How Ted Talks Crowdsourced Translations for 40,000 Videos
Updated: June 3, 2019
TED Talks, the iconic speeches about technology, education, and design, have gone viral all over the world. Part of TED’s global success is due to the fact that their video library is available in multiple languages, so that people from every country and walk of life can understand them.
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But how can TED possibly translate over 40,000 videos into dozens of languages, from Spanish to Korean, from Swedish to Urdu?
In 3Play’s webinar, “Want Your Video to Go Global? The Power of Community Translation,” Darren Bridenbeck of Amara presented a case study of TED Talks harnessing the power of the crowd for their volunteer video translation efforts.
Below is a modified excerpt of the webinar, as well as the video recording. For a full transcript, recording, and slide deck, visit our webinar archives.
Why TED Translates & Subtitles Their Videos
TED’s mission is to share ideas. In pursuit of that mission, it’s fundamental to extend their ideas beyond just English-speaking cultures. And so they needed some kind of solution to either dub their videos or subtitle them to make them accessible to people all over the world. Using Amara, a crowdsourced video translation platform, they started the TED Community Translation Project.
TED Community Translation Project
TED Talks is a flagship organization when it comes to community subtitling. They started crowdsourcing their video translation back in 2010, when they invited their fans and viewers to come in and start subtitling. They built buzz organically, attracting more and more volunteers who were excited to contribute.
Since then, they’ve really matured. In the last five years, they’ve engaged more than 40,000 volunteers globally. In addition to official TED talks, they’re now translating TEDx talks, which are like mini, regional TED conferences that are independently organized. TEDx events happen all over the globe in tons of different languages beyond just English.
With TED and TEDx combined, they now have over 40,000 videos that are a part of the TED community translation project.
Unexpected Benefits of Subtitling
“In 2012, TED secured 18 distribution deals across 10 countries.”
Subtitling is key to TED’s mission of universal access to information, but there have been some unexpected benefits, too.
First off, a third of their video views come from subtitles at this point — which is amazing.
Second, they’ve gotten several international distribution deals because these subtitles exist – most notably, Netflix. You can now watch TED talks on Netflix in many different languages, thanks to community translation. These deals contribute to the bottom line of the organization in a big way.
Building a Video Translation Community
TED has a pretty vibrant community of volunteer translators. These include TEDx organizers and international fans that are just really charged and excited about TED. TED nurtures the community by actively promoting some volunteers to become what they call ‘Language Coordinators.’
“1/3 of all TED Talks are viewed with subtitles on.”
Language Coordinators are like ambassadors. They orient new volunteers and act as a resource for questions. They help manage their language across multiple videos. They help motivate one other and monitor subtitle quality.
In short, they’re given major responsibility for the subtitling operations.
Because of the way TED has structured and supported their translator community, it has grown and grown and grown. And even though it began organically, it has become self-sustaining and scalable.
How TED Maintains High Quality Subtitling Standards
TED has an application process where volunteers need to apply for the translation team and get accepted by an administrator before they start subtitling videos. Once they’re accepted to the team, they can look for available work.
Volunteers have deadlines, and only one person can work on a specific language for a specific video at a time. They’ve really challenged their translators with the expectation that if you start subtitling a video, you’re expected to finish it by the deadline. This preserves consistency in translation style and ensures that a video has been subtitled completely. The deadline creates a sense of urgency to move the project along to completion.
Anyone can create a translation. Anyone on the team can peer review it. But only Language Coordinators on their team can give subtitles final approval. This peer review and manager approval system provides not only another chance for subtitle quality control, but it also gives their community another layer of interaction where they can collaborate with and get to know one other.
What Motivates Volunteer Subtitlers?
With TED, there’s a really deep sense of ownership that volunteers have over their translations. Since it’s really just one user that’s doing this, it’s really exciting to feel like you own that translation. You’ve got it from start to finish, and you’ve submitted it, and once it goes through the review process, you’ll be able to see your work actually up on TED.com.
Some languages are so highly covered by TED — like French, for example — it’s sometimes hard to find available work to translate in French on TED. (Amara has actually even gotten support tickets about that, saying, ‘hey, I’m a French translator but I don’t see anything I can do.’ And that’s because every video has been claimed!)
Another motivation for volunteers is to ascend to the role of Language Coordinator, which is a leadership role that carries prestige within the community. Language Coordinators are very active and reliable volunteers who demonstrate leadership in their team. TED staff actually hand-pick these translators and invite them to become Language Coordinators for their language. It’s incredibly rewarding for volunteers to be singled out for a “promotion” like that.
TED has done a lot to highlight the efforts of these volunteers on TED.com itself. There’s a translation section on the website where you can see every translator that’s been involved in TED’s community translation project, exactly how many talks they’ve translated, how many they’ve reviewed, which languages they speak, etc.
TED features the Top 10 translators on their website. This is a huge — and public — honor. Plus, it gamifies the subtitling project for those who like a sense of competition. The TED community really rallies around those statistics, those contribution numbers, and it’s something that really pushes motivation and gets people excited together.
Sense of Community
TED hired 2-3 dedicated staff to help oversee the video translation community. Surprisingly, 2-3 people overseeing 40K volunteers is a pretty good ratio for community management.
This is something that we’ve seen time and time again with communities, even ones that are very organic: having someone from your organization who can engage with the community personally just gets people excited.
If you contribute and translate a video for an organization, and someone from that organization reaches out and says, “Hey, thank you so much. Nice job. We’d love to see more translations from you. This is amazing,” that’s a huge boost of motivation. It’s an amazing experience that a fan of your content might not be able to get any other way, unless they are contributing subtitles to your project.
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