Community, Ethics, Facebook, Groups, Networking, Professional translator, Professionalism, Translation
I think I may owe you an apology. I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of a certain Facebook Group which this week showed itself in its true colours when the group founder announced that he intended to charge a membership fee with effect from January of next year. I have no intention of further publicising the name of the group, so forgive me if you don’t know which group I’m talking about – be thankful that you don’t! Suffice it to say that to encourage voluntary contributions from a wide range of professional colleagues over a three-year period on the understanding that the group was a supportive community, promoting positivity and encouraging newcomers to the profession, and then to turn round and seek to use that very same information for the personal gain of the group founder strikes me as immoral, unethical and downright distasteful.
I have no objection to people making money from their own business ideas and entrepreneurship, and it’s not the cost per se that I’m objecting to, whether it’s the price of a cup of coffee or the equivalent of an annual subscription to a professional association. The fact remains that charging a fee for information collected on an entirely different premise is unacceptable. I and many other people who have contributed to the group are translators of many years’ standing. Some colleagues may already run their own chargeable webinars or courses, but they have made quite clear from the outset that they are offering a paid-for service. Many of us are happy to assist colleagues via regional or language networks within our professional associations, other social media groups, by private mentoring or via our own blogs. Most of us do this for free because we love what we do and are happy to give something back to the profession and to encourage newcomers. We most certainly don’t do it to line someone else’s pockets.
I enjoyed the group in question precisely because it felt like a community of like-minded people, where the more timid amongst us could ask questions without fear of having their heads bitten off or being dismissed outright. I loved seeing colleagues blossom and grow in confidence. I liked the fact this was a non-confrontational environment where people could depend on not being abused or ridiculed. I appreciated the fact that people gathered around when others were going through hard times and offered support and encouragement, even to the extent of creating a back-up team for a translator suffering from terminal cancer so that she could continue working to the bitter end – and then setting up a donation programme to create a memorial fund at her university when she died. All that came crashing down last Thursday, in my eyes at least, when the founder pressed the self-destruct button and revealed that it had been a cynical money-making exercise all along. The ensuing discussion and belittlement of colleagues simply beggars belief.
I’d been out attending a (free) workshop offered by a major CAT tool producer on Thursday, so didn’t hear the news until late afternoon as I was driving home. I’d been aware that there were rather more Facebook notifications than usual, but was horrified when I realised what had actually been unfolding over the course of the day. A far cry from the notion of “overcoming strife in the profession”, to quote the title one of the founder’s own presentations at the ELIA Conference in Barcelona back in February…. People’s responses were dismissed or shouted down, others were told that if they didn’t like it, they could lump it, as the decision was irrevocable. So much for a caring, sharing community.
I feel very naive, to be honest – perhaps we should always be on our guard if something seems too good to be true? Yet my recent experiences in San Francisco suggest that there are some truly generous people out there: from the lady I met at lunch one day who offered me guest tickets to a prestigious museum in the city later that week, to the gentleman who thrust ten dollars at me when the card machines weren’t working on the BART system and I had no cash for my train to the airport, to the colleague who cheerily waived the change from our shared lunch because she so enjoyed the group I’d set up on Facebook (I’d still like to buy you a drink when we next meet, Jill!), to my delightful AirBnB hosts who gave me a spare three-day bus pass when I carelessly lost my own weekly card two days in… None of those people expected anything in return, just as I don’t when I offer my advice, refer a colleague to a client, or help out with a terminology query. What goes round, comes round, surely?
Other groups have sprung up in the meantime, but, fingers well and truly burned, I don’t feel able to recommend any at this point in time. It is worth noting, however, that some of the language groups previously under the main group banner have detached themselves from the main group and will continue independently, with a promise to remain free for the indefinite future. Other former admins have set up their own language groups with the same aim. Do seek them out: they provide an invaluable resource. Likewise, the group I founded back in January, Foodie Translators, is most definitely not from the same stable and will also always be free. I may have come up with the original idea, but the group itself is what it is because of its members’ contributions and enthusiasm.
