Saturday, July 30, 2011

The HuffPo and the Fake AP Style Book Weigh in on the Content Tsunami

I.                 The Huffington Post as roach motel (they check in, but they don’t check out):

Scene 1: Ad Age columnist Simon Dumenco writes a piece about Steve Jobs and Weinergate. Since it dealt with a popular topic, the post turned out to be a big hit, attracting lots of visits. So much so that the piece was “aggregated” by a blogger at The Huffington Post. What this means is that Dumenco’s article was paraphrased with extensive quotes without adding anything to the original (i.e., another avenue by which the Content Tsunami grows without actually increasing the quality of information):
HuffPo's aggregation, titled "Anthony Weiner vs. Steve Jobs: Who Won On Twitter?," consisted of basically a short but thorough paraphrasing/rewriting of the Ad Age post -- using the same set-up (i.e., pointing out that Apple had the misfortune of presenting its latest round of big announcements on the same day Weiner resigned from Congress) and the bulk of the data presented in the original Ad Age piece. Huffpo closed out its post with "See more stats from Ad Age here" -- a disingenuous link, because Huffpo had already cherrypicked all the essential content. HuffPo clearly wanted readers to stay on its site instead of clicking through to

Friday, July 29, 2011

More on the Content Tsunami: Digitized Versions of Public-Domain Books

Any work published before 1929 is in the public domain. That means the bulk of pre-twentieth century classics can be downloaded for free from Google Books. However, as historian and librarian Robert Darnton has warned repeatedly from the pages of the New York Review of Books, the Google book digitization project is very different from the process of making a modern scholarly edition of a classic. When you dive into the freebie editions in the public domain of Jane Austen and Tirso de Molina, you are pretty much at the mercy of the quality of the edition from centuries past, before the careful comparison of versions and variants gave birth to the contemporary discipline of textual criticism.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Smartling: Crowdsourced Post-Editing at its Finest

Technology is only as good as its designers and its users. How good are the crowdsourced post-editing (CPE) companies scooping up venture capital in Silicon Valley? Well… It appears to be getting easier and easier to capitalize on the social media bubble to score some easy VC cash. A company called Smartling recently raised 10 million cool ones “to ramp up its localization tools.” The investors include “U.S. Venture Partners, Venrock and First Round Capital,” which “have all chipped in for the series B funding round and are joined by IDG Ventures.”

How Easy is It To ‘Hack’ Google Translate?

File this under “bizarro” translation stories. A blogger in Holland reported over the weekend that running the name of the chief suspect in the Norwegian terrorist attacks through Google Translate yielded some weird results. Basically, the name of the mass murderer was translated using nouns with a certain positive connotation:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Future of Translation is Selling Less Translation

Less will be more in the translation world. To really serve your clients, you will have to convince them that translation to 100 languages is not a good idea. In fact, it’s a very, very bad idea. You will have to prove to them that post-editing your copy is tacky. That crowdsourcing content makes you look shady. That it proclaims that your company stands for lower quality.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lionbridge Circles the Drain: Are Cheap Translations a Road to Riches?

This sucker could go down.
George W. Bush (Sep. 2008)

De una vieja de Egipto relata Felino que dormia con un crocodilo al lado, imitando
á los pueblos de la America Septentrional, que hazen gargantillas de serpientes, y
á los Vruvayos pinta el Historico sin cabeça; desta suerte de monstruos se me
representan essos accionistas, pues no teniendo cabeça algunos para governarse,
duermen al lado de los crocodilos con descanso, formando galas de los aspides y
adornos de los venenos.
Joseph Penso de la Vega, Confusión de confusiones (1688)

Is cheapo translation a quick path to getting rich? Not for LIOX shareholders, apparently. For these unfortunate souls, owning stock in the largest player in the McLocalization sector has been more akin to jogging along with the Bataan Death March. Their investment plummeted -2.11% in today’s session and shed -6.88% of its value over three months, -32.7% over the past year, and -38% over the past five years. Yuck. Just look at the chart (if there are any children in the room, please send them away; if you are very squeamish, avert your eyes).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Finance and Economics Blogs I Read

The following blogs don’t deal with translation, but I really feel I have to plug them because of the many hours of enjoyment they provide:

The Freakonomics blog should by now not need much of an introduction. Dubner and Levitt recently launched a really great podcast.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A ♥ for Language Blogs: My Favorites

Judy and Dagmar Jenner had a nice idea a couple of weeks back for bloggers to cite their favorite translation blogs under the A for Language Blogs title. They would then award one copy of their book, The Entrepreneurial Linguist, to one of these bloggers. I already own a copy (and I intend to review it as soon as I have a chance), but I thought this was a good a chance as any to give you an idea of the translation blogs I visit regularly:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Spammy Rosetta Stone: Some Examples of Unethical SEO Tactics

