16 October 13 | Chad W. Post

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.


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