The ethics of crowdsourcing

I’m almost finished my paper on translation blogs, and I’m getting ready to move on to my crowdsourcing projects. That’s why I was glad to hear that the editors of Linguistica Antverpiensia accepted my proposal for a special issue on community translation. Here’s what I plan to write about:

If, as Howe (2008: 8 ) argues, “labour can often be organized more efficiently in the context of community than it can in the context of a corporation[,] the best person to do a job is the one who most wants to do that job[,] and the best people to evaluate their performance are their friends and peers who […] will enthusiastically pitch in to improve the final product, simply for the sheer pleasure of helping one another and creating something beautiful from which they will benefit,” crowdsourcing raises some ethical questions. What, for instance, are some of the implications of for-profit companies benefiting financially from user communities who help create something from which not only the users will benefit but also the companies themselves? What effects might a user’s interest in project or commitment to a cause have on his or her translation? If crowdsourcing makes available translations that would otherwise not be produced or which would be available only after a long delay (e.g. translations into “minor” target languages, translations of less relevant texts, such as discussion forums), is this reward enough for the community, or do members deserve other forms of remuneration as well? What effects might these forms of remuneration have on community members, professional translators, non-profit and for-profit organizations, and users outside the community? Using examples of crowdsourced translation initiatives at non-profit and for-profit organizations, including Kiva, Global Voices Online, Asia Online, Plaxo and TEDTalks, this paper will explore various ethical questions that apply to translation performed by people who are not necessarily trained as translators or remunerated for their work. To better explore questions related to translation into major and minor languages, this paper will contrast the target languages offered through these crowdsourced initiatives with those offered via the professionally localized websites of five top global brands. It will also search for answers to these ethical questions by comparing the principles shared by the codes of ethics of professional translation associations in fifteen countries.

As I’ll be working on this paper between now and April 2011, I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has worked on a community translation project, as a translator, an editor, developer, organizer, etc. What are your thoughts on the ethics of crowdsourcing? Leave me a comment or contact me over the next few months and let me know your point of view.

January 2012 Update: My article on the ethics of crowdsourcing is now available. It was published in Linguistica Antverpiensia 10 (2011), the theme of which was “Translation as a Social Activity–Community Translation 2.0.” The table of contents is available here.

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