Anyway, to return to the point of this post, I’d like to apologise if I’ve inadvertently pointed anyone in the direction of this particular group and if they too feel as disillusioned and let down as I do. Rest assured that I have now deleted all references/links to the group on my blog, with the exception of a description of the one event I attended in London last year, precisely because it provided the opportunity to meet some delightful colleagues, and was worth it for that alone. However, I’ve added a postscript to that review, explaining my current views. I’d like to think that my contributions have struck a chord with some members, and equally I’d like to thank those who have helped me within the group. For me, the whole point of networking, especially in our isolated profession, is the people you meet. A community is always the sum of its parts, never about just one person, and that’s exactly why the notion of paying one individual for a community’s wisdom is so dangerous. I look forward to meeting many of those same colleagues, and others, elsewhere – but, to borrow a phrase from a well-known TV show, I’m out. Onwards and upwards…
Sue Anderson said:
Claire, I was one of the people who joined the FB group on your recommendation. I had heard the founder speak at Newcastle but wasn’t that impressed despite the cult following he seemed to be attracting. In any case, the group soon turned out not to be for me (who has time to read all of those posts?) so I just lurked occasionally and unfollowed when it all kicked off. I have already been contacted by someone else setting up a rival free FB group but won’t be taking them up on it.
For your sake and others, I am sorry it has turned out like this. You put a lot of work into it, as did at least one other experienced translator I know and respect. And you did it in good faith, so no apology required.
Thanks, Sue – I felt I had to put the record straight. It certainly wasn’t my intention to lead anyone astray. The concept of a supportive and positive group is still a good one – just not on these terms.
Patricia Will said:
Claire you have nothing to apologise for. I too was taken in. Have defended Andrew and even tried to help him sell in Australia. As recently as last week I recommended SO to some newbies I just met. Yes we were all duped.
Thanks, Patricia. I think we’re all very disillusioned and disappointed.
Galina Green said:
Hi Claire, well I for one am very sad to see you go. I see things differently, as I feel that we (especially the blog writers among us, you included) profited immensely from the large platform in terms of readership and traffic to our own sites, something we would otherwise normally have to pay for. Everything I contributed, I did because I wanted to and enjoyed it, so I don’t really have a problem with the owner wanting to monetise the site from February. But I do respect the ethical principles you and the other “leavers” hold to and recognise that there is a lot of hurt involved, or that you feel “duped”. I don’t at all, so I s’pose that only goes to show the many different ways there are of looking at something. I will remain a dedicated follower of your blog of course and very much hope we meet again in IRL! And of course in the wonderful foodie group!
One thing however: I do object to people using these pseudo religious terms to describe the site and its “followers”. Having met Andrew for all of 4 seconds in Barcelona at a conference there is absolutely no basis to this idea of “cult” and guru-ism. It’s too easy and pat to use this kind of language to discredit someone without bothering to check the facts.
Thanks, Galina. I very much enjoy your blog too and enjoyed meeting you and other members of the group in Barcelona. I fully respect your decision to stay on board and yes, I agree that posting links to my blog on the group did generate more views. However, I only ever posted topics that I felt were relevant discussion points for the group, and subsequent debate on or off the group tends to corroborate that. I feel the difference with the group’s proposed new direction is that my blog was never intended as a money-making measure. I started it, as I suspect you did yours, because I felt I had something to say and I soon rediscovered the joy of writing my own words, as opposed to merely translating someone else’s. If, in doing so, I gave something back to the profession, all well and good. It isn’t a client-facing blog; in fact I suspect most of my clients have no idea it exists! I hope that if they do come across it, they will appreciate the way I write, but the content is not aimed at them. Of course, it’s nice to have a wider audience, but it really doesn’t matter if there’s one less platform to share it. I do hope we can stay in touch, although sadly not in Ireland or Berlin – I will be at the ITI Conference in Cardiff though.
Nelia Fahloun (@Babeliane) said:
Thank you for this post, Claire.
I left the group in question several months ago, first because it felt like noise/clutter to me, and also because I felt in strong disagreement with many of the founders’ opinions.
Let me say that I have a lot of respect for colleagues, regardless of whether they belong to that group or not.
However, I had come to lose personal respect for the group’s founder quite some time ago and decided to leave on my own terms. For that very reason, I can’t really say I am surprised by his move, nor by the fact that this has generated more strife and division in our already much-segmented industry, despite initial claims to the contrary.
I realise this comment will probably be seen as unpopular, but I couldn’t remain silent.
