Sunday, May 29, 2011

Google Translate API Deprecation Causes Commotion

In a post in the Google Code blog, among news of new APIs and other updates, Adam Feldman (APIs Product Manager) announced that the Google Translate API would be shut down according to its deprecation policy.

By clicking to the API page link we learn that "The Google Translate API has been officially deprecated as of May 26, 2011. Due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse, the number of requests you may make per day will be limited and the API will be shut off completely on December 1, 2011. For website translations, we encourage you to use the Google Translate Element."

The first reactions from the developer community were negative, as the tone and quantity of comments to the announcement indicate. On the language camp, the reactions fell in two groups: "I told you so"  and "Don't be evil, my eye!" (from the people that were skeptical about Google's good intentions of honest decision-making that disassociates the company from any and all cheating.)

I reached out to my contacts at Google to try to get an official position, but they declined to comment.

First, let's make it clear that Google Translate is not going away! The announcement is only about the API, and will affect programs that have incorporated it, like Trados, Wordfast, and DéjàVu, plus hundreds of smartphone apps that were developed on this platform. I will particularly miss the My-Translator plugin for Firefox.

What does this announcement mean to the language industry?
  • MT price will go up. The value of MT solutions like AsiaOnline and Systran will go up as developers will not have access to the free solution provided by Google (unless they resort to web scraping.)
  • Migration to Bing. Microsoft's MT solution doesn't cover as many languages and is not as good in as many domains as Google Translate, but it does the basic job well, specially for IT-related content. 
  • Google Translator Toolkit continues to be a good alternative to use translation memories in combination with MT. My guess is that the functionality of this tool will continue to improve, since this is the environment Google uses to localize its own applications.
  • Naggers will be empowered. The traditional arguments about confidentiality issues, quality of translation, misuse, working for free for a commercial entity will remain unchanged in the language industry. Now, the argument that Google can't be trusted will become part of the portfolio of reasons not to use Google Translate. 
I feel bad particularly for non-profit and practical integrations of the API that will be lost. I think that Google could just set up a price for the API to solve the problem of "abuse," even though I have a feeling that this is just a lame excuse.

As for me, I will continue to use it to read texts in languages that I don't understand.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

SpeakLike and a New Category of LSP: The On-Demand Translation Vendor

I just saw a demo of SpeakLike and I was instantaneously brought back to a comment that I made in a recent post here on this blog: We never really talk about the future, we are only talking about a present in which we don't participate.

SpeakLike fits in an ever-growing category of companies that cater to web-based streaming content and small projects with fast turnaround times. Companies like MyGengo, Smartling,, LanguageWire, Tolingo, and OneHourTranslation have slightly similar (or slightly different, if you prefer) approaches to address their client needs, but they all center around Project Management Automation, one of the strong industry trends that I have been talking about. I call this category of companies the On-Demand Translation Vendors.

SpeakLike was founded by Sandy Cohen, a serial technology entrepreneur, with the original idea of integrating existing off-the-shelf technologies to provide online interpretation services based on machine translation, speech-to-text and text-to-speech. Some of the early prototypes I saw some years ago worked better than the speech-enabled version of Google Translate does today. But as it often happens to innovators, Sandy was early to the party and the demand for these services was not there yet. But there was demand for real-time on-demand human-based translation of chat communication at the enterprise level. And that is what SpeakLike has morphed into.

What is exciting about this approach to translation, which lies between the traditional time-consuming Translation-Editing-Proofing method and the often vilified pure Machine Translation, is that it provides a browser-based environment for experienced freelance translators to work on fast turnaround documents or customer support online chats. It's like telephone interpretation for text.

Some of the features that I like about SpeakLike:
  • Interface. The translator interface is like an improved version of Facebook Translate. Along with the source text (sometimes images or PDFs), the translator gets relevant terminology, previous similar translations (translation memory) and Style Guide information that is specific to the client at hand, with data about tone and format.
  • Speed. The system is designed to provide translations as fast as humanly possible. This means turnaround times of minutes to hours instead of days and weeks. It is a system that is ideal for streaming content like news, financial data, and online support chat.
  • Price model. Translations are cheaper than what you would get from a traditional LSP, but margins are still attractive for the business because once a client is setup, all tasks are automated and the overhead is minimal. 
  • iPhone App. If you are in a foreign land and cannot understand a sign, you can take a picture of it and submit it to SpeakLike, where a human translator will translate the sign and send it back to you. It's a manned version of Google Goggles or Word Lens.
The challenge for SpeakLike, as well as for the other companies that I listed above, is adoption. With limited funds, these companies need to invest in sales or other forms of mass dissemination of their solution in order flourish.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Duolingo: Crowdsourcing at its Best for the Translation Industry

For the last month I have been reading tweets and notes about Duolingo as the place where "you learn a language and simultaneously translate the Web," but I kept postponing getting more information about it. As a good procrastinator, I figured that if this was really important, it would eventually make its way to me. Well... it did!

Ultan Ó Broin mentioned my name in his Blogos entry "The Future of Web Translation: Haters Gonna Hate" and I felt compelled to watch the video by Luis von Ahn, the inventor of Recaptcha, at a recent TEDx event at Carnegie Mellon University.

Duolingo does for translation what Flickr did for photography and what Wikipedia did for encyclopedias. It brings the knowledge of amateurs to do some work that only professionals could do. The advantage of Duolingo is that − unlike Facebook or Hootsuite, who also use community translation − the user learns a language in the process.

Crowdsourcing − the approach used by Duolingo − is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a "crowd"), through an open call. The goal for Duolingo is to get 100 million people to translate the web into every major language for free.

The trade-off here, according to Luis, is that there are 1.2 billion people in the world learning a second language and they have to pay for it. With Duolingo, they will learn a language for free and translate the web in return. A really revolutionary and innovative concept.

According to Luis, using this approach, Wikipedia could be translated into Spanish in five weeks with 100,000 people or in 80 hours with one million individuals.

Who does this approach benefit? Everybody.

Who does it hurt?
  • Insecure translators who like to complain about things they can't control.
  • Rosetta Stone, Livemocha, Fluenz and other software-based language learning software.
  • Machine translation providers like AsiaOnline, PROMT and SDL, because Duolingo could be a faster/better solution.
Duolingo is a welcome addition to the arsenal of language solutions around the world. It is clearly a solution for making knowledge and information that would never be professionally translated available, especially in languages where the translator pool is insufficient for the amount of content that is available for translation. Watch out Google Translate!