after the "s", means that more than one employee's mother was used for translation. But that seems to be inaccurate, from your own story. Were you just trying to be provocative with your headline? Or do you lack the basic understanding of plurals in English (which would make me question your ability as a professional translator)? Should I take a screen shot?

Miguel, anytime you want to have a real, honest, non-sensational discussion about the merits of professional translation vs. crowd translation (and even MT in limited cases) -- and the best ways to manage the translation process -- I'd be happy to have that discussion. In the meantime, try to be cool.

Juliana said...

I'd like to point out that the idea that the translation of a legal document is so important that it warrants hiring professionals to do it but that you don't need to be that careful when it comes to an app or a website is nothing but a cop-out. If you care about your app/website/product enough, shouldn't you care about the quality of the final text as well? If you put in hours developing it and honing it, wouldn't you wish it were well written?

I totally understand the engagement argument. I do believe companies think of crowd-sourcing as a way engage users and increase traffic.

What I don't get is people who work with crowd-sourcing claiming or even THINKING their business model offers a GOOD PRODUCT.

The business of translation crowdsourcing is based on one thing: selling people the idea that anyone can translate. And if the people who use your service speak Portuguese and understand your language, why not let them engage and help you?

Well, I'll tell you why not. It may sound like a great business model, but bear in mind that what you're doing is selling A LOW-QUALITY PRODUCT to unsuspecting clients who think any translation is as good as the next. If your clients think snake oil is good enough for them and are willing to buy it because OMG LOOK AT THAT TRAFFIC!, who are you to not sell them the stuff, right?

By the way, I'm from Brazil and decided to check out Smartling's "how it works" section in Portuguese. Of course people will understand what's being said there, but the writing is awkward, clearly unprofessional, garbled even. I don't understand how people can extol the virtues of Web 2.0 and at the same time not give a rat's ass about the quality of their content, since it's all about ENGAGING PEOPLE THROUGH WORDS ON THE SCREEN.

Dimitri Glezos said...

Crowdsourcing has undoubtedly proven to be a very powerful tool in many occasions. Companies like Twitter have been utilizing it very successfully with more than half a million (!) translators. They'll tell you flat out that quite often the quality of the community contributions is superior.

Like any tool, crowdsourcing, if not used properly *will* produce results which could range from cost-ineffective to embarrassing. The same applies for machine translation or 3c/word translations.

It's also worth noting rarely a black-or-white situation. At Transifex, we are also working with customers who adopt a hybrid model. Quite interestingly, in some cases it's bulk translation from the crowd and proofreading by pros, and in some others it's the opposite: translations from pros and polishing by the community (suggestions+votes).

What's definitely clear today is that localization practices have evolved. Companies have evolved. Startups with faster release cycles, agile development and more room for experimentation are trying out new strategies, such as release-early release-often. And that's a good thing. Modern tools allow to do so much more. Ignore them at your own peril.

Gueibor said...

Mr. Welde's pre-Smartling translation background according to his own Linkedin profile: zero.
Or even El Zilcherino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

Sometimes it's just too easy...

Albert Baer said...

This all seems quite crazy. Companies use crowdsourcing to engage their crowd not because they are cheap or because they hate professional translators or agencies or because they want to convince the world that "anyone can translate." Very wrong. Even if the translation is not great it is a good way to get more involvement. There is room for professional translation in the crowd source world - to correct, re-translate, edit, etc. It does not have to be one or the other.

I am a professional translator in German and have worked on web sites and other documents that have been crowd sourced. I had no problem doing it and was impressed that so many people wanted to help translate their favourite Web sites. Professional translators need to understand there are business aspects to engaging the crowd. It doesn't mean our jobs are being eliminated.

And with all the wild discussion on the page, we certainly aren't making ourselves look too good!

Translation is a skill and takes a certain mindset to do it, but let us be serious in that it is not rocket science and we are not saving lives here. Let's be cool and try to embrace new technology and might just pay off!


Miguel Llorens M. said...

Once again, the point is completely being missed. A mess like the Pinterest employee made of a simple task is not a teachable moment for the virtues of crowdsourcing, as Welde and the German crowdsourcer seem to think. The fact tat both Welde and the previous commenter glide by the concrete example discussed indicates that we are in the face of an ideology rather than a neutral business plan. As for the "wild" and "crazy" discussion, I wonder if that isn't more in the eye of the beholder.

Nieves said...

Dear Jack and Albert,

If you have a big company, you can get users involved with the localization of your product or engage with your crowd without using crowdsourcing. You can let them be part of the process without using their time for free, you can design spaces for them in which they can feel free to give their opinions and make a difference on your platform (which they obviously will). That's a really poor excuse.

We had two beta phases on Tumblr in which our community was able to give suggestions and even decide the translation of some key terms like "Dashborad", "Reblog" or "Fan Mail". I read and replied 768 tickets personally, as well as some tweets and private messages, and I can assure you that everything worked perfectly and most people were enthusiastic about the process and results. We engage users through our official staff blogs, meetups, the Spotlight and other resources that have much more in common with the usual activity of our community, which is blogging and sharing cool contents, NOT translating, designing or developing our platform.

