LinkedIn infuriates professional translators: 10 big questions

LinkedIn – the professional networking site with 41 million members where ‘relationships matter‘ – has today managed to mightily annoy professional translators who use the site by asking them if they would like to translate the LinkedIn site in exchange for a LinkedIn badge or ‘because it’s fun’.

LinkedIn infuriates professional translators - 10 big questions

Jeff Howe, the man who invented the very term ‘crowdsourcing’, has described it as a ‘firestorm’ for LinkedIn.

First a brief recap of LinkedIn’s small social media disaster story and then below the 10 big translation crowdsourcing questions, with which I’ve tried my best to summarise the day’s main points and what you’ve all expressed.

Obviously feel free to dive in with your comments at the end.

What did LinkedIn do to annoy professional translators?

In a mass email sent out this morning, LinkedIn’s Principal Product Manager, International Nico Posner (‘cross cultural communication skills combined with strong technical acumen‘) invited us to complete a user survey to:

Help us improve how LinkedIn serves you. The questions will take less than 5 minutes to complete and all responses are completely confidential. Your answers will help us better understand how we can improve our service to you.

Most of us fell for it, it seems; after all, five minutes to help them improve their user experience, no problem. By the third question, outrage seemed to have been the mindset around the globe.

It was the question about how we would like to be compensated for our efforts that did it. There was an option for a shiny LinkedIn badge and another which said something like ‘nothing, it’s for fun’ but, strangely, no option which even remotely resembled ‘I would like to be paid’.

Tweeting about my fury, I discovered @NTceline and @drane_it had beaten me to it and even invented a #linkedinfail tag:

I just wrote a few scathing comments on the LinkedIn survey asking translators if they would like being exploited:

@NTceline Yeah, that annoyed me a little, too. For “other incentives”, I wrote “Uh… payment?” #linkedinfail #xl8

Twitter started humming with indignation. Dozens and dozens of tweets from scores of professional translators, some of whom I’d never even met before, and not one of them with a kind tweet or comment about LinkedIn today.

@pikorua even suggested we start a rebellious LinkedIn group “Translators against Crowdsourcing by Commercial Businesses” – so we did – and as I write it has 70 members and several dozen angry comments, all in the space of a few hours.

Such was @spokk’s outrage that he created a new blog – the Bilingual Joe Translation Blog: “Where your translation work is done for free by Bilingual-Joe and his bilingual friends. Expect only the best from a bilingual. Remember; they must be smart, we don’t understand them!

10 big crowdsourced translations questions for LinkedIn

The debate about crowdsourcing and web companies using crowdsourced translations has been going on for a while now (most famously with Facebook), but here are ten questions professional translators were asking about LinkedIn’s efforts today.

In a year when Ernst&Young rank ‘talent management’ and ‘reputation risk’ in their Top 10 list of global business pitfalls, any company with translation needs would also do well to reflect on their own answers.

  1. Do you realise that incoherent translation will communicate incoherent thought and an incoherent image to your foreign users?
  2. Are you willing to offset the increase in user numbers with a certain number of foreign language users thinking your translation – and therefore your company – sucks?
  3. What happened to better sales copy = more sales/conversions? Does that not apply for some strange reason to translated texts in foreign languages?
  4. Would you also consider crowdsourcing your other departments – copywriting, marketing, accounting, legal advice and strategic planning?
  5. If, for arguments sake, we say that a crowdsourced translation could be 70% of the quality of a professional one, is a 70% quality standard acceptable for your product and for the other areas of your company? What would happen to your business if you applied a 70% quality standard in accounting, sales, server uptime or programming?
  6. Is free really a cheaper option with the image of your company or are there hidden costs you should be considering in unrealised sales / sign-ups?
  7. Is that reduced sign-up/sales/advertising rate sufficient to offset the apparent cost of free or would you get better returns paying for professional translation and having the extra users/sales?
  8. If your customers are professionals, why have you decided to annoy a group of your professional translator users? Doesn’t this dent your image somewhat?
  9. Do you not understand the benefits that a professional translator with years of multi-lingual, cross-cultural experience on hundreds of projects can bring to your project?
  10. Do you understand the difference between someone who more or less speaks two languages and a professional translator?

