Why Google’s new app translation service is not a winner

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Google announced at I/O a few weeks back that it is launching a new app translation service for the Google Play developer console. This is a good strategic move to get more internationality into the app store, yet upon second look there are some problematic aspects with the approach Google has chosen to follow. I want to outline here which aspects these are and why it is that we find them to be rather problematic.

The new service is meant to allow developers working on apps for the Android platform to simply select a language, pay for the app translation and submit it, receiving it sometime later finished and translated, according to the announcement and presentation. The way they have implemented the service is by providing an interface to a popular crowd-translation platform from out of the developer console. While crowds can do many astonishing things, we don’t think web or mobile app translation is the best application for it. As some translators have pointed out to us, the quality on most crowd translation platforms is sub-par, mainly because the payment is far too low for professional translators to register there - including the ones (currently 5) Google chose to team up with. The result is an anonymous crowd of novices, with little or no quality assurance processes in place.

What’s problematic is not only the price-dumping, which further manifests the low price attitude to translations in the market for professional language services, but also the lack of quality enforcement in this area. The goal should be more quality, not less - as well as better professional services, not more anonymous crowds. In a lot of ways, language services through such approaches are degraded to click-working, which by far undervalues the great linguistic skills that would be at the developers’ disposal. Wouldn’t it be better to know who is doing the translations, to know the quality level you will be receiving, and pay an appropriate price for what is essentially your ticket to reaching a global target audience? Why not get the most out of client-customer communication, product context and cultural know how? In business, most relationships are based on trust and contracts, why not in translation?

While Google Translate is one of the greater advances in machine translation (big data is king here) the web world has seen in the last few years (it makes daily life easier, not just for professionals), and Google makes laudable efforts at internationalizing their products, this latest move might also cement the perception that even Google does not consider localization a quality aspect of product development. It shows that now much has changed in the industry: localization is looked at as an annoying little task best outsourced. Product managers consider it something to ‘get over with’, and there is often little patience in managing the language and culture processes of product developrment. This needs to change. The world has changed, the perception toward language services has to change, too. You love your products, and so should your customers, no matter where they are or which language they speak, what cultural group they belong to or which social preferences they have. This requires a stronger commitment to quality and an awareness for localization as an essential step in product development.

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Here is what we propose

Localization requires human professionals, at least experts in their own culture and with the linguistic know-how to transport the information conveyed in your product into a different language and culture. Because the customer is king, and anything else makes little sense, you do not want the localized versions of your product to be any worse than the “original” product (localized versions of your product should not be received as cheap knock-offs). To get the best results, and to tap into millions of additional customers world-wide, you need quality app translation by professionals you can put a face and a name to. Trust is the most important thing in a business where you yourself cannot possibly verify the results of (if you could, you wouldn’t need it). Trust can only be built through strong brands, human relationships, and/or mechanisms that ensure collaboration on a level that encourages quality services, repeat contracting, smooth transactions and happy business partners. In short, you need to be able to pick the service providers (by name, skill, rating, recommendation, etc.). An anonymous crowd you don’t know, or a middleman promising you results, is not the way to move this industry forward, it would merely cement the status quo.

We believe in building a solution that brings supply and demand together, on one platform, so hassle-free localization can become a reality. One where overhead costs are cut to a minimum and you get to know the people who deliver your translations. Collaboration takes place in teams, and teams are not crowds. If good translation is worth so little to you that you want to “outsource” it, give it away or have someone else deal with it “for you”, then you should question your strategy towards approaching your best friend: the customer. Be Global, Go Local - localization is your key to a global market, seize it!