Crowdsourcing Professional Translation: Disrupting the Iron Triangle of Cost, Quality and Time

This week, Medium, a growing blogging platform, announced plans for internationalizing its user generated content (UGC) by tapping into the power of the crowd for professional translation. To do so, Medium reached out to thousands of its own users around the world, requesting their help in translating Medium content. The catch- Medium wants you to do so for free.

What should Medium expect in terms of the quality and timeliness of its professional translations, given that it aims to crowdsource its content for free?

Anyone who has been on the demand or supply side human-powered services has experienced what we call the Iron Triangle of Cost, Quality and Time.


To put it plainly, it has traditionally been impossible to deliver a service with higher quality, at lower cost and in lesser time.

Consider Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, which made waves in 2006 for its ability to deliver tasks faster and at lower cost than ever before. The solution- breaking large tasks into small micro-tasks called Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) to be performed by hundreds of individuals around the world– offered businesses the promise of massively disrupting two of the three axes of the Iron Triangle.

Unfortunately, news soon started to surface about the astoundingly poor quality of work coming out of the platform. The article by MIT, titled How Mechanical Turk is Broken, stated that Mechanical Turk had quickly become the “digital equivalent of a sweatshop”, attracting low-quality workers that were producing completely unusable output.

Businesses leveraging the power of the crowd to enhance their capabilities must push for a basic understanding of how pliable they can realistically expect a service to be on cost, quality and turnaround time, beyond which they can expect a degradation in service. To do so, it is critical to develop an understanding of three important dynamics in any human-powered service:

Floor Price on High Quality: Crowdsourcing can help companies uncover price efficiencies by finding talent in geographies with lower cost of living. However, there are limits to such geographical arbitrage. Consider Spanish professional translation at VerbalizeIt- customers looking to translate their content into Spanish can get connected to translators in Latin America instead of their local markets. With the cost of living in LatAm being significantly lower than Europe and North America, customers enjoy the same quality of translation at a fraction of the cost. However, there are translation agencies that outsource Spanish translation to India and Philippines to cut costs. A non-native Spanish speaker cannot produce a native-sounding Spanish translation.

Knowing that a translation provider offering services for $0.05/ word or less is likely farming work out to non-native speakers, you now have your floor price on professional translation.

2. Quickest Turnaround Time for High Quality: If you are looking to source your original content from a crowdsourced platform, start with this simple question- “What is the minimum time I expect it would take to write a page of content thoughtfully and to have it proofread by someone I trust?”.  Then, expect a professional content generation platform to do it marginally faster than your expectations. Any faster, and quality is likely being traded in for speed.

At VerbalizeIt, we have analyzed millions of words of translation to determine that a professional translator can create at most 2,000 words of quality translated content in a full workday without compromising quality. That is roughly one page of content per hour, not including the time for professional review and final quality assurance.

If you find a translation platform offering to turn around “one hour” professional translations with expert review, they are either breaking your content into microtasks (a la Mechanical Turk), thereby degrading the context required to produce good work, and also probably cutting corners on review and quality assurance.

3. Floor Price for Rapid Turnaround: Uber has taken a lot of heat recently for implementing surge pricing- higher taxi rates during periods of limited supply of drivers (such as Friday nights and holidays). While it may not be acceptable to charged ten times the norm for urgent needs, it is important to appreciate the need to compensate your crowd for going above and beyond the norm. A service that doesn’t do so loses the engagement of its best community members who value their time and talent.

David Cohen, a prominent venture capitalist and CEO of Techstars, warns of the Risks of Crowdsourcing, urging businesses to be mindful of choosing a reputed crowdsourcing partner to mitigate the challenges associate with the Iron Triangle.

What has been your experience with crowdsourcing, as it relates to improving the efficiency of your business?

Hiring a Professional Translator in the New Sharing Economy

Whether you are requesting an Uber Ride or hiring a professional translator, you are taking part in the sharing economy. Shouldn’t you expect the same transparency from your professional services as your taxi app?

