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Crowdsourcing And The English Language

Does the term ‘crowdsourcing’ mean anything to you? If you’re a tech fan, it probably does. But just in case you’re not, crowdsourcing is when a job or task is outsourced to and completed with the help of the general public.

Crowdsourcing happens mostly on the internet and the best known example of it is Wikipedia. This reference site is populated by volunteers from around the world, and almost all of its pages can be edited by anyone visiting the site.

Companies that have successfully used crowdsourcing for projects include Pepsi, IBM and Unilever. Lately, crowdsourcing has even been used to develop and translate English.

Do you suffer from irritable vowel syndrome?

License: Creative Commons

License: Creative Commons

Urban Dictionary is a classic example of crowdsourcing the English language. This online dictionary has been around for a while. It accepts words and their alternative meanings from the public, and you’ll find from the hilarious to the ridiculous on the site.

Boytox, for instance, refers to a period of time during which a woman gives up dating to improve her general well-being. Irritable vowel syndrome was most likely sent in by a disgruntled Scrabble player, as it’s defined as complaining about having too many vowels to make any or a high-scoring word while playing this game.

In 2012 the esteemed Collins Dictionary entered the crowdsourcing arena and opened up their online dictionary to the public. More than 4000 words were submitted, of which 86 have so far been added. To make it through, words had to be popular, and have longevity and reach.

Some words that were added, like cyberstalking and shabby chic, seems like they’ve been around for ages. Others, like bash tag and crowdfunding, are relatively new and came about because of changes in the digital arena. Then of course there are those that are so silly, but so descriptive – frenemy (a friend that behaves in a treacherous manner), hangry (hungry and angry; being irritable as a result of feeling hungry) and floordrobe (an informal a pile of clothes left on the floor of a room).

Lost in translation – a thing of the past

Online translations websites using crowdsourcing have also been popping up left, right and centre. Facebook has been using crowdsourcing instead of a translation agency since 2008 to translate their site into different languages. They’ve been heavily critised by some language purists, but they maintain that they do it to account for differences in language from country to country.

Cashing in on the trend of translation via crowdsourcing is Luis von Ahn, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He realised that there are thousands of people who want to learn a new language, and thousands of websites that need translating. So he’s developed an app and website that will do both.

Duolingo offers users the chance to learn any of six languages for free, and in the process they translate webpages uploaded to the site by their owner. Once a page is completely translated, it’s returned to the owner and, depending on what type of document they uploaded, they pay for it.

This was a gap well spotted, and with new websites going live almost every day, it will come as no surprise if competitors appear in the near future. Let’s watch this space.

Terrence is a freelance writer with a special interest in all things digital. His other passions are green living and sustainable design.
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