For the right content and audience, Crowd Translation can be one of the most affordable, scalable, and high-quality approaches to subtitling and translation. Ready to learn more? 

What is Crowd Translation?

For this article, let’s define Crowd Translation: 

When audience members, fans, or other volunteers work together to translate a piece or series of content.

Crowd-based translating and subtitling can be organized in many ways; some cool examples include:

In this article, we’ll focus on approaches driven by content creators, providers, and distributors. However, many of us at PCF are fans of volunteer-driven approaches, like fansubbing :)

Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

Trade Offs

Let’s take a quick look at the pros, cons, and overall benefits of crowd translation.

Pros – The Positive

  • Cost – Compared to industry rates, the per-minute price of crowd-based translation can be extremely cost effective.
  • Quality* – Crowd translation, when well-managed, can rival or exceed that of professional translation.
  • Scale – With proper encouragement, a crowd-based effort can be massively productive.

Cons – The Challenges

  • Turnaround – Volunteers cannot be held to a strict schedule; however, once a community is up and running, relatively predictable and speedy turnarounds can be achieved.
  • Community Engagement – Although enlisting a crowd takes time and effort, an eager and committed community is an incredibly valuable asset (see Benefits, below).

Benefits – Why Subtitle? Why Engage a Crowd?

  • Bigger Audience – It’s safe to say most of us want this. With translation, we’re not just talking about a larger overall audience, but a more diverse and global viewership too. 
  • Deeply Engaged Community – A vastly under-appreciated benefit of crowd translation is the community that comes out of the effort. The connections you’re able to share with your community, as well those that are shared in return, are difficult to put to words, but invaluable.

*Some claim that crowd translation yields poor quality. In our experience, two key ingredients enable crowd translation quality to match, and even outpace professional outfits:

  1. Crowds made up of audience members/fans – people volunteering time to translate content/topics with which they are intimately familiar (and excited about). It can foster a very high baseline for accuracy, tone, and contextual awareness.
  2. A well-managed crowd has safeguards in place to ensure well-meaning, but less skilled, volunteers are not able to publish poor quality work without review/proofreading.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

If the Crowd Fits, Engage It!

One ingredient is absolutely necessary for crowd translation: a crowd. Generally, this starts with audience members and fans of a specific content creator, series, or distribution outlet. If the content is freely accessible (especially if it’s created by a trusted nonprofit organization, for example), it is possible to attract new contributors who are inspired to make the world a richer place.

Some creators have massive audiences and others garner smaller, more niche followings, but either can be fertile grounds for crowd translation. All it takes is a few multi-lingual viewers to get a translation program started and momentum can be built from there. The biggest hurdle is often just making the ‘ask’ to your audience! 

Getting Started

Let’s get into the nuts and bolts:

Picking a Toolset: Creating Subtitles + Coordinating Your Crowd

You’ll need two things, a way to create subtitles and a way to coordinate your volunteer community members, so they can work together to translate content. 

Our top suggestion is Amara Community. I might be a tiny bit biased 😅, but with over a decade of experience building software and running volunteer translation communities, we here at Amara know the lay of the land.

Amara Community

Amara Community is a purpose-built suite for organizing a community and creating subtitles. It comes in two ‘flavors’:

  • Amara Community – for smaller communities and channels (learn more).
  • Amara Community Enterprise – for larger communities, channels, or distributors.

Two key advantages of these options are: 1) both are built on the world’s easiest to learn and use subtitle editor, the Amara Editor, and 2) both come with volunteer team management features, automations and integrations.

Other Options

Aside from Amara Community, the below options are the most readily-accessible, general toolsets and approaches that we could recommend.

We have seen crowd translation be organized via spreadsheets and text documents (we don’t recommend it), subtitles created with free desktop software (powerful, but not user-friendly or scalable), and, more recently, with YouTube’s subtitle editor role, on which we’ll elaborate.

For YouTube users who want to entrust the management of subtitles to other YouTube users, they can provide subtitle editor permissions. However, this results in a free-for-all situation, where anyone invited to subtitle is able to add, edit, or delete subtitles at will. It is a solid option for extremely small, well-coordinated groups, but at an appreciable scale it will quickly descend into chaos.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Conclusion

If you’re dreaming about the benefits of reaching a broader, more diverse audience –via high-quality and affordable subtitles– crowd translation might be the perfect fit. We’re big fans of accessibility and are familiar with many of the secrets and challenges of this model, so please do not hesitate to ask us questions, share concerns, or just reach out and say hello! 


When you want to talk more, email us at enterprise@amara.org

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