Social media translators Transfluent get $1m for U.S. relocation

Fully-automated online translation is one of the oldest cloud-based services out there (I’m thinking Babelfish in the late Nineties), but nonetheless it remains one of the most obviously incomplete.

That’s not to say there aren’t good automated translation services out there – both Google and Microsoft, and even Babelfish, do as good a job as they can right now. But the best translations are still done by good old humans. Just look at the interpretation services of Babelverse and others, which rely on pools of freelance translators around the world.

One particularly interesting company in this space is Transfluent, which is applying a similar model to social media, websites and smartphone apps. This makes sense – when you’re a business or celebrity communicating with a global public, or a developer trying to internationalize an app, quick and accurate translation becomes particularly important.

The company, which has 15,000 freelancers working in 60 languages, is itself Finnish, but the founders are about to relocate to New York. What’s more, they’ve just picked up $1m in angel funding to set up that office, and have also opened an office in Singapore.

“We’re putting the focus heavily into the U.S. market,” CEO Jani Penttinen told me. “We’ve seen there’s a lot of demand right now to translate from English to Chinese and Spanish. It’s very concentrated to a few key languages, but there’s a lot of demand from businesses and currently not that much on offer – the translation industry hasn’t really developed.”

That’s not strictly true: rivals such as Smartling are also targeting the site- and app-translation market. But Transfluent’s service is pretty flexible and comprehensive. It’s fully automated, for a start, and can handle anything from tweets (5-10 minutes needed) to large apps (allegedly just a few hours).

On the content and social media side, users essentially just plug Transfluent into whatever account their content is on, be it Facebook, Twitter or WordPress. The translators see the text that needs working on and feed back their translation, which then gets checked against a blacklist of unacceptable words, just to make sure.

App localization, on the other hand, became a feature at the start of August.

“Transfluent can be embedded directly into iOS build pipelines,” Pentinnen said. “Every time you build your app, the resource file is sent to us – we support iOS and Android resource files – and within a few moments it’s functional in all languages.”

Given that they have rivals in the U.S., the Transfluent founders’ decision to relocate could be risky. But, if their flexible approach pays off, they’ll clearly be in the right place to reap the rewards.