Changes In The Internationalization And Localization Industry

Changes In The Internationalization And Localization Industry, a online transcription platform, got in trouble last month. It picked up a negative profile last month by none other than the New York Times.

Even worse was that Rev managed to become the poster child of gig-economy companies who mistreat workers. This led to a lot of negative media coverage which is probably not what Rev is looking to do.

What Set Off Media Focus

This article by the NYT set of this series of events.

Changes: Not the kind of media coverage you are hoping for...
Changes: Not the kind of media coverage you are hoping for...

“Until last week, Li Zilles was one of the many nameless and faceless contractors toiling in the bowels of the internet, providing online services that might have been mistaken for the work of artificial intelligence.

The job: to transcribe audio files for the start-up, churning out texts without clients ever knowing the name of the transcriber.

This was a lonely existence, and not an easy one. The pay, even though the work was full-time, was little enough that food stamps became necessary.”

Ugly... then things got worse

Changes: Things get worse... that is 5.7k retweets and a lot of likes!
Changes: Things get worse... that is 5.7k retweets and a lot of likes!

What Did Rev Do?

Slator, an industry portal, covered the issue quite well. Quoting, "… Rev offers a platform where Revvers (what freelancers on are called) can work on transcription, video captioning, foreign subtitles and, to a much smaller extent, translation. A Revver takes a job by going on the platform, checking out the job specs, and claiming the job if they wish, or returning the job to the queue if not.

Rev found itself in the center of a maelstrom when, on November 8, 2019, it lowered job-pricing rates for freelancers hired through its platform. Revvers took to social media, complaining that the announcement of lower rates was poorly handled; that is, through an internal forum that Revvers say they hardly ever check."

Revvers And Clients Get Involved. Gizmodo Jumps In…

Rev clients started to weigh in, and this unfortunately made Rev look worse.

Changes: In response to the media firestorm clients started to weigh in
Changes: In response to the media firestorm clients started to weigh in

Gizmodo picked up the issue. Quoting, “Rev, one of biggest names in transcription—and one of the cheapest services of its kind—opted to alter its pay structure with little warning for thousands of contractors on its platform, some of whom are furious at what they expect will be smaller paychecks from here on out. “

Changes: Gizmodo's take on the issue
Changes: Gizmodo's take on the issue

OneZero, an online publication got in on the act, but looking at a different point of view.

Changes: OneZero starts looking at other issues that Rev is currently having
Changes: OneZero starts looking at other issues that Rev is currently having

Then Rev’s competition started to jump on the bandwagon.

Changes: Rev's competition gets involved
Changes: Rev's competition gets involved

You may be interested in the full text - its a pretty interesting read and makes valid points. Importantly, it goes over numbers which are pretty revealing.

The good bit, “Rev previously paid $0.45 per audio minute, so a typical worker would earn the equivalent of $6.75 per hour. At its new rate of $0.30 per audio minute, that same worker doing the same work would earn only $4.50 per hour.”

I don't want a 1/3 pay cut, and I'm assuming you don't either!

So What Does It All Mean..

We don't really want to comment on the specific issues Rev has been having. Clearly, some things went wrong and there appear to have been a few technology failures as well.

This kind of thing can happen to any technology company, gig economy powerhouse or otherwise. We at VideoTranslator do not have the details of what happened inside Rev, and the drivers of their decision making - with luck Rev's staff is able to navigate this challenge in a way which works for Revvers and the client base.

What we really care about is - this event set is based on a number of structural issues.

We think there are two structural issues these events revealed, and below is the thinking at VideoTranslator on how to handle these issues.

Structural Issue 1: Are We Talking About Freelancers, Contractors Or Workers?

The NYTimes articles starts with, “gig-economy company whose workers”. While several parties are involved here, the implication is pretty clear.

Irrespective of what gig-economy companies might say/do, there are sections of the public who think that the contractors or freelancers (whatever your preferred nomenclature is) are workers.

This can be disputed, of course, but the structural issue for technology companies is that pressure can be expected around this challenge.

Your product may not be affected directly, but your people and clients clearly are, so chances are your product is going to have to evolve to meet this challenge.

Realistically, chances are its going to be an ugly learning process for any company caught up in these issues.

Structural Issue 2: Is AI Reducing Take Home Pay For Workers?

Maybe yes, maybe no. This specific instance did not directly involve AI, but Rev’s management is probably feeling pressure from AI based competition.

Is this an instance of AI reducing take home pay? Probably not directly, but the likelihood is AI probably accelerated any pre-existent pressures.

I think AI is not particularly responsible for causing these pricing pressures per se, but is making the competitive landscape more exciting, which is causing business models to break down in a number of instances.

AI firms need to understand the broader pressures in the economy, if for no other reason than it directly affects our competitive landscape. Pretending this is not happening unfortunately does not make it go away.

Structural Issue 3: How To Create Solutions Where AI Complements Humans?

In theory, computers are good at things humans are terrible at (math, doing repetitive tasks) while humans are good at things computers are terrible at (judgements calls, adapting to a rapidly changing environment). This is the good news.

In practise, this is really hard. There are some really positive views on how machines can help people - for example here. Also lots of examples of how this interaction works out negatively.

Our approach is to build a platforms that treat people as in integral part of the process. Use AI for the heavy lifting, and people for higher value tasks.


We don’t have all the answers, but we think it is possible to build platforms where the best of technology can help people be more effective and do more in less time.

Talk to us to find out more!

Curious about how we could help your business? Check out our managed service, or try our app for free! Alternately drop us an email at

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