top of page—Could a Flurry of Crowdsourced Translation Become a Blizzard?

Published: 24 July 2013

I find Webflakes compelling for two reasons. First, it is a harbinger of things to come. Second, Webflakes has taken crowdsourcing and based its entire business model on it, and not only for translation, but for content creation as well.

One of the most powerful aspects of Internet connectivity is the way it facilitates communication. It empowers like-minded individuals to express their ideas, discuss them with others and build communities. Today’s bloggers write about everything from soup to nuts, from French wine to Thai food, and from South American soccer to Russian hockey.

Social media guru Michael Hyatt reports that there are over 164 million blogs out there today. More and more of them with unique and compelling content are in languages other than English. So what’s an English-speaking Japanese manga enthusiast to do? Enter—a new website that hand picks foreign-language blogs about a broad range of lifestyle topics like fashion, wine, travel, design and architecture, just to name a few, and then translates them into English.

Their premise is simple, find the best bloggers in other languages (their current focus is on Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese) and translate their blog posts into English using crowdsourced translation. As Webflakes CEO Nathan Shuchami aptly puts it, “the best experts don’t always write in English.” So their goal is to “liberate content from the boundaries of language.”

I find Webflakes compelling for two reasons. First, it is a harbinger of things to come. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, as online content mushroomed in English, the main focus was on translating and localizing this content into the myriad languages of the world. While this is still a huge slice of the translation pie, Webflakes does the exact opposite by bringing highly relevant, authentic content originally authored in other languages into English.

Second, Webflakes has taken crowdsourcing and based its entire business model on it, and not only for translation, but for content creation as well. It is a bold move that breaks with traditional translation models and may well bear much fruit.

So, that’s the premise of Webflakes—authentic content written by experts in many languages made available in English by crowdsourced translators. Intrigued by this concept, I sat down for a conversation with Shuchami recently to ask him a few questions about their business model and whether it was a good thing for translators.

Here are some of the key areas we touched on.

How and why would a translator sign up? The “how” is the easy part. Just go and sign up. The “why” is a bit more complicated. If you are a young translator, Webflakes touts itself as a great way to get experience and exposure. With features indicating how many translations you have successfully completed, links to those translated texts, your language combinations and a counter with the total amount of funds you have donated to your charity of choice (more on this below), the translator profile page is custom designed for getting noticed in a sharing economy.

If you are an established professional translator, Shuchami is betting that your motivations will be different. After spending hours on translating boring contracts, prospectuses, and such, on Webflakes professional translators can translate interesting, meaningful, compelling content all while contributing to a great cause (again, more on this below). Surely the response from many translators will be a hearty “pshaw!” But take a look at the number of volunteer translators in the TED community who know their craft well and donate their time to sharing “ideas worth spreading,” and you’ll see how potentially powerful this concept can be.

What about quality control? By Shuchami’s own admission, Webflakes is lenient when it comes to overseeing its community of volunteer translators. They had over 200 register in the first two months, of those only two were removed. All translated texts are reviewed by at least two sets of eyes, and all of Webflakes’ full-time employees are experts in at least one of the source languages currently covered. Additionally, they are committed to using competency badges and they are working on a translators forum and translation management dashboard for their community of translators. The platform is 100% proprietary.

Does a translator make any money working for Webflakes? Not exactly. At least, not yet. Currently, for every 500 words translated, Webflakes will donate $1.00 to the charity of the translator’s choice, which is not insignificant when you truly understand the power of crowdsourcing. Shuchami says that in the long term their goal is to monetize the content and offer revenue sharing opportunities (presumably advertising or perhaps subscription revenues) with their community of bloggers and translators. Lifestyle articles have a much longer shelf life than many other texts (up to two years), he notes. They also have the potential to be more lucrative than just a one-time fee for service model, he points out.

Where did the name Webflakes come from? Think of snowflakes—each one is unique. So is each of the blog posts translated into English on the Webflakes site, just as each blogger featured is a thought leader in his/her area of expertise. And based on the site’s activity so far, what started out as a light flurry of interesting blogs has quickly turned into a full-blown blizzard of compelling content. Site traffic has been growing exponentially, and the Webflakes team is planning on adding blogs originally written in German, Russian, Portuguese and Mandarin next.

Intrigued by the proposition? Would you translate for Webflakes, why or why not?


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