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Version 1, April 2015

Crowdsourcing as a term was first coined as a combination of ‘crowd’ and ‘outsourcing’ by Jeff Howe in 20061, defining a model for task completion, be it design, communication or translation. Common Sense Advisory attempted to group this diverse phenomenon into three broad categories known as CT3 – (a) community / social; (b) collaborative and (c) crowdsourced / team translation (dePalma 2008).

FIT as the voice of associations of translators, interpreters and terminologists around the world, will below raise issues for users of translation, interpreting and terminology services and other interested parties pertinent to this evolving field based on the latest research.

As a technological model, crowdsourcing is harnessing the skills, time and energy of the crowd in execution of a task, with only the promise of appreciation, contribution and cultivating interests and loyalties in place of financial compensation.

Howe defines crowdsourcing as “the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call” (Howe, 2006a). This innovative means of doing business has often been heralded as another Industrial Revolution providing “the new pool of cheap labor” (Howe, 2006b). As business comes under increasing pressure to expand its customer services and reduce costs it lacks the necessary resources, competencies and knowledge to provide complete solutions.

Crowdsourcing is seen simultaneously as an effort to get the job done quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively and as a corporate move to exploit cheap, amateur labour. Used judiciously, crowdsourcing can have benefits, including speed, scalability, faster user feedback, niche creation, selective increase in productivity and market diversification and robustness (Iansiti et al., 2002). It also raises questions of risks to business including threats to quality, confidentiality issues, intellectual property, composition and motivation of the crowd (who may disappear) and accountability.

That crowdsourcing has disrupted the organization of labour and professional status of industry practitioners is unquestionable. Rather than the first line of call, professional translators, interpreters and terminologists are often only called in to remedy failures and mitigate risks. Based on Kannagngara et al., FIT highlights the following areas of risk:

1. Relationship complexity
Crowdsourcing can introduce considerable complexity and with it uncertainty. Who is ‘the crowd’ in an environment where professionals and amateurs cannot be distinguished? While the crowd may understand the questions of accessibility and familiarity with the material, to what degree can the client have accessibility and familiarity with the crowd?
2. Control/effectiveness
With time pressures to complete translation of exponentially increasing content, quality can be sacrificed. Companies should therefore pay particular attention to choosing the right users for collaboration (Rajala et al. 2013). Evaluation of user-generated content can be very challenging, and the risk unquantifiable. Crowd control and monitoring add new dimensions and expenses to project management.
3. Co-ordination of workflow and duplication
Crowdsourcing does not mean parallel processing. While more content can be translated cost-effectively, increased participation means proportional increase in potential error. The process of identifying errors and ensuring consistency are costly and time-consuming.
4. Loss of know-how and intellectual property risks
While perhaps most suitable for the not-for-profit sector, crowdsourcing can be “used mostly for low-stake or user-generated content that is currently not being translated at all” (Désilets). Crowdsourced translation of fan-fiction and popular contemporary fiction raise copyright issues.

Growing prevalence of crowdsourcing affects all facets of the industry. The following questions are relevant to professional translators, interpreters and terminologists, users of translation, interpreting and terminology services and policymakers alike:

  • How to identify reliable translators, interpreters and terminologists who can provide suitable solutions?
  • What is the detriment to the project if sensitive information is leaked compromising confidentiality, security and/or intellectual property rights?
  • Do we have the in-house expertise to evaluate the crowd and thus to evaluate their solutions?
  • Do we have a contingency plan if one of the above risks or combination of risks eventuates?

For more information, contact FIT or an individual FIT member association in your country or region.

1 Wired Magazine article published in 2006.


  • DePalma, DA, Kelly N, Translation of, for and by the people: How user- translated content projects work in real-life, Common
    Sense Advisory, 2008
  • Howe J, The rise of crowdsourcing, Wired Magazine, Issue 14.06, 2006
  • Howe J, 5 Rules of the New Labor Pool, Wired Magazine, Issue 14.06, 2006
  • Iansiti M, Levien R. Keynotes and Dominators: Framing Operating and Technology Strategy in a Business Ecosystem, Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 03-061, November 2002
  • Kannangara SN, Uguccioni P, Risk Management in Crowdsourcing-Based Business Ecosystems, Technology Innovation Management Review December 2013
  • Rajala R, Westerlund M, Vuori M, Hares JP, From Idea Crowdsourcing to Managing User Knowledge, Technology Innovation Management Review December 2013