A few weeks ago, we received this email from one of our readers:

During my second reading of Discover Meteor, I began taking my notes in Spanish just to learn Meteor better. When I noticed, I had almost the whole book translated. Do you think it could be useful to you? – Victor Navarro

We checked out Victor’s link, and sure enough, he had single-handedly translated a big chunk of the book into Spanish!

Which turned out to be problematic.

A Tough Problem

Of course, we wanted to make the book available to the largest number of people. But releasing a Spanish version raised some thorny questions:

  • How would we control its quality without speaking Spanish ourselves?
  • How would we keep it updated?
  • How would we answer support questions in Spanish?
  • And even assuming Victor could help out, what would happen if/when he wanted to move on?

So the easier option was to simply congratulate Victor for his hard work, and keep going on as before. But this didn’t sound great either: who’s to say another reader wouldn’t also translate the book in Spanish on their own, thus duplicating Victor’s work instead of collaborating with him?

The Solution

After thinking about it for a few days, the answer became clear: if our readers loved our book enough to translate it, it just felt wrong not to recognize their hard work. But at the same time, we couldn’t afford to officially support translated versions either.

So we decided to start a community translation project, and make all resulting translations available for free under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.

And by free, I do mean free. You’ll be able to check out the translations whether you’ve actually bought the original English version or not. After all, we’re not the ones putting in work to translate the book, so it just didn’t feel fair to charge for access.

A Call to Action

Now that this was settled, it was time to get to work to support our readers’ translation efforts. I’ll write more about our translation workflow in a future post (leave us your email at the bottom of this post if you want to be sure not to miss it), but it involved settings up GitHub repos, Heroku instances, and using Codeship to automate the whole deployment process.

After beta-testing our system with a few languages, we sent out this email to our readers last Thursday:

The call to action.

And within just a few hours, we received a bigger response than we ever imagined!

The replies start pouring in.

Altogether, nearly 50 people contacted us within the first 24 hours after our email announcement, and out of those 25 have already contributed pull requests to one of our 14 language repos.

What’s more, we also heard back from Lee Sangwon, who just like Victor had also been working on translating the book on his own time, into Korean.

The Languages

So here are the results just a few days later. The Spanish, Korean, and Russian translations in particular are already doing quite well!

The first 14 translation projects

Be sure to head over to our main translation page to get up-to-date stats on each language’s progress and contributors. And if you’d like to pitch in, just check out our translations guidelines page.

An Amazing Community

This whole project confirmed something we were starting to realize: with Discover Meteor, not only did we write a book, we also created a community.

Many people are a little bit incredulous when I tell them we have readers around the world translating our book for free. And they’re even more incredulous when they learn we’re then giving away those translations.

But we’ve seen first-hand what building a community around an idea or a project can accomplish. So we’re hoping this translation project can become a way of helping people create their own communities, in their languages.

P.S. For a good perspective on why making content available in other languages is important, check out “Can’t We All be Reasonable and Speak English?” by the Stack Exchange team.