Charlie Bavington @ C Bavington Ltd

French to English Translation Services

Meeting translation needs since 2003

Charlie Bavington - French to English freelance translator

I don’t let Proz upset me

I think part of the reason I manage to stay mellow(ish) is that ultimately, I don't really see its impact as that important. It may be the biggest website with translators on it, but it’s not the only one. Because I believe (no evidence other than a vague feeling of the numbers involved) there are hundreds of thousands of translators and clients (end-clients and agencies) who never go near the place, any ire I feel (or used to feel) is just frustration about what it could have been and a certain amount of effort that, if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have made and time that I wouldn’t have spent.

If I thought for a moment that proz actively influenced, oh, say, 30% or more of the market as a whole, I would think differently. As it dumbs down and seemingly tolerates people who don't know what an invoice is (a question in the forum in early 2009), and bans criticism of anyone apparently unable to open a dictionary or use a search engine, I just think it is not really for me that much any more. That said, I still visit every day, because it is a source of information, in the widest sense. And I would be a liar if I said the site had been no use to me whatsoever, especially in the early days. The quality of some of the people I saw there in those early days helped me see what I needed to do (I very much suspect a beginner would struggle to say the same today and in that respect, I see the dumbing down as unfortunate). It gave me a target to aspire to. Very, very few of those people are still active of the site. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of their book, since the frequent contributors to either the forums or the kudoz section who have anything to say worth listening to can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I started there in 2003 when I was a beginner myself. I guess the user population was proportionally more experienced and more professional back then (I wasn't the former, I hope I am the latter), because it took a certain effort to find it - in a way, you had realise you needed something like that in order to be looking for it. Nowadays, you can stumble over it all over the place, e.g. when searching for terminology. As it has grown, and become easier to find, so it has naturally attracted the less rigorous element, shall we say. And Henry's business brain won't let him turn down the easy option of quantity over the hard work of quality.

There certainly was a time when I was annoyed about how much time and effort I spent on proz, only to see it head off down a lowest-common-denominator money-spinning path and me powerless to prevent it. But Henry has his own ideas and they don't match my idea of what I would have done, and so be it. It's his website, and this fact has finally hit home, whereas previously I had fallen for that whole "community" rubbish (maybe it wasn’t quite rubbish in 2003, it’s just none of us saw what was coming).

New features

That said, I think any community aspect there was started to dissolve when corporate membership was introduced. Until then, it seemed proz was pretty much in the freelance translation camp, although clearly there were some site members wearing two hats, i.e. running an agency while translating. Whichever way that had been introduced, the rot would have started right there. Although one prefers to view working relationships as partnerships, there is inevitably an us-and-them element to the business, particularly at the cheaper end where translators are seen as a resource, and so proz started to try to serve both sides at once. It has, perhaps, succeeded to the extent that both “sides” co-exist on the website, but it seems an perpetual uneasy truce, sometimes.

In terms of rotten implementation, two cases in point would be the WWA feature and the "P" badge. I am perfectly happy with the principle of "rating" freelancers as the WWA sets out to do; we all know how difficult it can be to find good, reliable service providers in everyday life - plumbers, electricians, car mechanics or whatever. Anything that helps remove the element of chance is good, and that applies to those looking for translators as well. But then it was watered down with no negative comments allowed, and there doesn’t seem much point in having a rating system that has only “good” or “opted out” as the ratings. And the way ratings are collected seems a little onerous on those doing the rating (non members have to register first). And, indeed, the way things stand now, it merely serves to tell your clients that you are a member of website that accepts people who don’t know what an invoice is and offers jobs at derisory rates. If you can judge a man by the company he keeps, this is not the impression I am trying to create, to be honest.

I think the "P" idea has its merits for similar reasons; it just doesn't aim high enough, and was implemented shambolically, with secrecy and a select bunch of what basically seemed to be “teacher’s pets” laying at its core. I shudder to think about how a technical translation about, say, computer backups, would be received by those bestowing the famous badge….(such as here, although I have no wish to pick on that particular individual at all).

