Late last year, the free online gradebook LearnBoost announced its plans to crowdsource the translation of its Web app. The decision to crowdsource -- rather than rely on Google Translate, for example, or hire translators -- followed the process that Facebook undertook (and that other companies like Twitter have adopted since): encourage your users to translate your app. Facebook's crowdsourced translation efforts have been wildly successful, helping the social network spread internationally thanks in no small part to the 300,000 or so people who've contributed to translating the site into over 70 languages.

It might be unfair and unrealistic to compare Facebook's crowdsourced translation with LearnBoost's efforts. The former company was founded in 2004 and started the translation in 2009. Facebook has some 700 million users and over 1700. LearnBoost was founded last year and started its translation process shortly after its launch. It has, last time I checked, less than 10 employees. But even with just the short amount of time that LearnBoost has been working on making its app available in other languages, it's already ready to launch its Spanish language version.

The speed with which the startup has accomplished this is a huge testament to the global adoption it's already obtained. Indeed, when the company decided to crowdsource the translation, co-founder Thianh Lu told me that "We knew that this approach would work when we received countless emails from users preemptively offering to translate our product for free." And translate they have.

This is a familiar refrain when I write about LearnBoost, but it bears repeating: It isn't simply that the gradebook's users love the product and want to see it available in their own language (although that is pretty awesome).

It's that the startup has made it incredibly simple for users to do so. It's built an easy-to-use interface that avoids a lot of the headaches that volunteer translators face when they have to deal with HTML tags alongside the words and phrases themselves.

And the technology that's under the hood here is impressive too. LearnBoost has built an internationalization layer on top of the Jade node.js template language that makes it easier for developers to add translation hooks. There's also technology here that checks for new elements that may require translation -- something that will help the translation scale, not just with new languages but with new gradebook features. As with much of LearnBoost's technology, parts of this project have been open-sourced. So yes, the crowdsourced translation efforts here are a win for students and educators and parents worldwide. But more broadly, LearnBoost's technology is a win for the Web.

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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