Facebook – Crowd-sourced translation

How Facebook used crowdsourced translation to spur international growth

Facebook is well renowned for their high-caliber growth team, which has demonstrated immense success in helping grow the platform into the most successful social media website of all time, with over 1 billion Monthly Active Users. One of the key elements of this success in Facebook’s growth phase was an innovative crowd-sourced translation of the Facebook portal, giving them access to new markets at a rapid pace, spearheading international adoption at unprecedented levels.

Until about 2008, Facebook did not have localized versions of their website and only provided English versions. With 60% of its 69m active users living outside the US, Facebook needed to be able to better serve an international audience. Seeking super-normal growth, Facebook understood that it would need to internationalize, to appeal to the non-English speakers across the world. While debating how to internationalize their website, they shunned using professional translators to go through the slow and expensive process of translation, and decided instead to tap into its large and diverse user base. Facebook opened up a translation platform, which allowed users to suggest translations for words on the website into their native languages, and allowing other users to vote on the quality of these suggested translations. This resulted in a fast and cheap translation of the website into multiple languages and also helped increase user engagement. For example, the site was translated into French within 24 hours by over 4,000 native French speakers. This tool enabled FB to expand to over 74 languages within just 2 years of opening the platform.

While Facebook did spend considerable time building out the translation tool, they initially received a lot of criticism for incorrect translations and were accused of using ‘free’ labor to do work that would traditionally have cost it a lot of money and resources. But Facebook claimed that its objective was to allow users to play a more central role in the growth of the platform. The quality of the translations was improved through voting and verification mechanisms. But the question still remains as to what motivated the users to help Facebook in translating their platform. Studies suggest that some factors including users’ desire to ‘realize their potential’ as translators in a ‘challenging’ environment – trying to achieving accuracy while maintaining general communicative function. Another factor could be the desire to connect with more friends on the platform who only speak their native language, which could be made possible if the website was translated. Facebook also maintained a leaderboard to gamify the experience.

With the increase in the available language versions, there was surge in new member registrations across in each of the respective countries. The end result was that Facebook employed fast, cheap and high-quality user-generated translations that greatly helped increase user engagement and broaden its user base. These crowd-sourced translation tools were so successful that Facebook tried to patent them.




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Student comments on Facebook – Crowd-sourced translation

  1. Interesting post. From a strategic point of view, I think it was critical for Facebook at the time to move fast and establish its dominance globally. Crowdsourcing seems to have been a great way to establish a global presence before the emergence of local, copy-cat versions. As you point out they attracted some criticism too. I do not see a problem with this crowdsourcing approach unless quality goes down or user experience deteriorates.

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