Unbabel Launches A Human-Edited Machine Translation Service To Help Businesses Go Global, Localize Customer Support

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Today, you can be anywhere in the world in a matter of clicks. Thanks to globalization and the plucky old Information Superhighway, our world is shrinking. Inquisitive globetrotters can pop over to Google Earth, pilot through volcanoes in Hawaii or navigate a few Norwegian fjords and still be home for dinner. Vasco de Gama? Not impressed.

The sheer number of people not only coming online but shopping, watching, learning and consuming online — from every corner of the globe — is staggering, and every business wants to take advantage. Businesses now know they need to be where their customers are and that they can’t be one-size-fits all if they hope to thrive in today’s global marketplace.

The problem, of course, is that their new, global customer rarely seems to be speaking the same language. Not surprisingly, translation remains a big, expensive problem for businesses today. Most companies recognize the importance of localizing their websites and content, but few have the time, money or inclination to go one step further and localize that rapidly updating content or section of their site, their FAQs or their customer service interactions.

For most sites, these last two points, especially, are usually what break the budget — for those lucky (or smart) enough to even have a line of the budget dedicated to translation spend. This is where Unbabel wants to help. The Y Combinator-backed startup is launching today with a new kind of online translation service that aims to make it easy and affordable for a business of any size to translate all of its online content — from marketing collateral and FAQs to customer service emails, both static and dynamic.

To save businesses from breaking the bank on translation services, Unbabel has developed technology that combines machine learning-based auto-translation with crowdsourced editing to offer quality translation at what it claims is “one-fifth” the going rate. By contracting Unbabel directly or by using the company’s REST-based API to integrate translation directly into their workflow, businesses can translate all of their website’s content in a flash at $0.02 per word.

Now translating over 30,000 words/day for over 30 customers, Unbabel’s secret sauce leverages artificial intelligence software and its stable of over 3,100 editors (or translators) to translate a website’s content from one language into its customer’s language of choice. First, its machine learning technology translates the text from source into the target language, at which point it uses its Mechanical Turk-style distribution system to assign editing tasks to the right translators, who then check the translation for errors and for stylistic inconsistencies.

Unbabel editors work remotely, via their laptops or mobile phones, on translations, which co-founder Vasco Pedro says provides the key to faster translations. This, combined with the efficiency of its task distribution and administration algorithms, provides a level of efficiency that allows editors to earn up to $10/hour working for Unbabel.

The startup is also hoping to appeal to businesses looking to cater to international customers not only by offering integration through its REST-based API or by allowing them to quickly fill out their online form to order translations, but by offering email-based translation as well. To help with international, localized-style support, Unbabel offers businesses the ability to provide customer support in a customer’s native language via email as well at $3 per 150 words. Businesses can simply send an email to a language-designated inbox it sets up with Unbabel, and the company will reply with a translation in less than an hour.

Beyond email, Unbabel also offers a separate pricing tier for FAQs, which allows businesses to translate their user’s comments (and their own) so they can follow all the whole conversation on their website at $5 for every 250 words. In turn, businesses can use the startup’s translation technology to translating their social streams, as Unbabel will convert each tweet, post and comment into their language of choice at $1 for every 50 words.

This means that businesses can send Unbabel what they need translated online, through its API or by email, which the company then converts into micro-tasks, automatically translating the source and turns over to its community of editors to refine. The content is then delivered, recombined and translated in near real-time. Today, the startup supports nearly 14 languages, including English to 13 other languages, or nearly any combination thereof.

However, co-founders Vasco Calais Pedro, Sofia Pessanha, João Graça, Bruno Prezado Sliva, and Hugo Silva tell us that they’re working to add more languages to its roster, and hope to begin supporting new languages over the course of the coming year. With over 700K words translated thus far and over 40 paying customers on board pre-launch, the Unbabel founders believe they’re just beginning to tap into the pent up demand for a faster, more affordable (and accurate) translation service among the nation’s businesses — particularly, among startups and the SME market.

To support this early growth, Unbabel has taken on just over $400K in seed capital from Y Combinator, YCVC, Faber Ventures and Shilling Capital Partners, which the startup expects to supplement with another round in the coming months. On top of its API, through which Unbabel already offers integration with key P2P markets like Airbnb, the founders also plan to continue rolling out additional integrations based on customer demand, whether it be Salesforce or Zendesk.

The long term goal, says co-founder Vasco Pedro, is not only to create a fluid user experience and become an integral part of the communication value chain for its customers, but to help bring the Web closer to a future where all of its content is available in a multitude of languages. In other words, in homage to the archetypal Tower of Babel story, the company wants to un-Babel babel, and help bring some clarity (and order) to the confusion of tongues and the variation of human language.

Human translation is really the gold standard as far as online translation goes, but for most companies, paying real, live humans to translate their content is an expensive proposition. In most cases, it’s either pony up the funds to pay for humans, or make due with machines (like publicly available tools akin to the unreliable Google Translate) and automated services. By combining both machine translation and human curation, the Unbabel founders not only believe they’ve created a novel solution to a persistent problem, but that they can offer a product that’s on par with pure human translation, faster, and at a fraction of the cost.

The startup also wants to get a leg up on the competition by going one step further than the rest by providing companies with the ability to translate the types of customer-related communication and content that is critical to their business, yet goes mostly overlooked by existing services. The chief example, as mentioned previously, is the mountain of user-generated content companies collect across their web and mobile platforms, whether it be “Help”-style wikis, their social channels, forums or FAQs.

In doing so, the Unbabel founders believe they’re beginning to unlock a new market of content, opening it up for translation into myriad languages and, thus making it more widely accessible — or so they hope, anyway.

For more, find Unbabel at home here.

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