Paul Hemetsberger, dict.cc, English to German Online Dictionary, with over 5 million page views per day
Paul Hemetsberger started his online dictionary dict.cc in 2002 and has grown it to one of the best known web services in the German speaking world. Eleven servers handle between 5 and 6 million page views per day, which places dict.cc within the top 1000 web sites worldwide, according to alexa.com. In Germany, it's currently ranked at number 52. Paul shared his story with YourStory.inShare with us some of the impressive numbers of your service.
dict.cc was released in late 2002 as a tiny service, just querying a database of around 120,000 translations and displaying the results. It has been extended ever since, both in terms of features and data volume. As of today it contains more than 800,000 English-German translations, more than 500,000 translations in 50 other language pairs, around 400,000 inflection entries and almost 450,000 voice recordings submitted by users. It also features a translation forum with around 600,000 posts to date.
Why is your service different from other online dictionaries? What are the unique features and functionalities of dict.cc?
What is unique to dict.cc is the crowd-sourcing, wikipedia-like approach. In fact, I came up with the idea even before Wikipedia existed. New translations are posted by users and other users peer-review them and adapt them to the formatting guidelines, if necessary.
Technically speaking you are running the site single-handedly, because you crowd-source the vocabulary from the community. What are the advantages, and what are the challenges of this approach?
The advantages from an entrepreneurial perspective are clear: Getting content "for free".
The challenging parts are manifold. The most important task is quality control: Maintaining great quality without the help of paid editorial staff is really difficult. I solve this by automatically comparing the reviews(votes for a specific version of an entry) of a contributor with the actual verified entries. If many of the contributor's reviews match the final result, his or her "voting power" is raised for future reviews. Instead of having a paid editing team or adding/checking translations myself, I'm very busy supporting the community, solving conflicts, blocking spammers and cheaters, and discussing and defining guideline details. Of course the community is active seven days a week and asks for support every day. My last real day off, as a result, was back in the year 2002, more than 8 years ago.
How do you motivate the community to contribute to dict.cc?
Some contributors only want to add the one translation they couldn't find, then come back to see if their suggestions were accepted, then start to check other suggestions. Others find listening to German recordings to be greatly helpful, so they submit a few English ones to give something back. Once they contributed something, they discover other things to do, like the voice talents that start to check other recordings, then start to review translations to increase their "voting power" which is also taken into account when reviewing recordings. They stay because they like communicating with other like-minded people and improving their own language skills while contributing to a tool that helps out hundreds of thousands of people each day. There's also a hall of fame page to honor the top contributors, which also contributes to some competition and a game-like aspect. The resulting vocabularies can be downloaded and used for free, so I guess some users also contribute because of this give-and-take policy.How did you manage to become one of the most successful content sites in the German speaking region?
For online dictionaries, I think content quality is the key element. Users come back if they find what they are looking for. Of course a certain amount of search engine optimization is necessary for any web site, but in the case of dict.cc all I did was to make sure that search engine spiders were able to get to every corner of the site. dict.cc never saw a sudden surge in page views, it developed slowly but steadily over many years.
Your revenue comes solely from advertisement. How do you manage your ads?
I am using Google AdSense as the main source of revenue. In addition to that, I try out other ad broking firms from time to time. I think dict.cc could be a lot more profitable if I would directly sell ad space, but AdSense offers the advantage of running on its own, giving me the time to work on improving dict.cc.
Why did you start the project? What was your personal motivation behind?
The idea dates back to 1998, I had started developing web sites (in pure HTML) a year before that and I wanted to stay up to date with all the technology emerging back then. That's when I came up with the concept of an online glossary called "knowhowbase" that allowed readers to help each other, kind of like the newsgroup communities that existed even before the world wide web came up.
You have bootstrapped your company. What were the biggest challenges for dict.cc while starting up?
At the beginning dict.cc wasn't a company or a job, it was just a little hobby project I did in my free time. When it got bigger and bigger and started to demand more and more of my time, I decided to focus on it completely, so I started to refuse job offers(I was a freelance web developer by then). Then I lived off my savings for a few years, until ad revenue paid my rent. I guess I never risked too much, I never had to fight unsolvable challenges. Of course I had to suffer a few setbacks, like when copycat sites took dict.cc's data claiming it as their own. Seeing them fail compensated me for that a few years later.
What is your vision for dict.cc?
Currently, I need to further stabilize the existing language pairs. I'd like dict.cc to feature a lot more languages, but it doesn't help to have hundreds of near-empty vocabularies. I don't want dict.cc to become a big commercial enterprise, I'd like to be able to keep running it on my own for many years to come. There are lots of ideas for future improvements, so I can keep working on it forever. I don't know if it's going to work out, but in the end I'd like dict.cc to be seen as the "Wikipedia for translations".
India has a vast number of languages and a booming Internet (and mobile) market! Are you looking at the Indian market and plan to launch e.g. an online dictionary for Hindi-English?
I am also looking at the Indian market, at Hindi and many other languages. However, as I want to give the current vocabularies time to stabilize, I don't have an exact schedule yet.