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.


  1. Could "abuse" mean that companies who have their own MT engines (like SDL), or can develop one, with the relevant API's, or both are exploiting a resource that was primarily intended exactly for non-profit integrations? Should this be the case, it could be another slapshot in the face of those who cry against MT and its applications while silently using them and just another demonstration of the inability for the industry to be self-sufficient, at least (but maybe not only) in the technological arena. Boasting (arguable) ethics will rather be discussed after this piece of news... What about Google asking for licensing its API's for money?

  2. For website translation you can use Google Translate Element!/translate

  3. I posted an earlier version of my comment below on LinkedIn (edited slightly for here):

    I mostly agree with Renato's above analysis regarding the impact on the translation industry. It of course impacts the tool developers that were using the API to integrate Google's translations into their products, but I think the impact on the broader translation industry will be limited, at least in the short term. Here are some reasons why:

    (1) It’s not clear at this point that Google will in fact shut down access for the most important industry applications that access and connect to Google Translate, such as TRADOS and other TM and TMS systems. The companies that develop these applications may however need to reach a direct business deal with Google (if they don’t already have one in place). I just saw some information indicating that Google may in fact be preparing a new version of the API as a paid service.

    (2) The Microsoft/Bing Translator API is open and available, so some applications and interfaces that find themselves blocked from using Google will likely shift to using Microsoft. Yes, fewer languages, but all the commercially important languages are in fact covered. Microsoft also has been supporting commercial licensing, which puts companies on much firmer legal grounds.

    (3) Google Translator Toolkit is still in business, and is apparently not changing. Google has a clear interest in channeling translators to the toolkit – that’s a great source of new training data for them – and this move creates further pressure in that direction. Not a good development for most LSPs, but not necessarily a game changer.

    Longer term, it’s more difficult to predict the impact, but I think this is unlikely to dramatically alter the main forces of change that are driving the commercial translation industry. I see no reason to believe that this will dampen the demand or increasingly broad adoption on MT within the industry. It may actually have the opposite effect. This may discourage some new application developers, but they will surely adapt.

    - Alon

  4. Anonymous11:17 AM

    I use this tool to create bilingual glossaries for specialized terminology in interpreting work. You have to be discerning and do your homework to verify content but all in all I find it very useful. I will have to look at the Google Translate Element to see if it meets that need. I am not familiar with it.
    Any other suggestions for my specific use of the tool?

  5. Anonymous7:11 AM

    Thanks. Cloud computing ....

    When the clouds get dark it's better have our things at hand, on the ground, as our feet ...:
    ==== Why we will have web servers at home ====

  6. there are other alternatives like WhiteSmoke Translation service which is very popular and spreads like a virus

  7. Uhm.. I didn't quite appreciate the situation until I read this blog. Thanks for sharing this. I guess we translators can't complain much after all. It served us well for quite some time. They are entitled to take it down if the market isn't favorable to them. No need for a big fuss.

  8. Google Translate API V2 pricing has been announced:

    V1 of the API will still be shut off 1 Dec 2011.

  9. Anonymous8:32 AM

    There is a free alternative to Google Translate API for language detection:

  10. Anonymous7:03 AM