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Doing our best to choose articles and reports based on facts: Yeeyan and translation

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Yeeyan's founder Jiamin

Yeeyan.com (译言) has 5,000 community translators and claims to have published nearly 30,000 translations. In terms of numbers it is the biggest translation website in China - also collaborating with The Guardian's website to make a Chinese version where users select articles to translate.

This UGC (user-generated content) service is similar to other instances of media translation such as the blog on Tianya.cn, which translates part of Time magazine or The Economist translation group.

Jiamin is one of the three founders of Yeeyan. Danwei interviews him below about work with The Guardian, publishing books and the facts of translation.


Danwei: What was the inspiration for Yeeyan?
Jiamin: To me, it's quite simple: that's the only thing we could do at that time. Before starting Yeeyan, each of us had written a few proposals and sent them to some people, who we thought may have an interest, but got no response. So, when Lei Zhang, another co-founder of Yeeyan, called me saying that we could at least translate what we read on Internet and feed it to Chinese readers, I jumped in without a moment's hesitation.

We had gained 16,000 registered users and 690,000 monthly page views in the first year (2007). Both registered users and monthly traffic have nearly quadrupled in the second year (2008).

Danwei: How long have you been running the operation, and have you always started with wanting to translate news articles?
Jiamin: Yeeyan is two and half years old now. If counting in the "blog age" (from Jul. 2006 to Dec. 2006), then Yeeyan is three now.

At the very beginning, the articles translated were mainly about Internet technology and start-ups, which reflected the backgrounds and interest of the three founders. As the community grows up, the range of topics becomes wider and wider. Now, there are four major categories: Technology, Culture, Economy, and Other. The first two categories comprise more than 70% of the total content. News is not a separate category yet and is included in the Culture category. We are now exerting more effort to deal with breaking news mainly due to our collaboration with The Guardian. But still, there are a lot more other contents on the site, and we always believe that in-depth and long-lasting contents are most valuable.

Danwei: Are there stars translators on Yeeyan?
Jiamin: Yes, there always are. You mentioned Lawrence Li, who was one of the early "stars" on Yeeyan. He hates bad translation and named his website "Transnator", which means "bad translation terminator". There are other "stars," just to name a few, such as pestwave (Yanbo Li) who has been hanging with Yeeyan since the first day, meimeidatong (美美大同, I don't even know his real name) who is very eager in organizing communities and making suggestions to the Yeeyan team in recent days. There are many many others. Yeeyan's community is pretty like a galaxy with hundreds and thousands of stars, and each star shines no matter how brilliant it is.

Danwei: Apart from big events such as the passing of Michael Jackson, what kinds of specific topics are huge for the translators of Yeeyan?
Jiamin: Actually, I believe translators' choices are much diversified now. It's hard to tell which topic is huge (an early huge topic is start-up, as I mentioned before). Some "huge" topics do reflect readers' interest or clients' demands, but I would rather see them as projects led by the site so they mainly reflect the site's interest and guidance. Yeeyan will reinforce its "discovery" functionality so that we know better about the demands (from both translators and readers). I would also like to see the emergence of self-organization (in terms of either topics or people or both) in the community, which is one of our ultimate goals. We do have missed a few opportunities due to lack of promotion and product support. I hope we won't miss again.

Danwei: Yeeyan has a contract to translate Guardian articles, and has a spot on the site. How do you negotiate the articles you want to translate but can't?
Jiamin: Everyone can't simply ignore the censorship issue in China. We are doing our best to choose articles and reports based on facts. The Guardian's recent reports on Xinjiang's confrontation got translated very quickly and received many clicks. It definitely demonstrated the value of Weibao (The Guardian's Yeeyan site). It also suggested that the government is not shutting the door completely. The censorship, from a positive perspective, shows the government's awareness of the importance and impact of the Internet. It's a learning progress, though most people may criticize it.

Danwei: Are there topics aside from China content on the Guardian website that the translators are interested in?
Jiamin: To name but a few: 24 hours in pictures, environmental issues, sports.

Danwei: You have plans to publish books - including 1.3 Billion (《十三亿》), of which Yeeyan is a collaborator. What are future possible titles?
Jiamin: "Out of Control" by Kevin Kelly, "Yeeyan Digest".

Danwei: There is a group which translates The Economist into Chinese and one that translates Time magazine hosted on Tianya. Whilst Yeeyan has groups for both translation of Time and The Economist articles, your members seem to be much larger. For the Guardian group you are boasting 819 group members, whereas The Economist translation group Ecocn.org only has 200 or so users and less registered users.

Do you feel satisfied with the achievement as the biggest site for translation?
Jiamin: Yes, I believe Yeeyan is the largest site in this area. But it's far from "a satisfying achievement". Our primary goal is to build a community-based enterprise, and that means two things: large-scale social collaboration, and business success. There is still a long way ahead.

Danwei: Do you think that one day there would not be a point for the translation of English articles?
Jiamin: No, I don't think so. I guess your point is, maybe one day, everybody in this world can read and even speak English so that there is no need to translate content from English to other languages. First, I don't believe that "one day" is very soon - only about 18% of the world population are English-speakers according to wikipedia; second, people tend to use their native languages - reading something in English is definitely harder than reading it in Chinese for me; third, globalization doesn't necessarily mean unification of language - even within US, Spanish-speaking population increases over recent years.

There are currently 2 Comments for Doing our best to choose articles and reports based on facts: Yeeyan and translation.

Comments on Doing our best to choose articles and reports based on facts: Yeeyan and translation

question: I am guessing that the partnership with the Guardian is monetised (would imagine the Time and Economist ones are not), does the website enter into any commercial agreements ie. providing community translations for a fee?

From what Jiamin told me, TommyDF, Yeeyan does benefit commercially from the Guardian, but it's just enough to cover costs. Not all the translators for Weibao are paid so it's still a somewhat volunteer service based on interest. They are not just a "translation service," though.

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