Posted by: patenttranslator | July 7, 2014

When a Tree Falls in the Forest Called Internet, The Sound May Be Reverberating for Many Years


When a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? There are two possible answers to this old philosophical riddle, depending on how we define the concept of “making a sound”. If it is defined as something that is perceived by human ear, than the answer is “no” if nobody heard the falling tree. If it is defined as the vibrations and waves caused by a falling tree, then the answer is “yes”.

When translators complain about low rates and shady and repugnant practices of some translation agencies on their blogs and discussion groups, does it make a difference? The answer to this relatively new riddle, which is more practical than philosophical, depends among other things on how we define the term “complain” and the term “make a difference”.

Not so long ago, almost nobody would have heard the voice of a lone translator crying in the wilderness because her invoice has not been paid for the last three months. All she could do would be perhaps to e-mail or call a few friends to warn them about another dishonest company, but that was about it. Her voice did not carry very far.

But things have changed. Although as we learned in our Latin class, “Vox audita perit, litera scripta manet [a voice heard perishes, a written letter remains] was true centuries ago, it has never been more true than now when words that are written by somebody who is complaining on LinkedIn, for example, can be instantly read by thousands of people on their PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones.

The written words that we leave on the Internet will stay there practically forever. A negative comment about somebody’s business practices may over time translate into many lost sales opportunities.

It is not just negative comments of other people that can cause damage to the bottom line. Short-term savings driven by greed can sometime also result in long-term losses because unlike in the past, the sound that a falling tree makes on the Internet may now be heard by many people and for many years.

A translation agency operator was recently looking for translators who would be interested in translating the text on his website into several foreign languages in exchange for a vague promise of potential work sometime in the future. He did not have to wait long because there are thousands of translators (mostly would-be translators) out there who are in fact willing to work for nothing. So he saved several hundred dollars by taking advantage of these people.

I wonder whether this person realized that every time when a new potential customer searches for information about his company, every such potential customer may find out also that this particular company is saving money by making people work for them for free.

Most companies understand that what people say on blogs and social media is very important because it can have a positive or negative impact on sales. That is why every company now has a corporate blog and tweets and posts on Facebook, and every company now has to pay their own employees who are basically PR people whose job it is to try to create a positive image of the company on the Internet.

The problem with the corporate blogs is that nobody reads them because the people who are paid to periodically post something positive about the company are usually unable to come up with something that people whose attention span is generally quite short would be interested in reading.

But still, even bland and boring corporate blogs help to drive sales when the key words contained in them are picked up by web crawlers of search engines such as Google.


It so happens that as I was writing this post, I received an e-mail from a translation agency (like many translators, I suffer from so-called compulsive e-mail checking disorder, one of the signs of a pernicious modern disease called translator’s dementia).

The e-mail said among other things this:

I’m contacting you as I’m recruiting for a new project with one of our major clients.

Strong medical translation experience is required for this project. The work is on-going from this client. The volumes for projects we are already receiving are expected to increase whilst we have also won new studies from the client for this language combination.

And this was my brief response to them:

When I searched for information about your company on the Internet, I came across a lot of very negative comments of translators about your company’s business practices.

I am not interested in working for your company.

Have a nice life.


When a tree falls these days in the endless green forest we call Internet, the question is no longer whether somebody will hear the sound of the falling tree, but how many hundreds, thousands, or millions of people will hear that sound, and for how many years the sound will reverberate through the Internet.


  1. I like your reply to that company, Steve, and particularly the way you signed off “Have a nice life”. I think I may use that in the future. It has the benefit of being polite in form while unambiguously conveying the message “Piss off and don’t bother me again”.


  2. Yes, it means the same thing and on the surface it is quite polite.

    I read it in one of those trashy American novels I like to read and started using it for this purpose.


    • Funny, I didn’t have you down as a trashy American novel reader. I thought you probably read authors like Nabokov, maybe Dostoevsky… I have not the first idea where I got that impression. You obviously manage to put yourself off as quite culturally sophisticated.


