The end of Google Translate as we know it? Not quite, but Google’s death knell for their Translate API has left the language development community buzzing like a bee’s nest fresh out of pollen.
Keep in mind that that API is just a door to let developers easily integrate translation features into their own programs. The Google Translate we non-developers know is going to be free and easy.
But the free translation ride for developers has been “deprecated,” which is Google-speak for removed from active development. But for this particular API, it reads more like deprecation with extreme prejudice. “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.” That sounds so familiar from my own bitter experience in the free machine translation space. Writing code to efficiently milk Google Translate is often the first recourse for any ambitious developer looking for something for nothing. This won’t be the first time that Google has proved there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
“Deprecating the Translate API was the hardest choice for us to make—we’re excited about the global web, and about helping developers and webmasters anywhere reach audiences everywhere,” says Adam Feldman, a Google online media associate. “We continue to invest in our Translate offerings, including the Google Translate web element. But the Translate API was subject to extensive abuse—the vast majority of usage was in clear violation of our terms.”
Since the announcement, Google’s become aware of the “passion and interest” of those cut off from the milk of Google kindness. Feldman, who is also API product manager, says “I’m happy to share that we’re working hard to address your concerns, and will be releasing an updated plan to offer a paid version of the Translate API. Please stay tuned; we’ll post a full update as soon as possible.” Now, Google could have created an application key system like some of their other products, but chose not to.
And it gets more interesting. CEO of MT provider Asia Online, Dion Wiggins, wrote on Kirti Vashee’s blog that “Google frequently offers alternatives to deprecated APIs. An alternative to the Google Translate API would have been the Google Translator Toolkit API. However, without making any announcement, Google also has quietly modified access to the Translator Toolkit API, removing all documentation and restricting access…. Google wants to control how and when content is translated into another language and by whom.”
It could be that by allowing the rest of us to translate any old garbage to generate multi-lingual link juice, Google is pissing in its own beer. The basic problem with Google search is that it sucks. I mean, it’s great, but it still sucks, because there is so much sucky information on the web. Every time Google allows a bad translation of bad content, bad content is multiplied, thus making it harder for Google to do a good search. That’s what the Panda search algorithm update was about—a radical attempt to cut the crap spreading like a computer viral red tide across the vast internet ocean. Ditto for the translation engines themselves. All those lousy Google translations are going to start actually making Google MT engines worse, rather than better, says Dion. Well, yes and no, but I watch Googlers doing their algorithmic magic sort of like a cat watching people have sex. I mean, do I really understand what’s going on? Virtual kitty treats for any of the commentariat with wisdom to contribute.