However, it all seems to suit the passive majority on the site who are happy to provide Henry with a livelihood and follow where he leads, and so be it. Now I reach the standard, I will stick with my CIoL membership, thanks. It’s Henry’s website, he can do what he likes with it. If I like what I see, I’ll join in, if I don’t, I’ll stand and watch or maybe, one day, walk away – who knows?

Gratitude

I recently heard a claim that most translators would not have thought of translation, if it weren't for translation portals. I think that is pure conjecture at best, unadulterated bilge of the highest order at worst. I'd need to see some figures before I accepted that kind of statement. Portals are still relatively recent. Vast numbers of people changed career before portals were even thought of. Some, such as yours truly, changed career after portals came into existence but without being aware of them. If I were considering a career change now (in 2009) and I saw proz as it now is, I would certainly think twice.

But while it helped me in 2003, if only (only?) in terms of showing me the standard to aspire to, that doesn’t mean I feel the need to make a financial contribution now. I have been a paying member, and now I’m not. When I was a paying member, I was high in the search tables for my specialist fields (IT/computing, but you knew that); now I’m not a paying member, I rank 700th - I get contacted just as often, i.e. once a week, or so. As I said, I take the view proz is a business, not a community, and as a business it offers stuff I can choose to pay for or not according to whether I think I need it. What I need mostly from proz is access to the kudoz glossary and the blue board. Kudoz is free (in all senses) to all and sundry. The blue board I can see by paying with browniz which, lest we forget, are a reward for the contributions I have previous made to the site. So it’s all fair, I think. If at any point proz reviews its policy towards non-paying members, I will review my policy towards not paying. Simples.

Free speech

Some of those who seem hardest hit by the demise of proz as it plummets to the very antithesis of what the website’s name implies also like to chuck around accusations that it attacks “freedom of speech”. They are, of course, free to do so.

I always view that as an over-reaction when it comes to moderation of a private website - "comment removed by moderator" must be one of the most frequent phrases on the internet by now (now introduced by proz too in late 2009, so postings no longer just disappear). And I don't know of any website that allows mod-blocked threads to be restarted. One forum I visit just bans people who do that, permanently, no warning, no questions. At least all proz does is delete the thread, not the user.

That said, yes, proz is over-moderated, but that is hardly news. Needless to say, proz is not the forum to discuss it, in the same way that Tesco is not the place to hand out leaflets against factory farming techniques and Next is not the place to lobby against third world sweatshops. I agree that there is "no freedom of speech on proz". There again, there is no absolute freedom of speech on any particular forum (in the internet or broader sense). Wherever we are, there are restrictions on what we can say, with consequences of varying seriousness.

That, however, is not the same thing, from my perspective, as saying that the heavy moderation on one website is "a threat to freedom of speech" (period) - i.e. unqualified and therefore by extension, in my view, a reference to our general right to expression. As long as you are free to express a particular view somewhere, and as long as that somewhere is a place where anyone else is free to go and hear you, then you have freedom of speech. There is a threat to freedom of speech when your general (or indeed specific) right to expression is curtailed globally. And without wishing to sound precious or prissy, given that there are places in the world where general freedom of speech is genuinely under threat or suppressed entirely, I think it is a slight over-reaction to use the term in an unqualified fashion in respect of one weedy website. Or indeed to single out one weedy website for special attention, given that there is nowhere where you can say exactly what you like without restriction.

To sum up

Personally, I am trying hard not to bother about things that are not designed to appeal to me. I realise that one could argue that anything that happens in the industry as a whole could affect me to some degree, but apart from outsourcing one or two bits and bobs some time ago, I've never really had much to do with whole jobs area of proz. It appears to my untrained eye that, as with many, many other products and services, there is room at the moment for low-cost, moderate and top-whack providers, and I can adopt "live and let live" with the low-cost section, which is increasingly what proz appears to represent and cater for.


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