Just to make sure the sarcasm of the post title doesn’t slip by, I want to start by saying that BuzzFeed is AWFUL. Sure, thanks to Facebook shares, I’ve clicked on some of their asinine listicles and have rarely (if ever) come away feeling like I learned anything. Even more rarely have I laughed at their jokes.
Of course, I am a heartless bastard with unrelenting standards when it comes to literature, and next to no patience for things like Twitter or Flavorwire or click-garnering listicles. So take the beginning part of this post with a grain of angry salt.
BuzzFeed’s suckiness isn’t even the point; the shady way they’re going about spreading their lists to the world is.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Jonah Peretti, the founder of BuzzFeed, disclosed in a recent letter to investors1 that its traffic tripled over the past year, hitting 85 million visitors in August. [. . .]
Until recently, though, BuzzFeed’s towering traffic ambitions were held in check by a simple fact of global demographics. Everything BuzzFeed publishes is in English—and at the rate it’s growing, BuzzFeed may be running out of new English speakers to colonize. [. . .]
The site this month will launch versions in French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. These international sites will be populated with BuzzFeed posts that originally appeared in English, but BuzzFeed won’t be using professional translators to create them. Instead, BuzzFeed’s posts will be translated by crowds of foreign-language speakers who are learning English using an app called Duolingo. In theory, as part of their coursework, these hordes will translate a BuzzFeed post in a matter of hours—at a quality that rivals that of professional translators, but at the speed, scale and price that you’d get from a machine.
Let’s break this down: BuzzFeed, which receives more than 85 million visitors a month, and makes more than $60 million a year, is going to use unpaid (and generally inexperienced) student translators to generate even more wealth for themselves. Great. Sounds like a certain ad for unpaid interns that we all probably remember . . .
On the surface, the concept of Duolingo sounds kind of interesting:
Duolingo is something like a videogame version of Rosetta Stone, and it’s been found to be quite effective at teaching people new tongues. According to a study commissioned by the company, in about 34 hours with Duolingo, a person with no knowledge of Spanish will become as proficient as someone who’s taken a first-semester college Spanish course. As of last month, the app, which is free to use, had garnered about 10 million users.
When you first begin using it, Duolingo teaches you the most basic concepts of a new language. As you become more adept, you’re asked to translate texts as a test of what you’ve learned.
Great, great. I may even sign up to “gamify” my way to learning Portuguese, but in terms of Duolingo and BuzzFeed, capitalist impulses turn it all shitty:
But why should people waste their energies translating dummy texts? Shouldn’t their work amount to something?
Yes, it should. But what it SHOULDN’T amount to is translating stupid lists for free so that BuzzFeed (and Duolingo) can make money.
If BuzzFeed had any integrity (SPOILER ALERT: It doesn’t), it would pass along some of its foreign language earnings to the people who produced the translations. I know it won’t, because BuzzFeed and capitalism and GROSS . . . But man, does this plan ever devalue translation. Way to go, BuzzFeed! Good thing that by 2015 everyone will have moved on . . .
1 Holy SHIT. You really should read the letter, it’s every bit of annoying that you’d expect and more.
“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“And this—what. . .
Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .
In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:
When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .