Wednesday, July 1, 2009

WWW - Profession

Work and life and moving have all kept me from blogging for a while, but I have been dragged back into the blogosphere by the recent LinkedIn crowd sourcing controversy which brings us to this week's "Word of the Week":


"A paid occupation, especially one involving training and a formal qualification."
-Compact Oxford English Dictionary

LinkedIn is a Professional Networking Site. A networking site for Professionals. By definition, a profession is something done for pay, in order to earn a living. Furthermore, it is not just any job, but a job which requires specialist knowledge, training, experience, or qualifications. Notably, a "professional" is not an:


"A person who engages in an […] activity as a pastime rather than as a profession. One lacking the skill of a professional."
-The American Heritage Dictionary

LinkedIn, recognizing the global nature of networking today has made the decision to provide access to its services in more than the currently offered four languages. To achieve this goal, LinkedIn reached out to professional translators asking them if they would be willing to translate LinkedIn's site as part of a crowd sourcing effort - for free. Translators were asked what incentive would encourage them to help out, but the incentives offered did not include monetary compensation. One of the options was even, "because it's fun."

Wait, what was that first bit in the definition of a "profession" again?

I understand where LinkedIn is coming from, I really do. I mean, Facebook crowd sourced its translation efforts and many companies are finding ways of getting "free work" from people. It's no surprise when a company wants to save money. So, why is the translation community so outraged? Let's look at a few minor points:

1) Facebook asked its users (amateurs) if they would be interested in participating in a crowd sourced translation. They did not specifically ask professional translators to provide their services for free.

2) LinkedIn suggests that translators should do this "for the glory" – for publicity benefits. Again, I would love to hear thoughts on this, but I have never felt that there is much "glory" to be had in participating in the group translation of a website. There is no way for anyone to know which part of the website you translated and no way to know that your work will not be changed in five minutes' time (such is the nature of the internet). This means that if you point a potential client to your work on the website, you are very likely pointing them to someone else's (often inferior) work.

3) LinkedIn is a for-profit business asking professionals to provide their services for free. Did they take this approach to hiring copywriters? Programmers? Graphic designers?

I think this last point might be the one that rankles translators the most. After all, translation is one of the most specialized and least appreciated careers around. Why is this the case? Why do we not expect anyone who can speak to be able to write, but we do expect anyone who can speak two or more languages to be able to translate?

Of course, these points deal with why translators are so annoyed by the proposition. None of them deal with whether or not it's a good idea for LinkedIn to translate its site and other texts this way. Facebook did it, but Facebook got the kind of translation you would expect from this effort. Please tell me if your experience with a translated version of Facebook has been different, but I have always seen major inconsistencies, curious oddities, and amusing errors in the Facebook crowd sourced translation.

I intend to explore both these points, the translator's role and the client's needs, as I return to blogging on the topic of "babble" and "Babel", but in the meantime, I would love to hear any thoughts or reactions you have.

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