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.
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. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .