Outsourcing

A Decade in Review: The Language Services Industry and the 2010s

A Decade in Review: The Language Services Industry and the 2010s 2560 1707 Atomic Scribe

Welcome to 2020! To celebrate, let’s looks back on how the 2010s changed the language services industry, for the better and worse.

The Rise of Machine Translation and Transcription

One of the biggest impacts on the language services industry in the 2010s was the growing use and accuracy of machine-generated transcriptions and translations. Companies, freelancers, and consumers can use software (like Google Translate) for free or very cheap to get language services, and many companies are developing their own software. Even here at Atomic Scribe we’ve introduced an automatic transcription option for $1/audio minute that combines human quality with machine efficiency.

The good news is that this is helping speed up services, and a lot of software is widely accessible. The bad news is that the accuracy for most files and texts is nowhere near 100%, which can especially be worrisome if the software is used on medical records, legal documents, or other files that need to be correct. It’s also hard for software to offer nuance and localization instead of a direct translation of content, which can cause problems (like in the case of Norway’s Olympic team mistakenly ordering 15,000 eggs).

So what can we expect next? The use of such services will surely rise, though some fear that computers will erase humans from the equation entirely in this service sector. Fortunately, the ability for machines to be 100% accurate on every transcription and translation is far from a reality, as humans are still needed to ensure accuracy. But we can leverage the positives of this software to help human workers perform better and more efficiently.

Increased Outsourcing

Outsourcing for transcription and translation definitely grew in the 2010s. However, where it grew to is troubling to some.

With the internet making communication so easy, globalization is taking hold in the language services industry as well. While before companies would outsource to local U.S.-based companies, now many are finding much cheaper alternatives in countries like India and the Philippines. Some U.S. companies are also using non-American labor that they pay peanuts to avoid having to pay Americans a living wage. While that’s great for a company’s bottom line, U.S. workers and service accuracy is suffering.

Take Rev, a popular company in the industry that was recently exposed for their poor pay and treatment of workers. While this allows them to charge little for their services, it also means their quality is far below Atomic Scribe’s, and that their workers have little incentive to do proper work. Unfortunately, the lowering of rates was a common theme throughout the decade, but it was promising to see more speak out about workers’ rights.

“We suggest building a relationship with a business or freelancer that you get to know, can hold accountable for their work, and that you trust.”

“We suggest building a relationship with a business or freelancer that you get to know, can hold accountable for their work, and that you trust.”

Loss of Quality Control

The problem with outsourcing on the internet is that it requires a great deal of trust. If you pay a company to translate an English advertisement into Korean, you need to trust that they will provide you a translation that is both accurate and localized. So how do you know it is correct if you don’t speak Korean and have no means to double check the work?

That should be a question we all have in mind in the 2020s, because the standards for quality control are diminishing. While now the cheapest option is usually seen as the best, that means there is likely no or little money spent on a second editor or translator checking the accuracy of a translation.

Because of this, we suggest building a relationship with a business or freelancer that you get to know, can hold accountable for their work, and that you trust. A nameless person behind a huge company that is paid very little has no incentive to provide you great work. But someone you trust and can speak with and ask questions about their work will.

Easier Access to Services

So far everything we have reviewed has had both positives and negatives. However, we will always celebrate how the 2010s ushered in a new wave of accessibility for those seeking translation and transcription services.

For example, while there is still work to do, YouTube provided an option of captions on their videos. This has helped Deaf and hard-of-hearing people enjoy more videos, and it makes translating of content easier. Google Translate has also been successful at helping people with basic translations or has been used by travelers to foreign countries. This helps with communication and accessibility worldwide.

As we’ve said, accuracy is still an issue. But the increased normalization and importance of accessibility is helping people worldwide, and we hope this trend will grow exponentially in the 2020s.

Rev vs. Atomic Scribe Transcription

Rev vs. Atomic Scribe Transcription 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

12/2/2019 Edit: This post was written in 2016, but we believe these points are still relevant today. As such, this post has not been altered below this point. 

There are a lot of transcription companies out there, so how do you choose the one that’s best for you? In this piece we’ll lay out some key differences between Atomic Scribe and Rev, a popular company that we used for four focus groups to test out their transcription quality. Rev boasts prices of $1/audio min, no matter the audio quality or length. Here’s what we found.

Rev Has No Real Delivery Deadline

Although it is stated on Rev’s site that orders are generally delivered in 24 hours, it actually depends on the file. We also found that they did not give us status updates on a file’s progress in a timely fashion, which can be extremely worrying for those with a deadline.

For example, one of our focus groups files was ordered on Jan. 31st and labeled by Rev as due on Feb. 3rd (already well past 24 hours)… but it wasn’t delivered until three days later on Feb. 6th. That’s a whole week from the initial order date, which is longer than our standard turnaround time. No discount or refund was offered.

At Atomic Scribe, deadlines are important. We have three tiers (rush, standard and discount), and we adhere to whichever tier the client chooses. But sometimes files are harder than expected and more time is needed, in which case we always contact the client immediately and ask if this is acceptable. We also provide a discount if a deadline extension is necessary.

Speaker ID Inaccuracy

Limited speaker ID is included in Rev’s low price, but unfortunately most IDs were unhelpful. While some speakers were correctly identified as “Male” or “Female”, other times names were used as labels sporadically. Basically, there was no uniformity.