” The sharing economy is booming, with a fast-growing list of online services offering consumers a chance to meet part-time needs… for cars, bikes, vacation homes, jewelry and more…without busting the budget with a full-time purchase.”- The Kiplinger Letter, Oct. 3, 2014

Chances are that you have heard of, or even used on-demand services like Uber and AirBnB to order a taxi ride or book a room for your next vacation. These services have been credited for being highly disruptive by bringing distant buyers and sellers together in global marketplaces and making it easy to match nearby supply and demand via geolocation and mobile devices. For consumers, this means on-demand access to services at a better price and experience than ever before. At VerbalizeIt, we believe that businesses deserve the same ease of use and transparency in hiring a professional translator as consumers do in hailing a taxi.

But what really makes Uber a “disruptive” experience for customers? We believe that beyond providing access to high quality cars and drivers, Uber has leveraged technology to enable customers in answering three questions, making them comfortable to step past status quo and to take part in the sharing economy.

1. Who is My Driver?

Would you ever order an Uber taxi knowing that the company had no visibility to or control over whether the person who showed up at your doorstep was actually an Uber driver? By leveraging the power of mobile and putting both its customers and drivers on the same online platform, Uber knows and takes accountability for the driver you are taking a ride from. Simply having this information available for you to see and share creates tremendous comfort with getting in a car with a stranger.

Hiring a Professional Translsator- Who is Translating?

Traditional translation agencies have operated “offline” for years, giving customers (and frequently the agencies themselves) no visibility to who is actually translating the content. Unfortunately, this is at least in part by design- unknown to customers hiring a professional translator, agencies frequently outsource work to outside translators, whom in turn may outsource it to others in their network. VerbalizeIt overcomes this lack of visibility by taking these translations “online”- meaning that content is translated on an online platform, rather than on individual’s desktops, VerbalizeIt and in turn our customers can achieve accountability and comfort associated with knowing exactly who is handing their content.


2. How Far is My Car?

If you need to get somewhere on time, standing on a street corner and hoping for a taxi to show up any minute is an anxiety most customers would rather avoid. Again, Uber has leveraged technology to build the “killer feature” of showing customers exactly where and how far their taxi is.

Hiring a Professional Translator- Progress

Much like knowing who is translating your content, having visibility on progress and delivery times should be top of mind while hiring a professional translator. Of course, you can request frequent status updates from translators via email and take their word on it, eventually making desperate calls to ask about your translations when approaching a deadline. Alternatively, hire professional translators that have this visibility baked into their process, preferably through a web or mobile interface you can ping at any moment to get a true status update.

3. Can I Rate My Driver (And So What)?

What happens when your Uber driver knows that you are likely going to leave feedback on your ride, which will directly impact their reputation and future opportunity? First, it creates an incentive to going beyond doing what is necessary to take you from Point A to B, and to providing you with an exceptional experience. Second, it allows Uber the opportunity to react quickly, in the event of a sub-optimal experience. Finally, and very importantly for a sharing economy, it allows the “system” (the platform and its customers) to learn more about a provider and improve all subsequent customer experiences.

Hiring a Professional Translator- Feedback

Real-time user feedback is a simple and incredibly powerful concept, yet one often missing from professional services. When hiring a professional translator, ensure that there are incentives in place for your translation partner to exceed your expectations on your current project, and that there is infrastructure in place to improve your (and others) experience on subsequent interaction with these translators.


What else do you think companies like Uber have done, that would improve the way in which companies are hiring a professional translator, and provide them with greater visibility and confidence in the process?


Preparing Your Content for Translation

VerbalizeIt is an incredibly flexible platform that makes it easy to translate across multiple mediums of communication and file formats. However, our ability to provide you with the highest quality and timely translations is dependent on receiving content in a format that our platform can “understand” .