Thanks, Nelia. Yes, I’ve had my concerns for some time too, for reasons I won’t go into. I don’t think your comment will be regarded as unpopular, certainly not here at any rate – I, for one, respect your views and those of many of my colleagues – to see them ridden over rough-shod was a real eye-opener for me. I look forward to meeting you again soon – perhaps in Cardiff next year?
Nelia Fahloun (@Babeliane) said:
From later comments, I see that I’m not the only one who had been having reservations about all this for some time.
As to Cardiff, it’s unlikely that I will be able to attend as it collides with another event.
We’ll probably have other opportunities, though! I’ll be coming to London for a few days at the beginning of February for the Words to Deeds legal translation conference, so time permitting for both of us… 😉
Lydia Smith said:
Interesting. This is the first I have heard of this. I joined the group about a year ago for about 3 weeks, but it wasn’t for me so I left. It felt to me like there was too much focus on how to be a premium translator / make more money / develop your brand etc. etc. (at least from the owner) and quite frankly, I don’t really care about all that stuff. I just enjoy my endlessly fascinating job and I get a reasonable income out of it. I find your blogs very interesting though 🙂
Thanks, Lydia. It did have a good community feel if that’s what you were looking for, but no longer for me, I’m afraid.
Lydia Smith said:
Having read more about this now, I can see why you feel let down. You obviously invested a lot of time in it. Sorry if I may have come across as flippant – I just didn’t really like the fact the group was led by one person, so I didn’t stay in it long. I’m glad to have discovered other ‘new’ Facebook groups now and look forward to networking with colleagues more.
Not a problem – you didn’t come across as flippant at all. You’re quite entitled to your own views! It has been a particularly nasty business, though, especially the fallout, and the fact that the group owner now seems to have done a complete volte face (or so I’m told) makes it even more incredible that he still has a large following! I shall certainly be more wary in future, but I’m still a huge fan of a positive mindset and networking with colleagues to create a supportive translation community – it can be a lonely life being a freelancer, after all.
Oliver Lawrence said:
I don’t think you have anything at all to feel bad about, Claire.
I joined after Newcastle (ITI conference, April 2016) and was initially enthused, too, but something soon felt not quite right. That feeling crystallised over the ensuing months, and I had not been an active member for about a year when I left on Friday.
AM simply seems to have decided that he wants to make some money from what he created, whatever the cost to his reputation and to the feelings of many of the members. I have nothing per se against a membership club where the members pay for access to the founder, although in this case it is not a club that I was ever going to part of. But here, the transition was badly handled, especially as many people had been led to believe that it was a community of equals. Most of the content and most of the comments were provided not by the leader but by the members, yet the leader now appears to have asserted ownership of the whole lot. It seemed a bit like a fan club at times; now, I guess, it is even more so. I am not angry but a little sad.
Thanks, Oliver – yes, I feel the same way. I was rather shell-shocked when I realised what had been happening on Thursday while I was away from my desk. I do hope it won’t cause a rift between other colleagues whose work and views I admire. Incidentally, I very much enjoyed your latest blog post on CPD, which turns out to have been rather prescient in the light of recent events….
Oliver Lawrence said:
Thanks, Claire. For readers who may not be familiar with the post in question, it’s http://incisiveenglish.pro/peer-training-peerless-value, if you don’t mind my mentioning it. Yes, it does make me look a bit seer-like, ha ha – first time ever ;).
On a more serious note, like you, I hope that the translation community won’t suffer long-term damage from what has happened; Galina’s tone is encouraging. There’s no need for ‘them and us’, much as some seem to want to present it that way.
Erratum: the Newcastle conference was in April 2015, of course (nice to have met you).
Not at all, mention away, Oliver! I hadn’t noticed the date, to be honest – I don’t know whether I’m coming or going this last couple of months! See you in Cardiff, perhaps?
Oliver Lawrence said:
See you there 🙂
Allison Wright said:
Perhaps I should not have remained silent about by objections I had to the conduct of the person who ran the group you refer to after I left it in early 2014. I did so out of professional courtesy.
I have been reading your blogs all along, Claire – except the ones where you had actively promoted that facebook group, and have attentively read your contributions on various forums over the years, since we have been translating for a similar number of years. Your blog stands on its own merits, believe me.
