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Coursera’s Global Translator Community: background

This is meant to be the first of a series of posts about the Global Translator Community (GTC), which Coursera launched on April 27, 2014: see their Introducing Coursera’s New Global Translator Community blog post.

The GTC is not Coursera’s first attempt at having the subtitles of course videos “crowdtranslated” by unpaid volunteers. So here is some information about its previous attempts, as I experienced them.

Coursera’s Amara team (August 2012 – February 2013)

I first joined a Coursera course because I was puzzled by the issues volunteer subtitle translators were reporting  in the Amara Help forum, mainly about the provided unusable original subtitles automatically produced by voice recognition.

Actually, I first tried to join Coursera’s Amara team, but got no reply to my application. From the outside, it looked like an attempt to copy the settings of  TED’s Amara team, with a workflow of translating-reviewing-approval tasks, but without any of the resources and feedback opportunities TED offers volunteers, and with a big hurdle: the unusable original subtitles that got automatically added (see Ambrose Li’s Things to watch out for if you want to work on Coursera’s subtitles:)

Then at the end of 2012, Coursera staff removed this workflow: anyone with an Amara account could now edit and translate the subtitles of their team’s videos. When they also stopped adding the unusable automatic original subtitles, volunteers were finally able to work normally (see the Amara autocaptions for Coursera videos topic in the Amara – Deaf & Hard of Hearing Discussion List for more details).

However, Coursera staff deleted the Amara team at the end of February 2013, telling volunteers they might copypaste the .srt  subtitle files they produced in subpages of the private Coursera students’ https://share.coursera.org/wiki/ (accessible only when logged in with a Coursera ID), adding that Coursera techies might or might not use them in the courses. Some volunteers complied, some found that a bit too daft and continued using Amara, and linked to the Amara subtitle pages instead.

Coursera staff also announced that they were working on a single tool for translating the site’s interface and the subtitles.

Coursera’s Global Translation Partnership (May 2013 – end unclear)

Then there were no news until May 14, 2013, when they wrote the Coursera Partnering with Top Global Organizations Supporting Translation Around the World blog post: instead of developing their own tool, Coursera was going to use Transifex for both things, and involve only said Top Global Organizations, and only for translations “many of the most popular language markets reflected by Coursera students: Russian, Portuguese, Turkish, Japanese, Ukrainian, Kazakh, and Arabic. Each Coursera Global Translation Partner will begin by translating 3-5 select courses, with the majority of translated courses being available by September 2013. ”

By September 2013, that goal was very far from being reached, possibly because Transifex is a great tool for translating interfaces, but though it can cope with subtitle files, which are just text files with a funny extension, it’s not a subtitle translating tool: no video player where you can check your work on the video. Therefore, as I had pointed out in a May 31, 2013 comment to the mentioned blog post, providing translators with with human-made, accurately revised original subtitles would be essential if they were to be translated with Transifex.

So maybe Coursera didn’t do that, and/or maybe the Top Global Organizations had entered that partnership without realizing how much work in such inappropriate conditions would be entailed. Just a hypothesis, as Coursera hasn’t made public any post-mortem about that partnership – nor about the Amara team initiative, for that matter – and never officially announced its end.

The GTC compared to these previous initiatives

On the one hand, the GTC is a return to the Amara team’s crowdtranslation by any volunteers. However it also has “partners” for some languages, though except for the Lemann Foundation (Brazil), which was already partner in the Global Translation Partnership, the other partners have changed.

As to the original subtitles meant to be translated by volunteers, Coursera has changed paid provider since the Amara team,  now using one who  crowdsources subtitling to humans, as Coursera Staff explained in the May 15, 2014 Global Translator Community Hangout with Daphne Koller (from 50:00 ca – see also the captioned version with transcript), but without telling who is this new partner, let alone how much the crowdsourced subtitlers get paid, if anything.

As with the Global Translation Partnership, the GTC’s  tool for translating subtitles is Transifex.

Another very important convergence between the Global Translation Partnership is the GTC’s Translator Agremeent that volunteers must accept when they apply to join.

That will be for another post: because this agreement is worth a post of its own , and also because presently its page, which is linked to on “terms and conditions” in Coursera’s public Web page describing the GTC, now only yields an XML Access Denied message :

<Error><Code>AccessDenied</Code><Message>Access Denied</Message><RequestId>DC7BD639FE7B7801</RequestId><HostId>Q8soFADQDwa2H+pNlwRFyvBHAAlaIFaRzZsbVbzrj/amDhg62HJko0ajmdpifg8s</HostId></Error>  .

Update November 4, 2014: though I notified both Coursera’s support and the GTC’s admins of this issue on Oct. 28, the link on “terms and conditions” in Coursera’s public Web page describing the GTC continues to produce this AccessDenied message.

What happened is that Coursera assigned a new URL to a new version of the Translator Agreement. They did put the correct short URL – http://goo.gl/W5WY0J redirecting to https://d396qusza40orc.cloudfront.net/translations/updated_Coursera_translator_TOS.pdf – on the 4th page of the Google Drive form for subscribing to the GTC.

However they kept the old obsolete one in the link on “terms and conditions“.