One element that is driving up the amount of low-quality online content is the algorithm used by Google to provide search services. The exact nature of the algorithm is a closely guarded secret, but in practice several key features are well known. The brilliant intuition behind Google is relatively simple to understand: Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, decided that the best way to organize the Internet was to identify all links to all websites and view each link as a vote about the value of the destination website. Thus, millions of little hyperlinks to the BBC would indicate the importance of the website, and each of the pieces published on the site would be awarded a very high search engine ranking. It was a stroke of genius. Suddenly, the Internet was less of a jungle of spam and far more pliable to the computer-assisted human mind.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

“This is not a Blockade!”: A Reverse Turing Test for the Translated Web

There is a great scene in Thirteen Days in which Kennedy’s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara is in the war room of the Pentagon moving around little pieces on a wall map that represent submarines and cargo vessels involved in the 1962 Cuban blockade. The situation is tense as the world approaches the brink of nuclear war. At one point, McNamara is told huffily by a slightly dim admiral to leave blockades to the Navy because they have been doing it “since the days of John Paul Jones.” The ice-cold McNamara (known as an “IBM computer with legs”) explodes in fiery rage: “John Paul Jones! You don't understand a thing! This is not a blockade! This is language, a new vocabulary, the likes of which the world has never seen! This is President Kennedy communicating with Secretary Khrushchev!

In the case of most machine translated websites, one might say: “This isn’t language, it is a new type of communication the likes of which the world has never seen. This is Computer One communicating with Computer Two. Both pretend to be human. The objective of this exercise is to raise the SEO ranking of some shady website peddling shark fins to cure cancer.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

Five Rules for Ethical Search Engine Optimization

Or we can believe in ourselves. By chance, it might turn out we are real.
—Jaron Lanier, You Are not a Gadget

Okay, I’m pretty fed up with agencies and shady "entrepreneurs" leaving nonsense comments on my blog with links to their homepages just to boost their Google ranking. Please allow me to make a plea for ethical search engine optimization (SEO) by jotting down a handful of tips:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why Lord Vader is Trying to Imitate The Economics of the Sealed-Bid Auction in Online Translation Databases (Final)

(I have analyzed the structure of the sealed bid auction job platforms here and here. This is the third and final part of the post on this topic.)

I know there is already somebody in the back row ready to let out an outraged cri de coeur: “So we just have to resign ourselves to the idea that world is a fallen mess of corruption and sin?” Uh, well, no. is not the whole of the translation market. It isn’t even the whole of the online marketplace for translations. ProZ is a pretty interesting example of the Web 1.0 that is struggling to adapt to the Web 2.0 by ingeniously dipping its toes into crowdsourcing (as a Pro member or something, I was asked to review colleagues’ translation samples for free, for example). But obsessing over its practices is pointless. My feeling is that it will either fold when something else comes along or that it will remain as a niche outlet for the hamsterized linguistic workforce of the future. In either case, if you worry enough about this to sign a petition, you can probably find some more creative way of finding clients. The standard recommendations: Chris Durban’s Prosperous Translator (I reviewed this book a few months back) and Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s The Entrepreneurial Linguist. Also, check out the latest edition of Corinne McKay’s How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Alex Eames’s Business Success as a Freelance Translator. And any one of a ton of books for non-translation freelancers. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Attack of the Zombie Hamster Mob: The Economics of the Sealed-Bid Auction in Online Translation Databases (Part II)

When you participate in ProZ’s “auctions” you as a freelancer are starting off at a disadvantage: You are participating in a mechanism which by nature keeps you from getting top price for your services. Because the potential buyer holds all the cards (information) and you are in the dark.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Friend" this Blog on Facebook

I just added a page for this blog on Facebook, so if you prefer to get your blog updates via your wall, just click on to its FB homepage and "like" it.

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Economics of the Sealed-Bid Auction in Online Translation Databases, or Why Petitions Against Are Useless

A staple of the freelance translation market in the early 21st century is the petition by freelancers against online job auction sites such as and The objective is usually to get them to introduce some kind of change or regulation that forbids cheapo outsourcers from posting projects at very low rates. While I sympathize, I don’t sign these petitions for a series of reasons I hope to sketch out here. I am a member of both websites, the former as a paid subscriber and the latter as a regular (i.e., non-dues paying) member after several years as a paid subscriber, but that is not the reason.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Intellectual Dishonesty and MT Salesmanship

You see why I complain about intellectual dishonesty among the MT Crowd? The following two statements are made by the same person. The first one makes the weak case for MT while talking to a translator. Contrast its pliable humility with the second statement, which makes a rather stronger case about the technology. This type of duplicity is frequent among the peddlers of MT. Obviously, the message is being molded according to the audience: