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Related to the question Are Stack Overflow (in language x) proposals actually viable?, I wonder if it wouldn't make the Internet a better place™, to

instead of re-creating Stack Overflow sites in other languages

  • with duplicate content of Stack Overflow in the best case, and
  • original content that would be helpful at Stack Overflow but won't be posted there then in the worst case,

offer translations of Stack Overflow? My idea would be, you start off with a Google Translate result (which is probably not that great but enough to help) as a separate database and ask users to improve the translation by editing, maybe rewarding good translations as an incentive1.

One important requirement would however be that new questions/answers were translated back to English so that the entire international Stack Overflow-conglomerate could still benefit from them without Secession.


1) Something more than the 2 rep for suggested edits might be adequate. I don't know if upvoting on translations made a nice option, the feature-request voting on edits is still open...

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disclaimer: repost of discuss.area51.stackexchange.com/q/4021/133 since this is more about SE than about the proposals involved –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 11 '12 at 14:19
    
    
What if the bizarro world question translation ends up going its own direction? –  user7116 Jan 11 '12 at 14:46
    
@sixlettervariables My guess is on bizarro world programming correctly is frowned upon, and asking questions severly sentenced, so only true bizarro-criminals would come and therefore decide to commit an even greater crime by being actually helpful - provided they have tenretni access at all –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 11 '12 at 14:50
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As a minor note, some content copiers already offer (or did offer) machine translated versions of Stack Overflow. –  Andrew Grimm Apr 13 '12 at 3:14
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I was going to propose exactly the same idea. Today's post and comments are relevant (blog.stackoverflow.com/2014/02/…), and I think as well that a mix of technology and community effort is in the spirit of SE, much more than wasting duplicate effort to answer the same question again and again. I really fear most of the answers in the foreign language would be either pointers to the equivalent english question or very low quality ones –  Lorenzo Dematté Feb 14 at 8:42
    
@LorenzoDematté The major problem is that this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it may become a severe problem that non-native-English experts suddenly may end up neglecting the English site in favour of their native language edition, yet on the other hand it makes sense to help those not (yet) proficient enough in the English language. The question is, how to Pareto-optimize this? –  Tobias Kienzler Feb 16 at 8:30
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@TobiasKienzler it may be, but I would say an even bigger risk is to create fragmentation (content spread through multiple sites, duplication, link-only answers to other language sites...) and low-quality "spin-off" sites (English being the "good" site, where all the experts answers). But I guess we can see what will happen with pl.stackoverflow as an example, and if it does not work well see what can be done. –  Lorenzo Dematté Feb 17 at 8:44

2 Answers 2

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I don't think this would work very well. My answer's going to contain a lot of questions, but I hope to illustrate where I see holes in this proposal.

Firstly, which questions are worth translating? Stack Overflow right now hosts 2,500,000 questions and 5,300,000 answers. There is no way all of those are worth even attempting to translate, but how do we know which ones are important?

Sure, we can try and just machine-translate everything and slowly chip away at it, but what about the 2,400,000 visits a day and all the new questions and answers that constantly come in?

Secondly, machine translation isn't always a good way to start. It might actually make proper translation more difficult.

Thirdly, how would these translations be managed? How can we guarantee that translations aren't malicious? We have to take a pessimistic approach here. Even in English, some of the suggested edits we see are either factually wrong or inappropriate (promotional spam, etc.).

And last but not least, one of the biggest elements of Stack Overflow would be missing: the community. Either the translated sites will be just boring stubs (probably read-only, cause we're not trying to turn them into a real site with moderators, etc.), in which case all the non-English users would miss out on something that makes SO awesome, or we have a full-blown site whose community is damaged by all this translated content flooding in from people who will never visit the site or be able to contribute in any way.

All in all, I think we're better off either only supporting Stack Overflow in English or doing it "right" and creating separate sites where there's enough community support for a different language.

P.S. Somewhat related to this is my answer here.

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good points but I also agree with badp's statements. We shouldn't rely on machine translations, but the success of an other-language SO (ol.SO) strongly depends on the participation of users who, quite likely, are also active on SO. Their participation might then help the ol.SO, but at the same time it would require them to neglect the original SO. They might even decide, now that they don't have to fuss around with that English thing, they stay on ol.SO and abandon mother SO. That's the extreme case I admit, but I'd hate suddenly having to spent time on as many SOs as I can speak languages... –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 11 '12 at 17:07
    
@TobiasKienzler Well, here's the thing. You don't have to spend time on multiple SO's. There are others who are perhaps not as proficient in English or just prefer participating in the native language instead. And if that's not the case, then can you really make an argument for a language-specific site in the first place? I don't think that success of ol.SO depends on the participation of original SO users, though it certainly wouldn't hurt. But I'm starting to rehash arguments I made in badp's question, so I'll stop there. –  Anna Lear Jan 11 '12 at 17:57
    
yes, I read that post, so you don't have to repeat yourself. I guess you are right there, although at least modifying the search at ol.SOs à la "...additionally, we found the following English SO entries". Maybe machine translation is sufficient to make useful suggestions of similar questions. –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 11 '12 at 19:16

Translation will not work, so your idea is invalid.

Machine translation, on a good day, might produce a barely readable text in the target language. If you're lucky, the translation may even be mostly correct and not have mangled too many technical terms. A site that's full of mechanical translations is not going to attract users, because the contents will be terrible. Sure, machine translation is improving, but it's only recently the point of being useful sometimes, when before the results were only fit as the subject of mockery. Maybe in 20 years machine translation will be a realistic option.

Complementing with manual translation might look good on paper, but the reality is that it will not happen. We're already seeing this on the language SE sites; on both German and French you'll see suggestions on meta to translate as many posts as possible. There are highly motivated users, who speak both languages well, there isn't much traffic. And yet translation is not happening. Even on French Meta, which is in principle bilingual by policy, plenty of posts aren't translated. Writing a new answer is a lot sexier than translating someone else's. (Just like people prefer posting their own answers to closing as duplicate — it's not just about the rep, it's about doing the more creative work.)

If there are per-language sites, you can translate a post from another site in a different language. Until you do that, for people who don't speak Hindi, the post on the Hindi site might as well not exist; there's no point in exposing it to the Hungarian community.

Add to this the issues of building a community, which requires communication, which requires a shared language. You can make the sites free-for-all-languages, but for that you need meta discussions and moderation in every language, and you need ways for different-language users to share their ideas at least at the meta level.

What could be useful would be automated translations of existing posts into other languages. Services such as Google Translate provide this on demand. A searchable repository of machine translations would be useful; Google is working on this, but having the translation on an SE site, hopefully with manually translated tag names, could be better. These translations must not be mixed with the real Stack Overflow in Basque, because they would overflow the community in low-quality posts.

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Note that Google will ban you from its index for dumping machine translated versions of other pages in it. This is considered a strongly harmful behavior per Matt Cutts. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 11 '12 at 17:58
    
Yes, good points, I must admit I caught myself stumbling on a google-translated site thinking "why?!". I was maybe underestimating the effort for users a (big) bit. Perhaps machine translation could at least be used for the SO search as providing questions that from the sound of its translation might be related –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 11 '12 at 19:19

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