Thanks for all your tweets and participation today everybody! It would have been nice to link to all your comments but that would have meant a very long post indeed. I think my favourite sarcastic comment, though, was Bob Kerns’s on our new LinkedIn group, who wondered if LinkedIn might be able to:

put me in touch with a professional, English and German-speaking painter and decorator with 15 years of experience, who will strip the old wallpaper off all rooms of a house consisting of 20 appartments and offices and will then paint each room, preferably each in a different colour, naturally by tomorrow afternoon, and FOR FREE, I will be pleased, on satisfactory completion of the work, to translate the term “LinkedIn” into a language of my choice.

Update: LinkedIn Replies

Despite initially requesting a conversation via e-mail, Nico Posner then declined the offer of a podcast interview so that everyone could hear him out and suggested this blog post had fanned the flames‘ of translators’ ire. Perhaps, but I would argue that the firestorm was burning nicely by the time I sat down to write this on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, in the interests of a fair hearing, here are five points which I think sum up Nico’s response by email to me and on the LinkedIn group, for those of you who haven’t read them over there:

  1. LinkedIn was just ‘evaluating various approaches to expanding our interface language offering‘;
  2. While professionals ‘with established reputations‘ would probably not be taking up LinkeIn’s generous offer, newbie translators might like to do so ‘not only for pride and glory, but hopefully to land more paid work‘;
  3. Apparently crowdsourcing does not generate any cost savings and, furthermore: ”The reason why we did not include the “payment” option as an choice regarding expected rewards in the survey is that a) if we build the system and then find some way to pay translators, the net cost will exceed just taking the traditional approach, and b) other social networking sites who use crowd sourcing (there are only a handful) did experiment with paying crowd sourcing translators for their work with disastrous results, due to the change in motivations for doing the work‘;
  4. The two primary advantages of crowd sourcing are a) speed of translating the entire site into a new language and b) language reach;
  5. If we pursue crowd sourcing, we will likely be engaging the same number or more linguists/translators to review the content, and provide backup translations

The answers of professional translators on LinkedIn to his statements have been unequivocal and, if anything, even more infuriated than the initial feelings but clearly feel free to post your reply in the comments here too, for the sake of open discussion. Mr Posner or other LinkedIn representatives are also very welcome to participate in the debate in this blog’s comments.

But I do wonder how many positive replies they got to the user survey they sent out? I haven’t seen one anywhere yet.

  • Sheryl A. McCoy

    Matthew, I found the questions you included on your post quite appropriate. While I am not a professional translator, I am a professional teacher. I find we are also asked to add free content, corrections or other information that only professionals can provide.

    I would recommend the advice provided by one of my professors who worked in public and entrepreneurial placements. He told us that our work would be more highly valued and students would be more successful, if we provided our services for pay. Our professor provided a variety of research statistics to support this position. Student achievement was higher when parents had a monetary interest in the educational service you provide. I have personally found this to be true and valuable advice.

    I could accept some sort of remuneration or trade of services that was comparable in value, yet I am not sure a badge is enough. Often, I receive valuable services in return for my professional support for interactive media. My reasoning is based on the value of services effect on achievement or value by the audience, which affects my value as a professional teacher.

  • erwinheiser

    As a translator LinkedIn's mail annoyed the hell out of me but it's a good illustration of the dim view most companies have of this profession.
    Translation is always last on the budget list for any project, and people only pay attention to it when it's done blatantly wrong.
    Nice blog you have here BTW, a real find.

  • MatthewBennett

    Thanks for your great comments. I know quite a few teachers who seem to be snowed under with extras and who would agree with you on that score.

    I would be interesting in reading some of the studies you mention, I have also found that the more I charge my clients (up to a point!!), the more motivated I am to offer better service and the happier they are all round.

    I was talking to someone at The Economist about translation a few weeks ago and the subject of shiny badges came up as a possibly useful part of the equation, but certainly not as the only bit or without payment as in this case!

    I think companies would do well to court professional tribes – or that part of their existing tribes who have professional skills which could indeed help them – but they must not treat them as random unprofessional hordes.

