What’s wrong with a factory translation (“cloud translation”)?

Factory or online?

One question I’m often asked by software developers is why they should go with an independent translator or indie translation provider instead of the “big guys”—traditional agencies—or factory translation companies like icanlocalize or mygengo.

I can think of a million reasons, but here are my TOP 5

  1. Quality. Doing an outstanding job is everything to us. It’s our reputation and our livelihood.
  2. Accountability. When issues crop up—and they do in complex localizations—you can bet that an independent translator will listen to the problem and help you find a resolution instead of passing the buck.
  3. One price doesn’t fit all. If you think that all translations can be reduced to a single per-word rate, you’re fooling yourself. Factory translation companies make money with add-on pricing: it looks cheap but you end up paying more and more to get the quality you deserved in the first place. You always get what you pay for.
  4. Answers. Unless your question is listed in an FAQ, chances are a factory translation company won’t bother to help you. Indie translators will—every time.
  5. Because you care. You care about your software. You put a lot of work into it and you genuinely want people around the world to use it. Why would you trust your baby to a website?

How do today’s cloud translation companies compare?

Click to enlarge

The death of Traditional Agencies

I don’t talk a lot about traditional agencies, because honestly there isn’t a lot to say. They are outmoded and outclassed in the localization world: high prices, low quality and response time, and problems handling new localization formats. They don’t “get” software and they never will.

Your translation questions
Independent Translators Factory (“cloud”) translations Traditional Agencies
Are the translators good? We’ve been working together for years. We do random checks, just like at the airport. Yes, and we replace them periodically with lower wage ones.
Who manages my project? The translator. An algorithm. A rotating menagerie of low-paid, overworked “coordinators”
Do you use a smartphone? For work and play. We see money! BlackBerry FTW!
Do you know what a Localizable.strings file is? “Yes” = “Sí, señor!”; Parse error. “Sí” = “Sí”.
Are you obsessive about quality? Always. Depends how much you pay. We’ll offer a discount on your next translation instead.
Personal one-on-one service? Email me right now. I dare you. How about one-on-zero? It depends how long before your coordinator quits.
Fast answers? Lightening fast. Did you read our FAQ? Let me get back to you.
Localization advice? Ask us anything. Did you read our FAQ? Let me get back to you.
Can I add new languages? We’re always ready for more. Did you read our FAQ? Yes, we make more that way.
Any format? If it’s got strings, we’ve got translations. Did you read our FAQ? Let me get back to you.


Tell me in the comments!

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3 thoughts on “What’s wrong with a factory translation (“cloud translation”)?

  1. I think your article is interesting, but you are using the term “cloud translation” wrongly. Cloud translation really refers to cloud software, which is the same as traditional software except it runs in your browser.

    I think what you are meaning to say is “crowd translation,” not “cloud translation”.

    1. Although you are certainly correct in a technical sense, the companies I am talking about advertise themselves as ‘cloud translation’ services, which is why I use the term. It isn’t exactly the ‘crowd’ — which gives the idea that they have no idea who is doing the translation, just crowdsourced users — but rather the translators, whom they hire, are “in the cloud”.

      1. Hello! I totally understand your frustration with agencies like MyGengo or icanlocalize, and you’ve written an incredible article – but you really should make this correction, because it’s simply not correct.

        If you go to the icanlocalize website, “cloud” doesn’t even appear on the homepage. If you search for “cloud” on their website, you get http://www.icanlocalize.com/site/?s=cloud&lang=en – nothing even related to their services. MyGengo doesn’t mention cloud anywhere either.

        We work in a complex industry, and even though we are the terminology experts, our own terminology can be difficult. But it is important to get it right, because otherwise we have no accurate frame of reference for a conversation.

        For example, is machine translation the same as translation memory? Lots of translators refer to translation memory as “machine translation,” even though they are not at all the same. So – like the Big Lebowski, let’s use the right terms for things and see if we can tie the room together.

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