This tutorial covers the following four most common questions users encounter while preparing and uploading content for translation on VerbalizeIt:

I’m getting an error about an unsupported format

My files contain content that shouldn’t be translated

I’m seeing an error, or the word count for my content seems too low/ incorrect

I’m still having trouble

Ensure that your files are in a supported format : At the moment, VerbalizeIt supports the following file formats for translation

  • Microsoft Word (.docx only, not .doc)
    If your file is in .doc format, please convert it to .docx format before uploading
  • Microsoft Excel (.xlsx only, not .xls)
    If your file is in .xls format, please convert it to .xlsx format before uploading
  • Plain text (.txt)
  • PO, Strings files
  • Standardized XML-based formats: Resx, XLF, XLIFF, YML and YML


  • MP3 or WAV
  • A link to where an MP4 file is hosted publicly (not needing login/ authorization for access) – for example, a link to an mp4 hosted on Dropbox


  • A link to where an MP4 file is hosted publically (not needing login/ authorization for access) – for example, a link to an mp4 hosted on Dropbox
  • Link to a Vimeo video

Reformatting your content for translation: The VerbalizeIt platform uses specific rules to understand what content should be translated, what should be left in the native language, and what should be treated as instructions.

Content Needing Translation : Any content that is uploaded in “Step 1” is treated as content needing translation, and included in your word count.

Frequently, Microsoft Excel files will contain row and column names, as well as special instructions. These need to be removed from the file you upload if they are only for context. This should be treated as described below.

Excel file translation

In addition, text-based files will frequently contain special instructions/ phrases which are required to stay in the source language. These should be enclosed in ^^double carets^^, as shown below :

Word file translation

Dealing with word counts that seem incorrect: This may happen for one of several reasons:

1.  Your content contains a lot of images, scans or other items from which text cannot be extracted: Here is an example of a document that VerbalizeIt would not recognize as text:


scanned image translation

This happens frequently for MS Word files, where text is embedded into an image(s). To fix this, please consider one of the following steps:

  • Run any scanned content through OCR (Optical Character Recognition) in order to extract text from images and scans
  • Transcribe any content contained in images, and upload a “clean” version of the document

2. Your content is hosted in a location we cannot reach: This will happen often with hosted audio/ video files. Ensure that content isn’t hosted behind a firewall, and that it doesn’t require user authentication for us to access it.

Still having trouble? Contact us at for any other questions, or consider upgrading to VerbalizeIt Premium, and let us handle all this for you!

App Localization Steps: #2 Preparing Your iOS App

Once you have done your research on what languages to translate your app into, it is time to start preparing for the app localization process.

Start by translating your app store description, which will let you test their response in different languages before committing further into the app localization process. Since you already know where people downloading your app come from due to the research you did in the Google Play and iTunes Connect stores, translating the description will provide good data to reinforce these numbers. If you know that French and Spanish downloads are high for your app, and then see that downloads increase for French by 40% and Spanish by only 20% once you translate the description, you’ll know that it is more important for you to translate the full app into French first.

When you have some data on which description translations perform best, it is time to use that information and prepare for app localization. Below are the first steps to localizing your iOS app. The goal of this tutorial is to get all the content from the storyboard and the create a .strings file, translate it, and load it back into the app.

1. Add new languages to your project: Click on your Project Folder and under “info” click on the “+” under “Localizations”

App localization- step 1

2. Select languages you would like to localize your app for as well as the files that you would like to localize.

App localization- step 2

3. Confirm that the new language shows up in your list. You’ll see below that you now have French listed as well.

App localization- step 3

4. Check that Xcode has also have created a Main.strings (French) file. This is the file that you can send off for translation.

App localization- step 4

5. Translate! Then, check whether the translated file looks appropriate. Once translated, the file will look like this.

App localization- step 5

6. Test translations in the iOS Simulator. To do so, navigate to Product > Scheme > Manage Schemes and under “Options” select French as the “Application Language.” Once you run build, you should see the French translated text in the iOS Simulator

App localization- step 6

With the storyboard translated and the app displaying the French content, the next step in the process is retrieve and translate the dynamic content that is not picked up in the storyboard. Stay tuned for our advanced tutorial on preparing your iOS app for localization!


Apple localization documentation


Translation Quality Introduction: Unleash Your Inner Katniss

If you’re not one of these people, putting out translated content without confidence in translation quality likely feels a lot like shooting arrows in the dark. You can’t see your arrow, you don’t know where the bull’s-eye is, and you have no clue how far you are from it.