Of course, you need a filter, and that HAS to be a hired professional translator. I had people saying "reblog" should be translated as "reblogeo", which is completely incorrect in Spanish, or that "link" should stay in English and not be translated as "enlace" because it doesn't sound cool enough. Well, localization is meant for people that aren't familiar with English, not for those who want things to sound "fancy" or that are "easier to read". That's just being lazy. And, obviously, that was a minority.

This is not just translating an interface, of course. Want people that can give great input because they know everything about your site? Hire someone that's passionate about it! Translators are users too and companies should be looking for professionals that love or at least are familiar with their products. If Nintendo wants their videogames translated, they will look for people who know them really well. Actually, they do. How is website localization any different? I’m sorry, but when I started working for Tumblr I convinced myself that there are better ways to do this. If you don’t want to pay a professional, the only explanation is that you want to save money. Otherwise, you would also let them design your interface “because they really know how they want things to look like”. Professionals are there to take good note of those demands from users, but they shouldn’t delegate that work on them. Sorry, it’s just not right!



Miguel Llorens M. said...

As Nieves's experience demonstrates, a blanket rejection of crowdsourcing is not what critics of crowdsourcing intend. It's just that the ungated, unfiltered crowd experiments one sees so often don't really provide results that "are just as good." I think that here there is a parallel with models in which post-editing is done by people who don't even speak another language. I think those are extreme and naïve models which people adopt because they don't know any better. I'm sure the Pinterest employee didn't do what she did with ill intentions. It's just that she doesn't know what translation is. I'm sure her mother is a fine lawyer or professor, but she isn't a translator. And that is where translators are failing to break through with their message that subject-area expertise is still needed in many areas. I am optmistic that once the social media bubble deflates a little bit more and the tide washes out to reveal who has been swimming naked, the industry will provide more interesting opportunities for linguists.

Miguel Llorens M. said...

Incidentally, I never made the claim that a company crowdsources translations because it is cheap. That is why dialog with people such as Welde and Baer are so boring, because they argue with a straw man that is only in their heads. Companies crowdsource translations because they can. An also for more complex reasons that are hard to summarize in a brief comment.

Gueibor said...

This is beautiful! Migs, you seem to be ruffling some number of feathers with your self-described "small" and "niche" blog.

As for Jack, Dimitri and Albert - what's the big deal?
This is just some grumpy Spaniard's backyard, where we geeky kids with our measly one-man projects like to hang out.
You guys are in a different league. You're businessmen. Entrepreneurs. Players, playing the big field with the big boys, right? Right?

Then why doth thou protest so much?

Chris Durban said...

Miguel, I think your straw man remark hits the nail on the head. You see the same type of argument being made by, e.g., certain MT gurus, who use it to handily sidestep the real issue(s).
Surely one very real issue here is that vendors of language services are often selling a product their clients *simply cannot understand*. Is this fluent, articulate Korean or Arabic or Spanish or lumpy bumpy text cobbled together by somebody's brother-in-law (or mom)? Leap of faith time, people. And there are plenty of language service providers (both agency and freelance) out there prepared to exploit that situation. Serious clients and serious translators are on the same side of the equation.

Miguel Llorens M. said...

Hi, Chris,

Thanks for your comment.

Two observations: I really try to contribute an opinion that isn't knee-jerk Luddism. That is why the "straw man"-type responses are a little irksome. I sincerely strive in this blog to contribute an opinion that is a little more sophisticated than just simple aversion to technology. The fact that this message almost never gets through leads me to despair and to take critics less seriously. Because, frankly, there are no interesting interlocutors on the other side of most of these issues. Instead, as in Welde's case, all I got was a tired sales pitch containing rebuttals of positions I have never even expressed.

Second observation. On the substantive side, as you surmise, I also suspect that the clients don't know. In this case, even the service provider doesn't know. Jack Welde states on several occasions that his company employs the best professional translators. As in the case with the Pinterest employee, a very superficial inspection of the Spanish-language version of his website reveals that this is not the case. Smartling is not actually employing very good translators. So basically what Welde sells is translated websites of low quality. Does he sincerely think that his Spanish-language website is as good as the copywriting on his English version? I suspect that he suspects that it isn't and doesn't care. Because he is basically selling a platform to provide a service he views as a commodity. What the service actually is tends to be irrelevant. And that is where, I think, the analogy between the social media bubble and the Internet bubble of the 90s is pertinent.

Also, maybe Smartling's clients don't care either. And that is why the "social media" space offers such few positive perspectives for the translation industry.

Gueibor said...

But do we really want the social media space? I mean, if being "in" entails having to churn through an endless Stream Of Facebookness and tweets about people's cats, I'm choosing uncoolness and grumpiness right here and now.
Leave me to my un-hip clinical trials and mining equipment, thank you very much.

Steven said...

Absolutely unbelievable! I wasn't aware of this before reading it here, and I'm sure I'm not the only one grateful to you for bringing it to our attention.

It's amazing that even the likes of globally recognised 'content sharing social networks' would much rather cut corners and save themselves some cash, whilst seriously affecting their corporate image. It really does beggar belief.

If you want monkeys, pay peanuts. If you want quality translations, they don't come cheap...or from relatives for that matter!

I work for an award winning UK based professional translation and interpreting company. We continuously stress to clients, and anyone we are in contact with, that quality comes at a price.

But it doesn't help when business' themselves are taking shortcuts and completely avoiding professional translation services. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.