BuzzFeed, the fast-growing social content site (with three times more eyeballs just this year), is running out of English readers according to the Wall Street Journal. Crowdsourcing is an obvious choice for such a trendy platform. Enrolling enthusiasts in the translation process is a well-tested model for localization success, much to the chagrin of localization companies like my own, 1-800-Translate.
TED, LinkedIn and Facebook have all looked to users to help them get their message across in other languages. Their translation systems harness the product enthusiasm of a bilingual user-base to translate for free in exchange for digital matches and other virtual trinkets.
But BuzzFeed has taken an even more radical route by recruiting language students to do their translations. Using an app called Duolingo, language students will be assigned translations of BuzzFeed content as part of their lesson. More advanced students will check the work of beginners, and multiple versions will be processed to pick the most likely correct translation among many.
In theory, the students “will translate a BuzzFeed post in a matter of hours—at a quality that rivals that of professional translators, but at the speed, scale and price that you’d get from a machine,” Farhad Manjoo reports in the Wall Street Journal.
“If it works—and BuzzFeed’s tests say it does—the effort could prove the utility of something known as human computation, a theory that argues that instead of rivaling one another, machines and humans can get more done by banding together.”
This is the kind of logic that Duolingo founder Luis von Ahn is always spouting as a way to justify getting people to work for him for free. Von Ahn claims that people are spending a lot of time and energy on “wasted” work.
Von Ahn is one of the guys who invented Captcha, those irritating little forms on the web that require you to enter text in order to post something or download a file. Can you think of a better candidate for waste of time? Von Ahn’s fix was to double the workload of those irritating passkeys by inserting an additional word illegible to Google scanners. So now everyone who is forced to use that service must double their efforts so that Von Ahn can profit on either end of the transaction.
Now the same thing applies to language students. Lessons are free so far, and a study commissioned by Duolingo reports that the service is the best thing since sliced bread for language study. Now I’m not surprised they would say that, but I would be surprised if it was true. I might check in with pedagogues on this at some later date.
Just in case it’s not clear, I despise the macroparasite Von Ahn and resent his digital, tick-like ways. But even I have to admit that this looks like a sure thing. BuzzFeed is a great platform for language study, and this is a clear case where enthusiasm will outshine professionalism. Damn.