It turns out that archery is exactly the right analogy when measuring translation quality, or quality for any process for that matter. The score on a series of shots (translation of a series of content) is measured in two ways:

Accuracy: On average, how close are your arrows to the bull’s eye? In translation, this relates to how closely a translation is capturing the overall meaning of your original content?

Precision (Consistency): On average, how close are the arrows to each other? For your content, this “translates” into how consistently certain topics, themes, styles, and words have been treated throughout your content.

It is important to note that an archer can be accurate but not precise, and vice-versa. An excellent archer is both.

translation quality bullseye

So, how do you elevate your team’s translation quality game from someone who shoots in the dark to Katniss- level accuracy and precision? By taking the following 4 steps:

1. Hire Quality Translators: The axiom “garbage in, garbage out” definitely applies to translation quality. If you don’t start with quality translators, translation quality will be an uphill struggle from the get-go.

With thousands of translators and agencies out there, all touting their translation quality at low prices, this is easier said that done. Check out this recent post for insights on how to cut through the noise and find the right translator(s) for your content.

2. Regulate Consistency through Glossary and Termbase: While a good translation is important in its entirety, the (mis)treatment of key terms in a translation can make or break your translation quality. This may include things such as names of products, industry specific terminology, or other words/ phrases that appear multiple times in your content.

One way to regulate consistency is by providing a “glossary” or “termbase”- a database of terms you know to be important to your company and audience, along with some context and instructions on how to treat these terms. You can then have these terms translated and vetted explicitly, and then check the translations to ensure that these terms have been treated in accordance with your instructions throughout the content.

3. Ensure Accuracy through Proofreading and “Back-Translation”: How can you tell that the translation is “accurate” if you don’t speak the target language? By ensuring that translations are always read by a reviewer- a wingman who ensures that the original translator did not make any errors in the understanding and translating the content. In addition, tech-savvy content owners can leverage machine translation to “back-translate” content- meaning translate the new content back into English. While doing so gives you mildly coherent sentences, at best, it allows you to check for treatment of specific words and terms.

We will be covering the step-by-step process of back translation in future posts.

4. Gauge Fluency by “Native Reading”: A translation that is accurate and consistent may still fail to appeal to your international audience, if it does not “read natively”. One way to ensure fluency is to have an entirely new set of eyes- another translator or even one of your customers- read the translated content independently and rate it on fluency.

Interested in learning more about what makes content fluent? We will be covering this in a future post.

May the odds be in your favor.

App Localization Steps: #1 Which Languages to Pick?

App localization is made incredibly easy on the iOS and Android stores, allowing any developer to sell their application internationally. The development kits help with app localization for different languages and regions, and a localized app is much more appealing to regional users. But which languages should you pick?

App Localization for iOS

iOS officially supports dozens of languages, so app localization into all of them is beyond the budgets of most developers. Fortunately, both app stores provide download statistics that you can use to make this choice easier.

The iTunes Connect console provides download statistics by region and country, rather than languages.

Log in to iTunes Connect, and select “Sales and Trends”

Select an appropriate date range, and click sort “By Territory”

You’ll see a list of downloads by region. This is a little broad- select a region to drill down to the specific countries.

You’ll see a list of downloads by country. Apple does not provide usage history by language, but an app performing well in Germany may warrant a German translation.

App Localization for Android

Android Localization 1

Select your app from the list in the Google Play Developer Console

Android Localization 2

Select “Statistics”

Android Localization 3

Select “Language”

Android Localization 4

The Developer Console provides breakdown of your users by language and region. This is great information for deciding which languages to pick for android localization.

Android Localization 5

The Developer Console also provides a list of popular languages in your category. From this list, Japanese, Korean, and German would be good languages to pick for a Health and Fitness application.

By taking advantage of the Google Play Developer Console and iTunes Connect, you can determine the regions where your app is gaining the most traction. From there, you can focus your app localization efforts for these top languages, saving money while still reaping the benefits of a larger target market.

