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Throwing My Hat into the Technology Ring Again with

Published: 25 November 2013

“Why?” you ask. “Why would a seasoned translator and interpreter get involved in crowdsourcing, which, according to many, is undermining the translation profession?” That’s a fair question. And here’s my answer.

Two years ago, I decided to practice what I had been preaching about technology and the language services industry. I joined forces with a Silicon Valley startup called ZipDX to design and create the first integrated platform for providing remote simultaneous interpretation for teleconferences and webinars. If you attended the 2013 Annual American Translators Association Conference in San Antonio, Texas earlier this month you may have heard one interpreter’s perspective on that technology platform, which offers simultaneous interpretation services to an entirely new market segment.

Now I’ve thrown my hat into the technology ring again, this time to focus on the polemical yet promising idea of crowdsourced translation. This month I joined the Advisory Board of Webflakes, an innovative startup company I wrote about a few months ago. Here's a link to the official press release, if you are curious.

“Why?” you ask. “Why would a seasoned translator and interpreter get involved in crowdsourcing, which, according to many, is undermining the translation profession?”

That’s a fair question. And here’s my answer:

I’ve spent the last seven years watching technology and its effects on translation and interpreting. I’ve observed how the language professions have reacted to both the major and minor impacts that technology is having on what we translators and interpreters do. And, no doubt, many of you have heard me preach about the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have to influence the future of multilingual communication. But to do so, we have to roll up our sleeves and be willing to get our hands dirty. That is, to get involved in the design and implementation of the new service delivery and business models that are changing how language services are provided and paid for.

ZipDX has given me a unique opportunity to have a positive impact on the design and implementation of new technology for the delivery of interpreting services.

Now with Webflakes, I have the opportunity to help do something similar with an online media company seeking to expand the availability of high-quality blogging content in multiple languages. Here are a few of the reasons I believe Webflakes will be good for translators:

Not all crowdsourcing models are created equal. I have taken a close look at the Webflakes platform. I have even test driven it. (You can check out my first translation here. If you like it, be sure to give me a shoutout by clicking on the “Appreciate!” button at the bottom.) It is the best platform I have found for individual translators who are looking to establish a presence in today’s social-media-driven marketplace, and it allows the translator to build a reputation online based on translation work that potential clients can read. There’s no divvying up of source texts among multiple translators—the blogs in need of translation usually range from 300 to 900 words. There’s no anonymity. And there’s no bidding for jobs either.

Webflakes helps make translators visible by allowing them to sign their work and share it with the world. For young translators seeking to gain a foothold in a crowded marketplace this is an excellent way to begin building a body of work for potential clients to see. Translators can link their Webflakes profile to TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, andGoogle+ to let followers know about their latest published translations. What is more, the content on Webflakes is an entirely new market for translators. It takes no existing work away from anyone.

The Webflakes innovative revenue sharing model favors the translator. Rather than offering a per word rate that follows the fee-for-service translation model that has taken such a beating in recent years, Webflakes will begin an innovative revenue sharing model with its translators and bloggers during the first quarter of 2014, when it begins including advertising on its site. And here’s the kicker, translators will earn a percentage of the ad revenue just like the bloggers in recognition of the work they do to make the content available in other languages. You heard that right, the translator will be paid at least as much as the author of the content.

So how much does the translator get paid? That will depend on the advertising revenue generated by each translation. In the Webflakes model, the translator, in a sense, actually becomes a partner in this entrepreneurial endeavor, assuming some of the risk, by offering or “investing” translation work up front, but also garnering more of the potential reward over time. The thinking goes like this. Quality translations of popular blogs will be read more often, thereby creating more website traffic and advertising revenue. Over time, Webflakes translators have the potential to create passive revenue streams generated by the body of their previously translated work on the site.

The fee-for-service model that has dominated the freelance translation space for decades limits a translator’s earning potential. Translators essentially trade their time for money, and there are only 24 hours in the day. With revenue sharing, a translator’s earning potential will no longer be capped by limited time or productivity.

As with any entrepreneurial endeavor, there is risk involved. Some blogs are read more than others, just as some translations are better than others. But on the Webflakes platform quality translations of popular content will rise to the top. The way I see it, Webflakes has brought the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley to translation. Some may not like this, but the language industry desperately needs new alternatives to old 20th century delivery and business models in order to thrive in the digital economy. Revenue sharing may well be one of them.

The legendary Scottish naval commander and father of the U.S. Navy, John Paul Jones, got it right when he said: “It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win.” From where I stand, Webflakes looks like a risk worth taking. If initial registrations are any indication, many colleagues agree with me. According to a Webflakes translator survey conducted this month, one third of the translators on the platform are professionals.

Become a part of the Webflakes community by going to

The revenue sharing model goes live in 2014.


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