Offering Your Content in 100 Languages


From left: Seth Bindernagel, Director of Localization for Mozilla; Leonard Chien, Director, Lingua Project for Global Voices; June Cohen, Executive Producer of TED Media.

TED’s June Cohen led a panel on social translation at South by Southwest this weekend. The panel — run as a tight, advice-dense conversation — brought together leaders from three of the web’s most prominent social (i.e. volunteer) translation projects, including Seth Bindernagel, Director of Localization for Mozilla’s Firefox browser, and Leonard Chien, who directs the “Lingua” translation project for the Global Voices blog. (Leonard, himself a translator, flew in from Taiwan to participate.)

There are only a handful of these projects, which — like TED’s Open Translation Project — allow volunteers worldwide to translate the content of websites or software. But the early results for all of them have been so explosively encouraging that the idea simply has to spread. The panel gave a perfect opportunity to both share information among us, and package it for others…

The scale of each program obviously varies (with success measured very differently on a citizen journalism blog than on a web browser…) Global Voices is now translated in 20 languages, with 120 people contributing 600 translated articles every month. One third of their audience reads a translated version.

Firefox — which has had a volunteer translation program since the browser first launched — has versions in 75 languages (with language packs available in 25 more). This means that every version of Firefox ships with all 75 languages complete. Mozilla has 350M users worldwide, and 50% market share in many countries where a non-English version is used.

And TED, which launched its project 9 months ago, has 3500 volunteers working in 80 languages. They’ve started work on 8000 translations, of which 5000 have been published. TED’s international audience has increased 300% since the program launched.

We’ll post a comprehensive summary early next week, for those who couldn’t join us at South by Southwest. But first: A few key takeaway points: (1) None of these programs has ever had a problem with someone purposely mis-translating work (2) All the panelists believe volunteer translators often do a better job than professional translators, not because they’re more skilled, but because they’re passionate about the work (Note: Leonard is himself a professional translator, and he finds this is true in his own work) (3) To set volunteers up for success — and ensure quality of the final product — create a strong workflow and a process for QA/proofreading. (4) You can motivate and thank volunteer translators by crediting them publicly for their work; encouraging the formation of language groups and communities; thanking them regularly and sincerely (5) “Open” strategies bring tremendous rewards — not just in terms of cost savings (which is obvious) but also in strengthening relationships: these projects offer audience members/user the opportunity to contribute toward your mission, and become part of your virtual team. You can’t put a number on that. (6) If you’re considering a volunteer translation program, you should not take it on unless you’re ready to commit to a long-term relationship with your translators. You can’t just turn something like this on and then off as you feel like it. But on the flip side, don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. You can have a translation program without fully internationalizing your site or product.