In one transcript the speakers were labeled Speaker 1, Speaker 2, Speaker 3, etc. However, it was clear from a re-listen that the transcriptionist could not actually tell the speakers apart and that many labels were incorrect. A good example of this is the number of identified speakers went up to 6 when there was actually 8 participants, but no Speaker 7 or Speaker 8 were found in the transcript (yet they were found by our own transcriptionists).

At Atomic Scribe, we see that as a waste of time. Yes, we charge more for speaker ID, but with that extra charge we come as close to 100% accuracy as we can get. There’s no point in having speaker ID at all if it isn’t accurate, and there should always be the option to add it to an order if it’s helpful to the client. It should also be uniform and not a different format in every transcript.

Too Many Inaudibles

One transcript (the one not delivered until a week after ordering) actually had 337 inaudibles! When our transcriptionist finished it on a re-listen, there was—no joke—10 inaudibles left. There were also quite a few inaudibles across the transcripts that were easily found by just doing research, such as a town or company name.

We’ll admit our audio wasn’t perfect and focus groups are hard, but that’s why most companies charge more for multi-speaker files and pay their transcriptionists more for them. A flat fee system like Rev uses treats all files the same, which hurts transcript quality.

  1. No real delivery timeline

  2. Wrong speaker ID

  3. Inaudibles

  4. Unhappy workers

  5. Poor quality

Low Pay Scale

After we received the transcripts from Rev, we were curious about their transcriptionists. First off, U.S. citizenship is not a requirement to work for Rev. That could mean a larger amount of foreign workers whose native language isn’t English.

We also found out that Rev pays their transcriptionists on average less than half what we pay ours (according to their own site), which probably accounts for the inaudibles. After all, if a worker isn’t receiving a fair wage, what incentive do they have to turn in a good transcript? If their contract is terminated, there are plenty of other companies that pay the same wages as Rev (and many that pay better).

Lower Quality

The transcripts widely ranged in quality. Some transcripts were acceptable, but some had to be almost completely redone. And that’s what is reasonable to expect from a low-cost service, as is expected in every industry. You know you will never receive the best quality, but you hope and pray that you won’t receive the worst either.

That might be okay for some of your projects. But for a higher price (that you only pay once), you get peace of mind, accuracy, correct speaker ID, uniform formatting, communication, research of names and companies, and skilled transcriptionists. It seems to us an easy choice to make.

Note: We confirm that we paid full price for Rev’s services for files in 2014 and are not affiliated with the company. This is a truthful review with no attempt to distort facts.

The Dangers of Outsourcing Transcription

The Dangers of Outsourcing Transcription 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

With today’s economy and the ease of finding companies outside of the U.S. thanks to the Internet, it seems like outsourcing transcription is more popular than ever. The rates are usually much, much lower than industry standard, mostly due to the companies paying their workers — you guessed it — much, more lower than industry standard. But with the growth of the industry, cautionary tales are growing as well.

Take, for instance, news in late 2012 that involved $140 million dollars, a hospital, and outsourcing. A jury awarded that amount to the family of a woman who died due to what her lawyers say was inaccurate transcription work that her hospital relied on to treat her. The transcription services were outsourced to a company in India, and errors in the transcript led to the victim receiving a lethal dose of insulin that she eventually died from.

$140 Million Verdict in Baldwin County, WKRG News

Ellen Cushing wrote an article last year on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an outsourcing system that allows you to post a job to the site and then have workers complete the task. Sounds great, right? The problem is the workers get paid extremely little (even before Amazon takes their cut) and none have had to pass any test to do the work. You could be receiving work from someone who knows very little English, someone with no knowledge of your business, interests or what you do, or a magnitude of other problems.

From Cushing on Mechanical Turk’s wages:

Ipeirotis has estimated the average hourly wage to be roughly $2, while Joel Ross of UC Irvine’s Department of Informatics places it closer to $1.25—and whatever it is, it’s certainly lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Why is this important? Why isn’t the cheapest option the best option? It’s the hospital settlement all over again. If workers aren’t making a fair wage, they have no incentive to submit a correct transcript. And without an accurate transcript, what’s the point of even having audio or video transcribed?

Amazon Mechanical Turk: The Digital Sweatshop, Utne Reader

Have you had good or bad experiences with transcription outsourcing? Let us know in the comments!

Why Choose Human-Powered Translation?

Why Choose Human-Powered Translation? 1920 1280 Atomic Scribe

Today more and more services are being automated and outsourced. In an effort to be the fastest, language service companies are using “translators” with no qualifications who accept pennies to work, or they’re forgoing translators altogether and using machines to translate.

Neither of these approaches really work for high-quality translations. This is mostly because translation is not a solid structure – it’s vast, it’s an art, it has endless approaches to single words and phrases. To say that a language can be treated as a math equation is just not accurate. Just look at how complicated English is and how it can be interpreted in so many different ways.

Here’s the thing: you only need to pay for a translation once, and then it’s yours forever to do with as you please. So what’s the point of paying for a bad translation that you’ll be stuck with? Or worse, that could make you a laughingstock around the world?

How We Can Help

Atomic Scribe believes in a human-powered, personal approach to translation. We dedicate a project manager to figure out what you need, because that is different for everyone. A single sentence can be translated in countless ways depending on your industry, tone, humor, or other factors. A technical manual should not be translated the same way as a blog post, but it oftentimes is by machine or poor human translation. We want to make sure everything is tailored to you so that the translation is useful.

We promise that our translators are the best in the business. They’re qualified, have over 5 years of experience at the minimum in their language pairs, and they can translate your work in any way you choose. Let us show you why human-powered, personal translations are the best and only route to go to save you money in the long run.