Power of the Many: Fansubbing

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A fascinating example of the power of the many and of the potential when a large number of people are empowered (or empower themselves) is that of fansubbing. Fansubbing is when fans of a TV show or film voluntarily work to create subtitles. Some of the earliest examples of the practice is the subtitling of Japanese anime and manga in the late 1980s. Over time the fansubbers have become more organized and wide-spread. A French site called U-Sub.net started with the subtitling of Battlestar Galactica (the reboot version) and Stargate SG-1; they now have over 100 teams. SeriesSub.com has over 250,000 members and offers free subtitled downloads of close to 800 television series.

The process usually consists of an Uploader who gets the episode or film and uploads to the internet for one or two translators, an encoder who checks that subtitles are synchronized with the original dialogue, an editor who checks things like fonts, and then four or five proofreaders. Teams use free software such as SubStation Alpha for the subtitling and Virtualdub for encoding. Working virtually and formed via forums, the teams also provide cultural context such as adding explanations on American football jargon in square brackets for the show Friday Night Nights from the U.S.

Like any area of fandom, some folks spend a great deal of time pointing out mistakes and arguing in the forums. Some fans, though, have become such experts that they are consulted by the shows. For example Elio Garcia, a fan of the Game of Thrones, who lives in Sweden, is often consulted by the saga’s author, George R. R. Martin, who asks Garcia “Did I ever mention this before?” To which Garcia replies “Yes, on page 17 of Book 4.”

xray-delta finds these phenomena interesting because it is yet another example of where a great many people, organized by only a few rules, can accomplish more than in less time than any command-and-control organization through sheer passion and engagement.

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