Lessons from crowdsourcing translations

December 6, 2016

One of the big challenges for users of new messaging apps like Wire is to convince their friends to join. This task is even harder if the app is only available in English.

For Wire, translation is key — only about 35% of our mobile app users prefer English. For a while the app was only available in English and German but in 2016 we’ve added over a dozen languages for both iOS and Android.


Crucial to this was opening up the translations to the Wire community, by embracing crowdsourcing. Here’s what we’ve learned along the way.

  • Start early - Before having a significant user base in Spanish speaking markets the translation was already done, so when El Pais wrote about Wire, we were ready. List of languages by number of speakers has been helpful in picking the key target languages.
  • Embrace the volunteers - The initial concerns we had over potential quality issues and turnaround times have disappeared. The winning formula turned out to be dedicated fans helping each other out and improving the quality over time. And that leads to the next point…
  • Engage and be helpful - Crowdsourcing translations isn’t “work free.” It’s a constant effort to add and improve contextual info to the source files, to answer questions, and in general to be open and available to the community. Wire t-shirts and other swag go a long way as a small “Thank you!”
  • Expect some bumps on the road - From day 1 of inviting volunteers to contribute, we agreed internally that it’s OK if not all translations are always at 100% — with generally two weeks between Wire app updates there’s simply not always enough time. Our amazing fans/volunteers continue to produce miracles and surprise us with the speed with which newly added strings get translated.

The weapon of choice for managing translations is CrowdIn, that very helpfully gives free accounts to open source projects like Wire. We sync source files between GitHub and CrowdIn and rely heavily on its translation memory to improve consistency. The ease of uploading screenshots and tagging certain translation strings on them to give translators visual context is an added bonus.

To all past and present translators a big “Thank you!” By the way, we can always use an extra pair of eyes to improve the quality, join us!

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