Community Translation Ain't FREE Translation

There was a great session at the recent Localization UnConference on the subject of Community-based localization/translation.

Janice Campbell, a Globalization Manager at Sun (Janice’s Blog is here) made it clear that it must not be seen as free translation. The community must be invested in, developed, nurtured, communicated with constantly, and supported with facilitators and tools (check out the NetBeans Localization Wiki). There is therefore a time, effort and resource cost to this. What kind of rewards are expected by such translators? Never give money. Instead, kudos, invites to dev conferences, t-shirts and other swag, advance beta previews, and so on…


I expressed the fear about switching to a Web 2.0 participative community model of translation based on the analogy of throwing a party and nobody turns up. Janice countered this by asking how we’d feel if we were invited to a party and there was no food, drink, or host present. A really great point.

Seems like the real question is how to create, foster yes, even manage community-based contributions to the translation effort so that it scales and is persistent over time. Could there be a relationship between the type of company and nature of its products and the long-term success of the model? Comments welcome.

Very often, senior – and not so senior – management see community translation as a free option, which is the wrong way to approach this. But then, we’ve also seen how the cost-savings aspect of the outsourcing model has come back to bite many an executive in the rear.

Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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