Translation File Formats: Introduction to XLIFF

As the localization industry began to flourish in the 80s and 90s, companies were writing custom tools to handle many different translation file formats. When the XLIFF standard was first introduced, it aimed to tackle this problem by establishing one file format for localizable data.

XLIFF (XML Localization Interchange File Format) is an XML-based file translation file format used for sharing content between a developer and a translation company. By converting your application or database to XLIFF, translators can translate your text without any loss of information or formatting.

There are many benefits of using XLIFF as a standard translation file format, but here are a few of the big ones:

  • Translate documents of all types with a single file format

  • Formatting is removed from the localization process

  • Fluid transfer of data between different tools

What an XLIFF document looks like:


 Each XLIFF document contains one or more files. Each file element corresponds to a source text, usually a file or a database table. Within each file element are a collection of trans-units.


 Each trans-unit contains a source tag and can optionally contain a target tag:





It is also possible to use alt-trans elements within a trans-unit to leverage the power of translation memory and pre-populate terms that you have seen before.







Below is an example of a document in XLIFF 1.2 translation file format:


<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=“UTF-8″?>

<xliff xmlns=”urn:oasis:names:tc:xliff:document:1.2″ xmlns:okp=”okapi-framework:xliff-extensions” xmlns:its=”” xmlns:itsxlf=”” xmlns:xliff=”urn:oasis:names:tc:xliff:document:1.2″ version=”1.2″ its:version=”2.0″>

 <file original=”text.html” source-language=”en” target-language=”fr” datatype=”html”>


     <trans-unit id=”tu1″>

       <source xml:lang=”en”>hello</source>

       <target xml:lang=”fr”>bonjour</target>


         <source xml:lang=”en”>hello</source>

         <target xml:lang=”fr”>salut</target>



     <trans-unit id=”tu2″>

       <source xml:lang=“en”>goodbye</source>

       <target xml:lang=“fr”>au revoir</target>






At VerbalizeIt, we use XLIFF as the standard translation file format to simplify the localization process. By extracting documents into XLIFF and rebuilding them once the translation is complete, we are able to provide translators with a consistent workspace while maintaining the original formatting. XLIFF allows us to treat .docx, .txt, .xlsx, .strings, .srt, or any other file type as if they were one and the same.

Further Resources:

Interested in learning more about the XLIFF specification and how you can start converting files to XLIFF? Here are a couple resources of to get you going:

XLIFF specification:

XLIFF Committee homepage:

Open source tool for extracting XLIFF:

Do you use XLIFF for localization? Let us know how you are using it in the comments!

Hiring a Professional Translator? Here are 6 Steps for Evaluating Applicants

Chances are that if you have ever gone online for hiring a professional translator yourself, you have posted on multiple job boards such as oDesk, eLance, ProZ and maybe even Craigslist. You have then likely received hundreds of responses, all stating how individuals are incredibly capable of and experienced at exactly the job you are offering. Their quotes likely run from 1-2 cents/ word to 30-40 cents/ word.

Without speaking the language, how can you ensure that you are hiring the right translator within your budget? Here are 6 things you should ask for and evaluate candidates on: 

  1. Native Language and Location: Always ask for the location of the translator and their “native” language. Translators should only translate into their native language. In addition, if the translator is located in the country you are targeting, it gives the added comfort that he/ she is familiar with the local customs and nuances of language there.
  2. Public Profile: If a translator is even mildly serious about their work, they will maintain a professional profile on LinkedIn or even their own website or blog. Faking positive ratings on oDesk or eLance is far too easy these days. Make sure that your translator lives and breathes the profession you are hiring him/ her for.
  3. Area of Expertise: Most professional translators prefer to only translate content they have industry expertise in. Always ask about what expertise they have, and even samples of work they’ve translated in the expertise you need for your content.
  4. Sample Translation: Always provide a short sample of the content you are looking to translate, asking applicants to provide translations for the sample. Once you have several sample transaltions, ask someone on your team to review these samples and rate them. Alternatively, you can the translators rate each other (by paying them a small amount for the reviews).
  5. Rate: Always ask for the translator’s rate per word of content, and if he/ she offers discounts based on volume of work. You should note that some languages are more “expensive” than others (Scandinavian language, for example), so don’t be surprised if you see different rates for multiple languages.
  6. Responsiveness: The applicant’s responsiveness to your inquiries during the selection process is a good indicator of how communicative they will be on the actual project. Keep an eye on who is responding to your inquiries right away, and who is taking several hours/ days to get back.

