Translation should be free! Or at least that’s what everyone not in the translation business seems to believe. But since it is how I make my living, I am dead set against it. Yet I’ve been giving away free translation for years, and not to especially good causes either, other than ‘cause some Web surfers managed to navigate to the right page at 1-800-translate.com.
When we started the service several years back, it was no surprise that free translation proved to be a very popular feature of our website. My brilliant idea was that those people taking advantage of our free service would feel such gratitude that they would naturally start using us for paid translation. But in years of operation we never managed an upsell more than a couple of times, even though the number of words of free translation we processed dwarfed our human translation volume. It seems foolish to admit it now, but I was genuinely surprised to discover that when someone does a search for “free translation” they really, really meant it. Free really means free.
So, when we did the redesign of the site a few years ago, we never got around to putting the free translation tool back, since we couldn’t prove any bang for the buck.
But in the absence of the free translation tool, the traffic reports provide mute testimony to how deeply we’ve disappointed thousands and thousands of our non-customers who still visit our site to look for free translation. So we’ve decided to repeat our mistake and bring free translation back to the site. I call it vision. Gail, our controller, is calling it something else, but she won’t tell me what.
Since hope springs eternal, we’ll try some upsell, but our goal this time is to get a better understanding of how to enhance the value of on-demand translation systems and learn more about user behavior.
My latest theory is that the big problem with machine translation is not the quality of the output, which is generally acceptable to most (or it wouldn’t be so enormously popular) but the singular way in which all tools share the same restrictions on validation and quality assurance. Now, the engine producers may know something we don’t, but we got a couple of marketing objectives that will justify the investment until we answer that question. Or should I say, until you answer that question.
We’ve taken the three most popular translation tools on the Web, Google, Bing, and Systrans, and mashed them all together, so that when you press the translate button you get three different translations to choose from. Since we are pretty sure that most users of on-line translation tools can read the target language most of the time, that will allow bilinguals or people translating into their native language to select the preferred version, and to provide a thumbs up or down on all three.
Those scores will be published in real time, to provide a general guide to mon0glot users on which engines generally produce the most satisfactory results. We pay close attention to translation engine quality, so I have a pretty good idea of what tool will come out on top, (no spoilers here!) but we also know that the best is not always the best, and those other two engines do a much better translation job than the best sometimes, just at a lower frequency. So for the astute user of on-demand free machine translation users, three translations will always be better than one.
And for those who don’t have a clue to the quality of translation in a target they don’t understand, we have a back translation feature, so you can translate the machine translation back to its original language to see how it made it through the laundry. Shades of Translation Party as back translation plays the whisper game into the translation ground? Sure, but what the hell. It’s free, right? And actually surprisingly insightful, since in our testing we determined that a back translation provides clues to tell you how the original translation went bad.
And then we pitch a human check for a price, which we expect will do very little business, but is offered as part of the package (coming soon), thus providing a free (almost) promise to provide the best on-demand free translation service on the Web, as we are all about being the best, even when we have to give it away.
So please bookmark it. Free Translation Challenge is now in its “Translation Guy Reader’s Special Edition” iteration, where we get your feedback on ways to improve it. So please, if you don’t like it, tell us why. Wilber, this means you. I’ll keep you all posted on our findings and improvements.