20 October 2008

The perils of "community" translations.
Recently Facebook, one of the highest valued websites since the inception of the internet, decided to become multilingual. Despite having raised a phenomenal amount of money from Microsoft, they didn't hire any professionals -- they opened the project to "the community".
Why? Because they wanted to expand their user base -- without investing a penny.
All well and good, but you get what you pay for, and that's what Facebook got.
I've already spotted one error in one of their translations, and it has a serious effect on the meaning of user profiles. The relationship status "it's complicated" has been translated to Spanish as literally "in a complicated relationship", which is a very different thing.
Why did this happen?
They asked specifically for native speakers of the target language only. Unfortunately that meant the team, such as it was, lacked sufficient source language knowledge. The Emperor's Nose fallacy holds whether you have a dozen, a hundred or a million people: the average of all guesses is not necessarily the right answer.

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