August 01, 2008 |
Sometimes Google simply puzzles me. It is a multi-billion dollar company, right? It has all the resources to venture into absolutely any new field – by either investing in internal development or buying all the companies it thinks could complement its other products or even launching a venture fund of their own if they so choose.
And now I look at the latest post on the Official Google Blog and one thing comes to my mind: Google actually takes pride in its ability to crowdsource parts of its own work and never pay for them. The post describes how satisfied Google is about the fact that Google homepage is now available in more than 100 languages thanks to the efforts of volunteer translators around the world.
The latest addition to the family is Google’s homepage and search interface in Maori language that has recently been celebrated in New Zealand with Google taking part in the event. This addition is entirely the result of volunteer work and Google’s only participation seems to only be in encouraging the effort and participating in celebration.
Since I actually started my professional life by working as a freelance translator in my university years, I could not help but think it is not entirely fair to crowdsource the localization process completely without compensating the people for their efforts. I know that life is getting tough for translators in many language pairs with English growing to be a more and more accepted international language and many companies never bothering to translate their manuals or agreements into the language their customers have as their native ones.
And I don’t understand why it is that Google – of all companies in the world – can not afford actually hiring professional translators to do the job. After all, they don’t choose to cut costs by offering their engineers and coders to work for free, right?
Sure, they have done the job quite well in providing the tools that volunteers can use to translate various Google services. But can this replace payment? I really don’t think so.
What’s more, I am not only concerned about Google not helping keep other industries in a healthy state, what’s more important is that unfortunately – and naturally – the best translators rarely have much time (or any at all) for volunteer work: they usually have a stable group of customers that they work with constantly, they already have a reputation and a brand not to need Google for another line in their CVs and they also earn enough to afford themselves some good time away from their computers when they have spare time at all. So people who engage in this type of volunteer activity normally just want to do it for extra practice and some experience to show off in their resumes. Are they good translators? I think rarely.
So even if we ignore the ethical concerns of Google keeping the money only for the internet industry, unfortunately there’s a bigger problem that could damage Google itself – and that problem is quality of translation. I know Google is fascinated with machine translation and probably they really don’t think it’s a big problem to have a few defects in translation – after all, if the main products work as they are supposed to do it should be fine. Right? Wrong. To a user it really means irritation and probably even temptation to move to a local competitor that won’t disturb them with poorly translated phrases in the interface of the products.
I have no idea how good Google is in your native language (if it is not English, of course, so do leave your comments below) but in Russian it is definitely far from perfect. This imperfection makes me to constantly try to persuade Google that my preferred language is English though it still switches me back to Russian constantly on a number of products for an unknown reason. The worst example is Google Reader (it has only recently been localized into Russian) where the translated links and text in buttons rarely make sense at all and it takes me translating them back in my mind into English first to figure out what this or that link is intended for. And don’t forget that Google actually has a pretty big development office here in Russia so the situation should be better here than in other countries where Google does not have any local staff at all.
Another disappointment is that Google acts as an example for many startups to crowdsource localization and as a result they launch local versions that are not even imperfect but are totally incomprehensible. I am sure that crowdsourcing may be perfect for some things and in certain cases it can really help cut costs but I don’t think user experience with a product deserves such an approach.
The image of poor translation example (the text should be “Slippery shoreline”) by gardenghelle used under Creative Commons.