  • MatthewBennett

    Very true, I think we would do well to present and sell ourselves a little better most of the time too. Big companies beat most of us hands down at marketing and sales.

    Thanks for your compliment! I'm slowly starting to post more often.

  • blaine flynn garrett

    I bet, however, they find plenty of translators (good, professional, or otherwise) to line up to do it. As a professional developer, I know last year I started considering some of the “sweat shop” type gigs like Amazon's MTurk. I think in my “old age” that thing called pride got the best of me. Then again, I am not on anyone's contributor list as a form of promotional compensation. eh.

  • CaponeX

    As a graphic designer, I run into this all the time. There are even sites (crowdspring, etc) that exploit us by asking us to work on a project with the very remote possibility of being selected and paid. It really devalues our profession, and is degrading to professionals. While I'm sad that this tactic is spreading to other professions and they have to be put through it, I'm glad others are now seeing what graphic designers have been put through for the last several years. Maybe with raised awareness, we can all put a stop to this whole crowdsourcing thing.

  • murciamarketing

    We´ve all seen atrocious translations out there, but this cutting corner tendency is by no means limited to the wordsmith trade. This clip will strike a cord:

  • Robert Finnegan

    As many as were ticked off, myself included, I have no doubt that LinkedIn will get many to donate their services.

  • Durf

    Having just viewed the Japanese subtitles on the “introduction to LinkedIn” video available on the “About Us” page there, it's pretty clear to me that the outfit is already using inept amateurs, if not outright unedited machine translation.

  • MatthewBennett

    That's a great clip!

  • céline

    Have you read Nico's answer on the LinkedIn discussion board? A muddle of bad reasons and contradicting arguments.

  • Veronica

    I think crowdsourcing like this might help new translators advertise themselves. A young translator could say "Well, I don't have experience but I am proactive and you can see my work in LinkedIn because I have the badge."As the young translator gains experience, he/she realizes that it's been enough advertising, and becomes a settled freelance translator.I've heard of "ad honorem", pro bono, favors… you can choose the name you like but this kind of requests exists in all professions. One of the 10 questions above asks if they would crowdsource other departments, and yes they would!!I don't think LinkedIn or any other site expects a great quality from these projects. I myself would translate a bit for a badge, but I wouldn't spend much time on it, or much effort, maybe 30 min to one hour. They know the people who actually agree don't have anything better to do, so that's the quality they'll get.

  • MatthewBennett

    Been busy for most of the morning, going to get stuck in to the new comments on LinkedIn now to digest the overnight responses!

  • Amanda Cropper

    As someone who works for a language services company, I could only laugh at LinkedIn's attempt to get translation for free.

  • Frank

    Ask Facebook the same 10 questions since the “crowdsourcing” hype all started from them. Guess what? Your questions would miss the target, because they ARE using professional linguists behind the scene and paying for their service. LinkedIn just needs to learn the other half of the story.

  • Pat

    For contractors, consultants, and anyone else who is asked to work for free:

  • Burford

    It was the wording of the LinkedIn request email, more than anything else, I think, that so infuriated would-be translators. LinkedIn is a social-network, and had they based the request on that fact – that translators would be contributing to a community in which they are a vital part – I doubt this would have so infuriated translators. By assisting in the localization, translators could have felt that they shared an ownership and pride in the results. Instead, they felt like they were be exploited – all because of the wording.
    It is not the approach that is misuided, just the pitch.

  • ruben de la fuente

    Hi there

    I'm just wondering whether it is worth the while to get upset with this. Just say no, or don't reply at all instead of getting angry or losing time with this. You ask a plumber to fix something for free, s/he goes: “you wish”, and calls it a day. It might be healthier for translators to do the same.

    If LinkedIn does not know better, it's their problem. I don't think crowdsourcing will take jobs away from pro translators. Companies going crowdsourcing have not considered paying for translations (at least not at the starting point), so it's either crowdsourcing or no translation at all.

    It is interesting that Google and Facebook used crowdsourcing in the beginning then hired pro translators when localized sites gained traction (and I suppose user complaints about translation quality is a form of traction)

  • Jill

    @Ruben, That was my response. I deleted the e-mail to the survey. It wasn't worth my energy. I've got too much work as it is at the moment. I understand the need for this kind of site though. Only by our complaining will companies realize that we aren't pushovers. And that is why I am a member of this group. I will let the others complain (Matthew is doing a great job publicizing this problem, BTW), but I will support them however I can.

