Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ortsbo and the Sleaze Factor

Sorry it had to go down like this, baby, 'cause yo ass is cute. But you got got.
—The Wire

you got got: you've been had; you've been tricked.
Hey man, what about our deal?
Heh! You got got!
—Urban Dictionary

I have been following David Grunwald’s series of posts about a language technology company called Ortsbo with interest for some time now (read the entries here, here, here and here). He has been blogging about it for months. In a nutshell, Ortsbo is a public company that trades on the Canadian stock market and purports to have created a program that allows you to translate instant messages automatically. The company periodically rolls out announcements that it has launched an application of its proprietary technology for some use or other. The problem is, as Grunwald has demonstrated, that it is a total scam. The company does not have its own automatic translation software. It is hooked up to the Google Translate API. It is pretty straightforwardly a rip-off. Just look at the following YouTube presentation by an anonymous user:

In brief, it is a massive scam of the old “pump and dump” type familiar to anyone who has watched Wall Street.

The thing I find baffling (aside from the passivity of Canadian market regulators, especially in the wake of the Sino-Forest scandal) is that, although Grunwald’s blog is widely read, on Twitter you regularly see gurus and pundits retweeting Ortsbo’s press releases or circulating its bogus operational reports. Why is this happening? There are only two possible explanations: ignorance or connivance.

Ignorance? Well, there is plenty of that around in the world (and a healthy percentage of it in Translation Consultancy Land).

But what do I mean by connivance (please note: "connivance" is different from "complicity")? I am guessing that many of the consultants and analysts who fling Ortsbo’s criminal dung at each other like frenzied chimpanzees are probably aware of Grunwald’s exposé. But they don’t care. That’s it. They simply do not care. Which is cold, cold, cold, because real people who invested in that company will lose money. And other people will go to jail. But a lot of the people who contribute to spreading Ortsbo’s garbage are self-righteous, pious souls who think bankers’ bonuses are obscene and feel warm and fuzzy about Occupy Wall Street. Now, of course, no amount of malfeasance in an industry as tiny as translation will ever require a bailout like TARP, but my point is that financial plutocrats do not have a monopoly on the stupidity and compromised morals that led to the multi-tranche synthetic subprime CDO cubed.

The problem is that the people doling out the language tech feelgoods on the streetcorners of the World Wide Web are in the business of hype. As Web 2.0 ideologues like to say, the quality of information doesn’t matter. No, the amount of information is what matters. So they just circulate these press releases to keep the buzz going about the “vibrant” and “innovative” (cough, cough) translation tech sector. Because, without the buzz and the hype, the reality of a stagnant Florida swamp is harder to pass off as prime real estate. So they just keep on bringin’ in da funk and da noise. (Now, does anyone need further proof that there is an MT Bubble?)

Now, I disagree with Mr. Grunwald about most things. His ideas about translation as a commodity are depressing and I wouldn’t work for him unless something with a bit more dignity—such as “circus freak”—weren’t a viable career option (for whatever reason). However, he must be commended for his honesty in denouncing the Ortsbo mess. And if l10n consultants wish to wash off some of the sleaze that is beginning to spatter them, they should help him clean out this Augean stable. 

 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, several small-and-medium-sized brokerages, asset management institutions based in Spain, 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 or follow him on Twitter.

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