Let's imagine we have an electronic dictionary - it doesn't matter if it's a webpage, a desktop application or a mobile app. The question might also apply to an encyclopaedia.

Every entry has the word (which was searched for) and the definition. An example entry could look something like this:

at home = chez soi, à la maison

Now we want the users who are searching the dictionary to contribute by suggesting better translations and marking wrong ones.

I could imagine several different ways to enable users to contribute. What would be the most efficient and valuable one?

  1. On every entry page, let the user edit the current list of translations. = Highly valuable information as you can use the data exactly as they are entered by the user. BUT: A user who is searching for a word is probably not able to correct a this word on his own.

  2. On every entry page, display a vote form so that the user can tell you which translation was the best or if all translations were inadequate.

  3. Just offer a general form for users willing to contribute. In this form there is a random entry made editable.

  • 1
    Is your use case such that the people looking up the words are likely contributors? Or are the two groups separate? Commented Aug 7, 2011 at 19:24
  • I can't define the "group of searchers" more precisely, sorry :( The dictionary offers help to anybody who isn't really sure about the meaning of a word. So there might be absolute beginners who don't have any knowledge to contribute with - but their might also be experienced speakers who just wanted to make sure again. So we have 50% possible contributors maybe ;)
    – caw
    Commented Aug 7, 2011 at 19:35
  • The thing is, if your readers and writers aren't likely to be the same people, it might be better to separate the interfaces. Think of how Wikipedia offers edit functionality only through a nondescript 'edit' link - because a UI that allowed readers to perform inline edits wouldn't be very helpful, and could get too complex for the average visitor. Commented Aug 7, 2011 at 20:12
  • Oh yes, now I've understood your question :) My "readers" and "editors" or searchers and contributors are probably the same group. The case of users who are only there to contribute ("writers") appears less likely. The potential "writers" are (in most cases) in the big group of passive "readers".
    – caw
    Commented Aug 7, 2011 at 23:59

6 Answers 6


Have you looked at Google translate?

If you hover/click the suggested translation, you'll get a dropdown list of alternatives as well as an input field where you can enter another suggestion.

It is also possible to rate the current translation.

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  • 2
    The nice thing about tracking which translation they use is that you can use that information as a sort of rating. If 75% of people translating "at home" select "a la maison" you would rank that one higher. That said, Google interface doesn't make it terribly obvious that there are other translation options to choose from. Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 19:10
  • 3
    And the "Rate translation" feature at Google Translate can be confusing. What are you actually rating when clicking "Helpful" or "Not helpful"? The above translation? The one you have chosen in the list? The original one? The one that you typed in yourself? It needs to be more intuitive.
    – Steeven
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 9:01
  • So the thing we learn from Google is: One should enable users to vote on the single translations (which is the best?) and the user should be able to type in a new suggestion. Right? And the rating/voting must definitely be for every single translation so that the user knows what he is rating.
    – caw
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 23:01
  • @Marco: Yes, the voting must be unambiguous. There are several problem with the Google-example: They use "helpful" witch points to the suggested translation. They should have used something like: "Rate the current translation" and "Good"/"Deceptive"/"Offensive". Further more, the selected rating stands - even if you change the suggestion! Now how do you "post your rating"? I wasn't aware of this behavior until I played a little bit with it. Suggested solution, when you select a rating, it should be treated as an action that submits the rating. Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 7:41
  • @Marco: I would also add that you can use the current Google tool as a prototype and perform some user tests with it. You don't need to build your own solution before you involve your own usergroup. Getting some experience with existing products is very valuable. Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 7:46

I was thinking of this topic for the last 1 day while I was working. It's quite hard to make people interested in a topic like this. It must be playful or valuable (feeling of learning or teaching, high level of participation), otherwise there won't be enough motivation.

Some ideas for result control and random box

Notes (the mockup is far not complete of course):

  • be able edit or rate with one click
  • stick edit button (or icon) on the translation, switching with one click between edit/view mode
  • show average rating somehow - indicate that there is more, eg. on hover: show last editor, number of users who rated it + maybe comments (?) but comments might be an overdo in this case)

I suggest to make some playful control (eg. Random translation box with a BIG "Next N randoms"), while users are searching for a word, they most likely don't want to contribute/edit/correct the translation, but if they see some other translations they might be more participative. In this box, you have to present just the rating controls (and make the translation clickable - link brings you to the normal result page)

Reputation points for passionate users and some "Real life" awarding systems patterns (eg. military pattern) will also be a good point if you want to gather and keep contributors.

