The awkward freedom of TAUS

TAUS (“a think tank for the translation industry, undertaking research for buyers and providers of translation services and technologies”) have an awkward relationship to freedom and as a result they make me feel uncomfortable – I don’t know if I can trust them, despite their interesting, regular blog posts and emails.

I recently received an email that made the claim

Sharing translation memories in an industry super cloud was a small revolution started by the TAUS Data Association in July 2008. Making this cloud really useful for translators, agencies and corporate buyers of translation was yet to be proven. This is what we are announcing today: retrieve matches from the world’s translation memories!


Place a sentence or phrase in the TAUS Search box and retrieve full or fuzzy matches in source language with their translations. See the publisher and the creator of the translation, share your comments if you like. And of course use the translation. This unique feature is freely available to everyone in the world. Try it yourself.

As you can see, the language is (and it always is) one of the freedoms that TAUS brings to translators. The problem I have is that, like so many of the ‘free’ services on the web, it’s only free in crippled form. Sure, I can go and find out what any particular phrase means, but that’s not much good if I’m translating – it’s time and energy intensive – I’d want it to work seamlessly with my TEnT/CAT. Anything that involves copy and pasting or switching applications is interrupting my work flow process(es).

Of course, you need to register and pay to use it in that manner – it’s only free to people that would use this tool once, or once a year, rather than on a weekly or daily basis.

Admitted this conflicts me. I like things to be free – you will see a lot of posts on about FLOSS, OmegaT, FlossManuals, etc. I prefer these products ethically (the freedom reflects my ethical view, a la the Debian Social Contract) as well as pragmatically (easier to get, easier to install, easier to get help, easier to troubleshoot).

Having said that, it was only recently (TODO:link coming) that I was recommending that translators concerned with the impact of technology on their livelihoods need to assess whether it’s the technology or the translation service companies pushing their wages down. Bespoke or boutique translation agencies are one way to do this. Which is another way of saying “unionise”.

TAUS is almost a union (*it does take corporations as members, which problematises this analogy), and it’s also an attempt, like Watercooler, at making money at a time when rates are rapidly falling. It wont necessarily make any money, but at least it’s an attempt at working out how to make money in the new order. It’s an essential exploratory/mapping exercise and one I’m glad is happening.

Despite this, I still think that it should all be free. In every sense, for everyone. I still think that translators can make a buck from their trade while providing an open tableau for people that want to translate, or a translation for free, to be able to get one.