Your lack of expertise in a language shouldn’t deter you from hiring the right translator for the job. These steps will help ensure that you are able to objectively and quickly evaluate multiple applicants and get your translation started as soon as possible.

Translation ROI: 3 Questions to Ask Your Team Before Investing in Translation

Are you considering investing in translation, but are not convinced of the true value of such an investment at your company? You have good reason to be skeptical.

Much like any other investment, internationalization of content must be approached with the same analytical rigor and an eye on its true potential to boost a company’s bottom line. Unfortunately, rather than quantifying translation ROI, most public anecdotes on the impact of translation on an organization talk in generalities- “massive” potential, “significant” boost in SEO, and “dramatic” increases in conversion- without tying these back to business results.

The decision to invest in translation, and subsequently measuring its success, should be based on one question:

How many new customers do you need to profitably acquire and serve in order to justify the total cost of translation?

 It should be clear that effectively answering this question regarding your translation ROI in turn requires an executive to have a handle on three very specific questions:

1. What is our “fully loaded” cost of translation?

The translation industry is trained to talk about the cost of translation with a very simple formula.

Basic Cost of Translation= Number of words * Cost per word

Companies will therefore expend significant time and energy in finding partners that will offer the lowest cost/ word. In reality, the decision to internationalize impacts and requires the ongoing involvement of multiple individuals and departments at an organization: content creators, technologists, project managers and marketers now need to manage multiple streams of content on an ongoing basis. This is a very real and often-neglected cost to your organization.

True Cost of Translation= (Number of words * Cost per word) + Coordination Costs

Absent a translation partner with the tech-savvy to automate much of this coordination, you are likely underestimating what it costs you to establish a translation program at your company.

2. Beyond translation, what investments are needed in customer acquisition in the new language/ geography?

Many translation providers preach the “if you build it, they will come” approach while advocating an investment in translation.  The reality is that your customer acquisition strategy in your home country/ language needs to be replicated, adapted and invested in when going to a new geography/ language to truly unlock the value of your translation program.

Enterprise-focused companies may need to set up new regional selling teams. SMB and consumer- centric companies will likely need to invest in multilingual digital marketing and distribution partnerships.

Of course, none of this should be a deterrent to starting small and testing the initial impact of translation, but the long-term value of a translation program hinges on the organization’s willingness to invest beyond the translation itself.

3. What is the lifetime value of the new customer base?

Of course, the very last piece of the puzzle is the most important one- your new customer. With geographic differences in spending power, purchasing behavior and brand loyalty, it is important to recalibrate your expectations of the value of your new customer base against those on your home turf.

Addressing these questions should allow an executive to establish a very clear understanding of how to first break-even on translation, and how to measure the long-term translation ROI thereafter.

How to Take Your Business Global

We did the research, talked to our clients, and pulled together a how to take your business global white paper which you can download for free. Here are some key points from the white paper:

1. Did you know that ninety-six percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States?

Reaching International Customers


2. International consumers account for nearly two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power according to the US Small Business Administration?

Selling to international customers

3. Only one-percent of American companies currently exports its products and services overseas.

How to reach international customers

Why aren’t American companies pursuing more opportunities abroad? Are you missing out on the global customer?


Our white paper, How to Take Your Growing Business Global, is a guide for growing businesses looking to take a bite out of the ever-growing global pie. Download your free copy today and let us know what you think.


When you’re finished finding out how to take your business global you can upload any file into our free translation quote tool and see exactly how much it will cost you to reach international customers.


Get a Free Translation Quote