  • SilviaCarv

    I have been a professional translator for 20 years and also a localization project manager. I was absolutely against crowdsourcing until I actually learned about it in detail and was able to coordinate a few projects.
    You may think that crowdsourcing takes projects away from pro translators, when in fact, it may just increase the volume of work offered. Just think that companies are able to localize more content via crowdsourcing that they have been able to do otherwise. Agencies then crowdsource more content, and you, the professional translator, get more content to post-edit, for which you are paid. I admit crowdsourcing may not be a good fit for all, but when properly done, it can be a win-win for both companies and translation professionals.

  • Taise

    Hi, I was one translator who offered to work for LinkedIn "just for fun". I´ve done lots of translations for free for both people and companies that could pay for the work and for those who could not. I don´t feel injured because someone asked me to do something for free; if I can do it, I´ll do it. On the other hand, I´ve also received lots of services from people and companies that could have charged me and didn´t. I have good clients, they pay me well and appreciate my work – speedy delivery, quality and price. In my free time, which all of us translators have from time to time, I´ll gladly donate my time because I see it as acquiring more experience that otherwise I might not have and a way do become known, at least for a little while.

  • Melissa Gillespie

    Common Sense Advisory has carried out extensive independent research into the emerging practices of what it calls “CT3″ — community, crowdsourced, and collaborative translation. The firm's most recent report on this topic, “Translation Of, For, and By the People” (Dec08), discussed these efforts in depth, and profiled the efforts of four pioneering companies in this arena: Facebook, Microsoft, Plaxo, and Sun Microsystems.

    Here are a few highlights of the findings from this report, written by Donald A. DePalma and Nataly Kelly, that are relevant to the posted discussion:

    - Cost savings are not a motivation of CT3. The firm's research found that the companies engaging in this practice do so for three reasons: speed (faster time to market), quality improvement (end-user involvement boosts quality), and reach (a collaborative approach extends global reach through word-of-mouth marketing and community-building).
    - Subject-matter experts and actual end users (“customers”) help boost quality. The companies that used CT3 approaches had a vested interested in ensuring quality. For this reason, many had not only translated into a given language, but created regional variations of a language. Thus, Facebook in Spanish (Colombia) uses phrases that are more appropriate for the local users, while Facebook in Spanish (Spain) and Spanish (Mexico) are also localized.
    - CT3 is used primarily for short pieces of information. Phrases such as “update my status,” or “add as a connection” are typical examples of phrases that CT3 is well-suited to, since users can “vote” in real-time on which translation they like best. Thus, rather than resort to the typical translation process, in which a single person (editor) has the ability to veto or alter the translation, this gives more people the opportunity to weigh in and participate, giving them a say in what the final translation will be.

    Common Sense Advisory has also dispelled the myth of CT3 as a means of “getting something for nothing” in its industry blog, the Global Watchtower. To quote senior analyst Benjamin Sargent,

    “When casual observers comment about how getting the users to translate sounds like good business, they are alluding to the bit about it being wink-wink-nudge-nudge “free.” Actually, it costs money to manage work, whether your workers are volunteer or paid. Not to mention, in Facebook’s case, investment in building a collaborative translation capability into the product itself. Free was not the point. Time was. Translations started appearing in days, rather than in the months it otherwise would have taken a vendor to manage, test, and deliver a localized user interface of more than 100,000 words.”

    You can read the full entry here:

    Individuals interested in learning more can also view an early article on this topic written by Renato S. Beninatto and Donald A. DePalma, as published in Multilingual Computing, at this link:

    Common Sense Advisory's research also shows that the companies that engage in CT3 often employ full-time translators in-house, and they typically also contract with language service providers (LSPs) to perform translations that lend themselves more to the “traditional” translate-edit-proof (TEP) process, such as texts of a legal nature, privacy policies, marketing collateral, and corporate communications. CT3 is usually reserved for the short phrases that are highly unique to a given community – and are usually an important part of its online flavor and culture.