  3. I read Dostoevsky and all or most of the Russian classics when I was a naive lad in my teens and twenties. Now I enjoy reading mostly what some people would consider trash (compared to classics, anyway).

    As the Bible says, there is a time and place for everything under heaven.


    • Very true. At the risk of going completely OT, what particular trash are you reading at the moment/have you read recently?


  4. Right now I am reading “Crying Wolf” by Peter Abrahams and over the weekend I finished “The Fifth Angel” By Tim Green.

    I can highly recommend both authors (if you like that kind of thing).

    (From the advertising blurb on the inner jacket of “Crying Wolf”):

    “It begins at Christmas break. Nat, unable to afford going home for holidays, remains alone on the deserted campus. Alone – until he meets Grace and Izzie Zorn, twin sisters who, although biologically identical, are utterly different. Thrown off by the irresistible attraction of this astonishing pair, Nat’s moral compass starts to fail him. How could it not, as he enters a seductive new worlds of private Caribbean islands, personal jets, and endless possibility? A world where folly, even crime, now seems right.”


    • From the blurb, I don’t think I’d like it. The trashiest novels I read tend to be John Grisham (I’ve read and own everything of his, and I tend to re-read them all every three to four years) and, more recently, Kathy Reichs.


  5. Grisham is actually dealing with serious issues like race in Sycamore Row (2013), as does another of my favorite authors of mysteries, Greg Iles. All of the stories in his books, at least those I read, take place in Natchez, Mississippi, “the jewel of antebellum South”.

    One day I want to visit Natchez, it’s not really that far from here.


    • Yeah, I like Grisham because he deals with reality and doesn’t shy away from serious issues. I have “Sycamore Row” on my pile, ready to take on vacation in a couple of weeks. (A Time To Kill is one of my favourites of his, so my expectations are high. The film of A Time To Kill is also terrific.) The other thing about Grisham as that, while he is what one might term a “popular” author, he writes very well and intelligently.

      I’m afraid I’ve never heard of Greg Iles.


  6. “But still, even bland and boring corporate blogs help to drive sales when the key words contained in them are picked up by web crawlers of search engines such as Google.”

    Very true. The main purpose of those blog posts (that are usually sourced from and produced by bulk and low-quality copywriting mills) is SEO. Little do they now (well, at least some of them) that recent and future changes in Google algorithms are changing past conventions about SEO and render the good-old methods for gaming the system less effective, and sometimes even harmful. There are major changes going on and they make old models obsolete, and work to put emphasis on content with real value to the readers (one motive behind this is the fact that the huge scam that was going on for years with online advertisements is now largely exposed).

    There is a lot of good information already out there, but it mainly geared towards professionals to help them stay away from the unprofessional and the dark side of translation (as Kevin Lossenr calls it). The layer of information that is still missing, but less than before, is the type that will help buyers to make sense of the translation market structure and find the solution that best fits their needs while blocking the bazaar like noise produced by the loud inhabitants of the toxic cesspool segments of the market (unless this is what the client wants, and in that case – good luck).


  7. “The layer of information that is still missing, but less than before,”

    What do you mean by “but less than before”?

    Where is real information available? It could be available on blogs of translators, for example, but we are mostly so self-absorbed (navel-gazing in many cases) that we have no time and little space on our blogs for real and useful information.

    Including myself, I’m afraid.


    • By “less-than-before” I mean that the talk about the divide of translation market into the Industry and the Profession, or Bulk and Premium, or however one likes to refer to them is getting more traction and becoming more visible. It is still largely confide to inner professional circles but as it will get more awareness it will probably find its way out.

      What many professional translation practitioners are now paying is the cost of a decade or of silence and indifference, that only got more hefty as result of the activity of many charlatans/opportunistic who did just the opposite and established a narrative that many buyers were exposed to.

      Your blog, by the way, is very informative in my opinion because it touches upon very important topics. It is perhaps not client-centric, but that’s fine. Not everything needs to be client-centric.


  8. “Your blog, by the way, is very informative in my opinion because it touches upon very important topics”

    Thank you. That is exactly what I was fishing for.


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