Useful readings here also: Creating Passionate Users - How to Build a User Community, Part 1

  • Wow, thanks for this effort! I agree that one should be able to rate every single translation. But couldn't one combine this by just letting the users choosing "the best translation"? So you already know which one he rates higher than other ones. Showing random translations along with the wanted translations might do harm to the user experience as this is not what the user wants to see. What does "military pattern" mean?
    – caw
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 23:12
  • 2
    Military pattern is just a better known ranking system for showing if someone is more experienced than the others - I like to use life-like patterns to show how users are evolving. (sorry, sometimes my English is not enough to express myself perfectly :() You are right, that people are there for translations and not for suggestions, but if the "random translation" box has less emphasis than the translation part, then it's not very harmful for UX I think (not subtle but less emphasized). Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 10:21
  • You're right, creating a random box with less emphasis should do the job. I think this could also be something I will use ... Thanks!
    – caw
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 23:48
  • I really think this is the answer which deserved the +50 bounty the most. Thanks again for your great effort!
    – caw
    Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 22:40

The majority of people using the translation service will not have the knowledge to suggest a better translation. Only a small minority will contribute better translations, and the most likely scenario for this is when they are double-checking their own translation and feel they know better.

My view is you should separate contributions and reference.

For contributions you could develop an online game similar to http://images.google.com/imagelabeler/ but for translations. People playing this game will most probably feel confident with the language and you will get tons of translations done.

  • This is exactly what I was thinking: Users can only contribute if they are just double-checking what they think is the right translation. But separating the functions "search" and "contribute" is very difficult: Who will enter the contribute area to help? Why should someone do this? There's no reward, no gain, no profit. So only a few people will do this. But the game is a great idea. Unfortunately, one can only have this game if there are a lot of users yet.
    – caw
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 23:05
  • As to who would enter the game area you could always include some form of link from the translation page, such as, "Compare your translation knowledge with our online app" or something on those lines. I do not think only a few people would do this because there is no material gain. If that was true, sites such as this would not exist :)
    – user6072
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 7:11
  • Maybe you're right. But I'm rather sceptical :-D So maybe I'll try to develop a solution which doesn't require two users to be playing the game simultaneously.
    – caw
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 23:52

Users who are searching for something are not potential contributors I think (I have never used the function on Google Translate, however I'm using it quite frequently).

If you want people to contribute, you have to reward them somehow. Another thing is, that - just like here - not everyone is supposed to be a valuable contributor, so you have to make some kind of aging before letting users edit whatever they want (it might be quite hard if you don't have tons of users).

If you have all the above, Google's interface is quite well designed, try to transform it to support aging.

It depends strongly on the user base and the real purpose of the application.

  • I wouldn't say searching users are no potential contributors in general. I would say, most of them won't contribute but a few of them will do. So one has to make contributing as easy as possible. So the best thing is probably to do just voting which doesn't require that much participation by the users, right? And saying that I should use "support aging", do you refer to functions becoming enabled after some time or after some actions?
    – caw
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 15:57
  • Yepp. Exactly, but it works only if your users need to be logged in. How can you imagine voting? User "A" suggests a word and it will be accepted only after certain other users vote for it? Or the same way as google translate does it (just voting how "useful" the translation is)? Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 16:19
  • 1
    I would choose the Google method. The less data requested from the user the greater his willingness to contribute from time to time. Right?
    – caw
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 23:15
  • Right. With a small number of frequently contributing reliable users you might make a quite trustful database. Hope it'll be a good stuff :) Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 0:10
  • 2
    I think "aging" is not really necessary. As there are probably not that many users contributing, you need every input you can have. And all suggestions need to be double-checked later, anyway.
    – caw
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 23:07

I would arrange the translations one per line, and allow users to mark if the translation was helpful.

In addition, i would allow users to enter new translations, and place them in a "possible translations" section until they receive enough positive votes.

You need the help of your users to both create and rate current translations. You should be able to incorporate some of Stack Exchange's methods for engaging and managing users.

  • I like the second paragraph, this is something one should really do :) Thanks!
    – caw
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 23:34

I would take a cue from an existing system made popular already. The solution that Facebook implemented to translate it's entire site to multiple languages is most like a mixture of your 2nd and 3rd option.

It made use of an opt-in application that would present the user with a page at random that would need translating. Users were also invited to vote on the translations.

See these links for more information about the initiative.



  • Sorry, I'm not sure if I got it right. But the Facebook system is basically just suggesting translations and rating other user's suggestions, isn't it?
    – caw
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 23:54
  • No not exactly. I think users were both asked to translate the pages and vote on other users translations.
    – Chamilyan
    Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 8:28

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