  • Steve Wallace

    I think professional translators come out looking really bad here. By aligning against an effort to better connect with customers and offer something (smaller market languages) they look like a whining bunch. Comparing this to crowdsourcing your legal documents is ridiculous. It makes it even worse when these professionals have taken advantage of a free service that allows them to network and build a support system for traditional translation and then bite the hand that has given them so much.

    No one is forcing professional translators to do anything. In the end its an opportunity to give back IF THEY SO CHOOSE.

    I predict this movement will backfire.

  • Charlotte_M

    I wish they'd posted the survey questions because I honestly don't get the level of “outrage” this supposedly spawned. Not because I think professional translators should provide free work, but because we live in an age of DIY and wikipedia for goodness sakes, not to mention the Open Source movement.

    I've been in marketing communications for 18 years, and I've worked with many translators from all over the world, as well as photographers, videographers, graphic artists and other providers of marketing services… it is EXTREMELY COMMON to be undervalued and low-balled for your services when the value isn't understood.

    Social media is just another new type of service that hasn't reached its level of value to the end user yet. Everyone freaks out when they have to pay for anything these days, but the real value is actually the service application… I don't see anyone feeling sorry for Linked In/Facebook/mySpace /etc because they aren't charging for their services. Would you rather pay to use Linked In (granted Linked In and other social media do charge more for above baseline services, but the point is they offer everyone free access… they don't run for free you know) or would you rather have them explore creative ways to use crowdsourcing (or whatever) to make the application widely available to everyone.

    In the end you pay for what you get – on both sides.

  • Vox Appeal

    True, social networking sites like LinkedIn are not charging us for their services.

    However, it would be naïve to think that we are somehow benefiting for “free” at their expense. Without all those free subscriptions, the sites themselves would be worth nothing to advertisers (as anyone in marketing communication is no doubt aware), and we don't charge them for that added value. I have not earned a penny myself directly out of my subscription to any social networking site (I see the purpose in it as a vague and incremental increase in visibility).

    As for those who wish to work in exchange for a “badge”, I receive dozens of CVs every week (often through contacts on these sites) from people listing various jobs done for free, which I admire, but these in themselves do not give me any reliable measure of their professional aptitude.

    I am quite sure CT3 has its uses in a balanced provider/client market, if payment structures can be sorted out, although it appears that CT3 is used mainly for translation of short phrases. Maybe that's what was responsible for this:

  • Vox Appeal

    True, social networking sites like LinkedIn are not charging us for their services.

    However, it would be naïve to think that we are somehow benefiting for “free” at their expense. Without all those free subscriptions, the sites themselves would be worth nothing to advertisers (as anyone in marketing communication is no doubt aware), and we don't charge them for that added value. I have not earned a penny myself directly out of my subscription to any social networking site (I see the purpose in it as a vague and incremental increase in visibility).

    As for those who wish to work in exchange for a “badge”, I receive dozens of CVs every week (often through contacts on these sites) from people listing various jobs done for free, which I admire, but these in themselves do not give me any reliable measure of their professional aptitude.

    I am quite sure CT3 has its uses in a balanced provider/client market, if payment structures can be sorted out, although it appears that CT3 is used mainly for translation of short phrases. Maybe that's what was responsible for this:

  • J C


    I quit LinkedIn anyway as it did nothing for me professionally, and seemed like a way for already successful people to plump up their credentials even further. I think it is designed as a way for people to register a presence on google / search engines. Thanks for the excellent blog

  • rishitiwar87

    Soy feliz de encontrar este poste muy útil para mí, como contiene muchas información. Yo siempre prefiero leer el contenido de calidad y esta cosa que encontré en usted anuncian. Gracias por compartir

  • Nico van de Water

    Dear Matthew,

    Excellent piece of (web) journalism! And yes, in spite of Mr. Posner’s response, I am still furious.

    With best regards,
    Nico van de Water -
    Consultant for Dutch and English
    (30+ years of translation experience)

  • Marta Stelmaszak

    Thanks for an insightful article! I’ve talked about your ideas and credited you in my post in Polish. I’m planning to analyse their translation into my native language.