Video Subtitling, Captioning and Translation Tools: Amara versus Dotsub

In my last post, I described which open-source projects and communities I had studied for a comparative analysis of the L10n tools and processes used by them. Carrying on from where I left, I am going to be talking about the various tools I have since researched. I was told that a lot of Commotion’s documentation is going to be in the form of videos. So, I started my expedition with tools that are specifically designed to aid in translating video content. One of the earliest projects I had looked into for L10n ideas was the WITNESS project, from whose blog post titled An Open Source Approach to Translation I had come to learn about Amara and Dotsub. This post is dedicated to my findings on these two tools.  

Amara and Dotsub: Notable users

Before going into the specifics, here’s a quick peek into who’s using which tool.

Notable Amara Users: Mozilla, Udacity, Coursera, TED, Netflix, Twitter

Notable Dotsub Users: Adobe, Cisco, GE, Bank of America, Boeing, US Army

One thing I have learnt these last few days is that projects can be very flexible about their choice of software and don’t mind “shifting loyalties” if a better alternative crops up. I will have many examples to quote in my next post, where I am going to focus on tools suited for translating text content. For now, TED is an apt example, which was previously using Dotsub, but moved to Amara in 2012.


Screenshot 1: TED dashboard on Amara



Screenshot 2: “What if language were not a barrier?” on Dotsub


Amara and Dotsub: What’s alike?

As tools belonging to the same niche, Amara and Dotsub have a few commonalities.  

1. Both have free as well as paid versions. Apparently, Amara was initially free to use for all open-source projects. Now, they seem to have limited their free services to personal YouTube users. Dotusb’s free version (called Dotsub basic) too appears to be available only to individual users.

2. Both have a wiki-style architecture, wherein subscribers can choose to go in for:

• a closed, for-professional-service-providers-only  environment, where the professionals are provided by Amara and Dotsub themselves.

• a closed, for-professional-service-providers-only  environment, where the professionals are the staff or contractors of the subscribers.

• an open environment where subtitling and translations are done by the community.

• any hybrid arrangement of their own choice.

3. Both can be easily integrated into a variety of video players, devices and video CMS platforms.


Amara and Dotsub: What’s different?

Here are the divergences.

1. Amara is open-source; Dotsub is proprietary.

2. Amara does not host video itself. It lets a user embed video to and start subtitling. It is compatible with videos on the user’s own server, YouTube, Vimeo, and a number of other video hosting services. On the contrary, Dotsub requires a user to upload their videos into their Dotsub account.

3. Dotsub requires videos to be captioned in the source language before they are translated into another language. With Amara, videos can be instantly subtitled into any language. In fact, Amara lets users import a subtitle and transcript formats in case of pre-existing data.

4. I have yet to personally test the two tools; so, I am not sure about this difference. But a reviewer says that Dotsub does not permit anyone other than the owner of a video to download its subtitles, whereas Amara lets anyone do so.

Note: Since it’s a relatively old review, it may not be up-to-date.

5. Amara has an automated Quality Control (QC) workflow. It offers three choices as to the QC processes, namely Staff QC, Community QC and Hybrid QC.

Dotsub does say that its “Project Management System makes it easy to manage quality control”, but it does not lay down anywhere as to how this is actually done.


Amara and Dotsub: Overview of the subtitling-translating process

Here are two images depicting the step-by-step processes of subtitling and translating used by Amara and Dotsub respectively.


Image 1: Amara Process



Image 2: Dotsub Process


So, which tool to use?

Researching anything, howsoever exacting, is way too easy when compared with the task of answering questions like this one. Unless it’s a comparison between contrasts, the choice is always a difficult one to make.

Basing my judgment entirely on facts obtained from the web (the two tools’ own websites + stuff written about them elsewhere), I arrived at the conclusion that Amara would serve Commotion’s subtitling-translating needs quite well. Of course, Dotsub would do a good job too. But certain things tilted my thoughts in favor of Amara. (This is over and above the differences between the two, which make Amara’s case already stronger.)

1. The fact that TED shifted from Dotsub to Amara last year. Their transition has not been easy and they have had to face translators’ displeasure. But then there must have been some very valid reasons responsible for this transfer.

You may want to take a look at the following:

TED has a “I Translate TEDTalks” group page on Facebook, where among other things, any issues translators face with Amara are discussed and resolved.

2. In a post published in February 2013, a reviewer showered lavish praises on Amara, calling it “the most user-friendly online interface for adding captions to a web-hosted video”.

3. Amara has won a couple of awards, including the 2011 Tech Award, the FCC Award for Advancement in Accessibility and the Intercultural Innovation Award.

Are these reasons enough to choose Amara over Dotsub in the absence of any practical, hands-on testing of either of the two? Perhaps yes; perhaps no. With so much written evidence, it is probably not fallacious to take things at face value. But, if there is enough time at one’s disposal, a trial run would definitely lend greater credence to any decision, whichever way it is made.

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Posted in GNOME Outreach Program for Women
2 comments on “Video Subtitling, Captioning and Translation Tools: Amara versus Dotsub
  1. yamela areesamarn says:

    I translate Ted Talk with Amara nbow and seem like someone is harassing me all the times, making it difficult for me to do my translation.

    Whereas with dotsub I could not remember any problems I experienced.

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