I share your disgust for the set of ethics which led the group’s ‘leader’ to decide he was entitled to monetize a community effort for his sole gain.
I couched my response to this news in a metaphor involving socks. You may remove the link posted here if you wish: https://wrightonthebutton.com/2016/12/02/the-matter-of-socks/
Annika Schmitz said:
I met the person in question once when a live event was organised in London, and as for others in this thread, something about him just didn’t feel right for me. I feel sorry for the colleagues who were so enthused (I met quite a few at that event) and now feel deeply disappointed.
As for monetisation, I’m afraid that started earlier, when AM published a book that contains nothing else but posts from the FB group. Nothing in there that you could not get on any decent professional translator forum (with the added benefit of being able to join in the discussion). It ended up in my recycling bin very soon.
I never bought into the books or webinars either, Annika, but I did think the group had a positive and supportive atmosphere until it all went pear-shaped, of course!
Thanks, Allison, and feel free to share your post – very enigmatic, but I certainly get your drift 🙂
Allison Wright said:
Please correct my typo ‘her’ –> ‘here’ when you have a moment, Claire. Thank you!
No problem – all done!
Lucy Brooks said:
Claire. Your post sums up my feelings about the group in question. I joined the group when it began. I engaged the founder to give a webinar (it was quite good actually) and went to his house for a delicious lunch three years ago.
In the early days the group was a very good place to be. The aim was to counter the problems many translators meet – lack of confidence, lack of income, lack of self-esteem – and the group helped many people overcome these fears. I used to contribute but recently, as numbers increased to over 5500, found that the group changed. Too many posts, and the ethos seemed to change. I haven’t posted there for a while and intend to delete any that I made.
I think that changing the rules in the middle of the game is infair, and I pointed this out in a comment on the announcement. As you say in your post, some colleagues offer paid-for services and I am one of those. But that has been clear from the start.
My expectation of the group we have not named is that many will defect, and that there will be insufficient paying members to make it value for money.
I have joined an alternative group and hope that it will concentrate on its aim of providing support and encouragement to translators all around the globe and at all levels of experience.
Thanks, Lucy, and yes, I agree with your summing-up. I think your own company offers a really valuable service and I hope I made it clear that I wasn’t lumping you and many others who offer paid-for courses/webinars etc in the same bag as this latest offering! There is clearly a need for good CPD, as Oliver mentioned in his post, and webinars offer people the chance to experience quality training in their own home for a reasonable price – so important whether you’re just starting out and haven’t got much money, have young children or can’t spare the time to travel to an in-person event. However, I am looking forward to meeting up with the Sussex Translators for lunch on Friday!
Of course Claire, I realised that you weren’t lumping eCPD into the same bag! To add to my comment above, I felt that the whole thing was turning into a one-man show – with diversions into other areas – a short-lived magazine, a story-telling website which I abandoned before it began.
The initial idea was fine – the spin-off groups are fantastic. But it has gone wrong.
Quite; I felt there was a definite trend to rush into new ideas and then abandon them halfway through, often leaving those who’d done all the legwork out of pocket, at least in terms of the effort put in. That just didn’t seem right and was one of the reasons I had started to feel uneasy about the whole thing.
Jayne Fox said:
Thank you for posting this, Claire. I’d had reservations about the dynamics in the group in question for some time, but like Allison, I didn’t voice these publicly for reasons of professional solidarity. When this dynamic exploded in such a hot mess it was shocking and bewildering at first. But then the dust started to settle, we regrouped, and were able to breath in the new, fresh air.
I’ve enjoyed interacting with fellow translators via social media for many years, starting with Proz (back in the days when it was actually good), and then moving to Twitter and now Facebook. I’m very glad to have this connection with colleagues around the world and look forward to continuing the conversation in our overlapping networks of groups, blogs and pages. Thank you for being part of this!
Allison Wright said:
Nicely put, Jayne, as always.
Thanks, Jayne, and likewise! ProZ was my first introduction to interacting with other translators online too, back in 2004 or thereabouts and I got a lot out of it in those early days. Only in recent years have I felt it hasn’t been as useful to me, or perhaps I’ve just moved on? However, even ProZ, for all its faults (and it still has a lot of good points too!) has never proposed charging for participating in forums or for terminology queries as a basic member!
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