Thursday, August 9, 2012

‘Reach Down, God, Give Me a High Five’: Low Quality Translation and Low Quality SEO

This guy thought up Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People and f****ng finished it! That means one of two things happened. He either he never had a moment’s doubt. He hit that typewriter every day. "And then the pillow starts to smother… Ohhh! This is awesome! Reach down, God! Give me a high five! Boom!” Here’s what’s worse. What if he had moments of doubt, AND THEN F***ING WORKED THROUGH THEM? That’s so much worse for me. What if he was going: “And then the pillow starts… What the f**k am I writing? I’m putting my name on this piece of… No! I will finish this!” He looked at his poster of the little kitten hanging from the tree saying “Just hang in there, baby.” And he said: “Yes, I will hang in there, kitten.”
—Patton Oswalt, Werewolves and Lollipops

You know one of my bugbears (or perhaps hobby horses) is the Content Tsunami. It is the main pillar of the flimsy business case for Low Quality Translation. It goes a little something like this: “Since the amount of content is exploding, we need low quality translation to translate this flood of (low quality) information.” I want to use this opportunity to highlight one tiny little molecule in the endlessly expanding ocean of the Information Big Bang.

The piece is published in the blog of a Very, Very Large Translation Agency that does a lot of Spanish post-editing at $0.02 per word and constantly badgers qualified professionals to join its ranks of underpaid drones. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.” The blog post I am discussing here is, perhaps uncharacteristically, not the product of a computerized copywriting program. I can safely say it was actually produced by a human being. But, as Low Quality theorists are fond of reminding us, human authorship is no guarantee of quality:

Financial documents can be produced in a variety of file formats. Keeping this in mind, Trusted Translations is prepared to accept all types of files, and can deliver them as ready-to-publish files if so required by the client.

Thank GOD for Trusted Translations! Where would we be without an unscrupulous, faceless corporation and its semi-anonymous ten-dollar-an-hour blogger reminding us that financial documents come in a variety of file formats? Thank GOD for the Internet! To think that as recently as 1993 you couldn’t drive your PC on the information superhighway and come across this banal piece of drivel.

But, as Jon Stewart says, “Wait, there’s more”:

Finance departments, along with financial institutions themselves, are a key area in managing any type of business. Producing documents that hold very important and specialized information, these departments often require accurate translations of these documents in order to communicate financial information to a business’s own offices in another country, or to other companies. Trusted Translations has experience quickly and accurately translating a range of financial documents and has access to resources such as proprietary financial dictionaries, translations memories and expert industry-specific translators.

"Trusted Translations has experience quickly and accurately translating a range of financial documents..." Can you just imagine the anonymous blogger writing this sentence and crying out to God for a high five? Let’s parse this. Proprietary financial dictionaries. Yeah. If you place the search phrase “financial translation” in Google, your first result is a bilingual glossary that purports to be specialized in finance, courtesy of… you guessed it! Trusted Translations, the finest purveyor of Low Quality Translation. The glossary bears the distinguished title of “English Spanish Dictionary of Financial Terms.” And, obviously, it was crafted by a bevy of “expert industry-specific translators” (?), who, I am guessing, are the ultimate arbiters of the text after it has been processed by Trusted’s machine translators, Roombas, C3-POs, Wall*Es, and sundry translation memories. What do these “expert industry-specific translators” consider worthy of including in a financial glossary? Let’s see. “Go-go fund.” Yes, that comes up very often in financial documents… written in 1965. So, if you are ever swallowed up by a worm hole and deposited in the year when I Dream of Jeannie was number one in the Nielsen ratings and Vietnam was a distant place where a handful of Marines were spending the nastiest summer vacation ever, well, golly, Sarge, Trusted Translations just saved you a lot of time!

TT’s contribution to the Content Tsunami is, of course, nothing more than cheap SEO-gaming without bothering to actually contribute anything of any value to the Internet. My thesis is that this opportunistic online marketing ethos is indicative of its overall business philosophy (cheap, cheap, cheap...). Allow me to provide a sampling of the blog post’s internal hyperlinks. The phrase “financial translation” leads the accidental cyber-tourist to a cluster of articles (of similar quality) on issues as diverse as “financial translation teams”, “financial translation languages”, “financial document translations” (and, let’s face it, who hasn’t googled those Boolean phrases in the wee morning hours of some desperate, lonely Saturday night?) 

And so on and so on. The thing that gets me is that TT positively RULES the search rankings. Not only does it broadcast its low quality content in every single localization conference, it also dominates the online search world with the same iron fist with which Ivan the Terrible ruled early modern Russia.

“Stupid is as stupid does.” If your translation provider uses Low Quality search engine optimization, what are the odds that it doesn’t use Low Quality Translation? And passes it off as the work of “expert industry-specific translators”? Hmmmm…

Trusted Translation’s SEO strategy is just the same adolescent hacker ethos that underlies Low Quality Translation, made even more grotesque by the fact that it is espoused not by teenage computer nerds who don’t know any better but middle-aged gurus who should. Which leads to an interesting observation. When they talk to translators, lower quality translation providers preach the necessity of low quality translation (and, implicitly, correspondingly low rates). But when they talk to clients, these same companies masquerade as high quality translation providers. They mumble in their clumsy corporate prose about “expert industry-specific translators.” They bloviate about their knowledgeable post-editors. Meanwhile, these selfsame post-editors are in a nearby supermarket check-out line trying to pay for baby formula with food stamps, praying to Yahweh and Harry Reid that the Republican Congress will extend welfare benefits for another six months. 

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. 
To contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. You can also join his LinkedIn network by visiting his profile or you can follow him on Twitter.


Leon Hunter said...

"TT positively RULES the search rankings. Not only does it broadcast its low quality content in every single localization conference, it also dominates the online search world with the same iron fist with which Ivan the Terrible ruled early modern Russia."

Pues da que pensar, sí señor...

Rob said...

Kudos to you for writing the only blog post in which I have come across the word "bloviate" :)

Anonymous said...

"...and its semi-anonymous ten-dollar-an-hour blogger...". Not even that much.

Bloggers don't get paid AT ALL for their articles!

Miguel Llorens M. said...

Dear Anonymous:
Actually, most of the crappier elements of the blogosphere are the output of paid typing monkeys. You see, to get really, really low quality on blogs, you have to pay for it. Trusted Translations probably pays something to "Julia S," although it is probably not enough to keep her above the poverty line.

Aurora Humarán said...

Great post, Miguel!

Trusted Translations is one of the lousiest payers in Argentina.

They pay a monthly salary of approx. 200 USD (1.200 ARS). (Are those in-house translators to be blamed? Of course they are!, but we are now talking about TT, their freelancers and staff translators can be stuff for a future post of yours).

Interesting information about TT: "Blowing the whistle - translation and federal contracting"

Have a great week!


Miguel Llorens M. said...

Wow, that's pretty shocking, Aurora. It coincides with most other reports I have heard about this company. Cheap translation and aggressive cost controls are one thing. But paying below minimum wages in a country that already features low wages is quite another thing.

Anonymous said...

Could you explain this Miguel?

Pablo Prosciutto said...

>You see, to get really, really low quality on blogs, you have to pay for it.<

That's a great mantra, Miguel. Makes my day.