Crowdsourcing translations can be a powerful, but risky way of translating your product. Crowdsourcing is outsourcing a task to the general public or “crowd.” This could be anyone on the internet, but it will usually just be your fans or supporters, those people who have some sort of stake, emotional or otherwise, in your product or service. There are many benefits to crowdsourcing a translation, including increased customer engagement, a more tailored translation (the customers did it themselves), and it can (in some cases) be more cost effective. It isn’t totally free as translations are, or really ought to be, professionally edited before they are implemented.
While crowdsourcing has become more popular in recent years on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, a related concept, fan translations has been around for much longer. Video game fans have long translated dialogue and user interfaces from Japanese to English. These fans wanted their English speaking friends to be able to enjoy the Japanese games that had not been officially localized for a North American audience. The first recorded fan translation was back in 1993.
These translations of course not professionally done, but there is some benefit to that. We talk almost endlessly about how important context and a deeper understanding of the culture that surrounds the translation. The fans have this understanding and it is unlikely that professionally trained translators would. This is of course a double edged sword as fan translations can actually be too “inside-baseball” and alienate less hard-core fans. But chances are if you’re getting a fan translation then you are also pretty hard-core.
Fan translations have been in the news lately as it seems that an official rerelease of the 1998 video game “Baldur’s Gate” will include a fan translation. The game is a dialogue heavy “role-playing game” and reportedly contained 1.2 million words. Fans have been working on the translation into a variety of languages since its release in 1998.