Some of the biggest companies in the world have managed to satisfy a significant part of their translation needs by using volunteers. Two of the best-known examples are Google and Facebook. Both of these internet behemoths started out as an English-only platform. They understood that in order to succeed internationally they would need to have their products translated into different languages and engaged their users to do so.
It may seem tempting to assume that they did so for reasons of economy. In the case of Google Translate, that factor may indeed come into play. While Google has the deep pockets required to bankroll a free service of that nature, it’s questionable as to whether it would choose to do so. In the case of the user interfaces, however, both companies had more than enough cash to finance professional translation. Indeed, rather than just hiring a German translator, they could both have simply bought an entire German translation service. They would both have understood that amateur translators were more likely to produce translations with errors than a professional German translator in Adelaide. Why then would they expose themselves to this possibility?
The answer is almost certainly as a way of engaging users both old and new. Users were encouraged to make Google and Facebook their own, in a very literal sense, by making the interface a part of their own language. Facebook in particular turned the translation project into a very social activity. What is, however, worth noting, is what Google and Facebook did not let these amateur translators do. In short, they did not let them do anything which would have had legal and/or reputational significance for the companies. It seems safe to assume that if either of these global companies need significant company documents translated, they will employ a professional.