Confusion of Tongues 2.0 - Google Shuts Down Translate API

Something rather weird happened last Thursday. In one the the regular “Spring Cleaning” briefings on its developer blog, Google announced that they would limit the number of requests you may make per day starting May 26th and then completely shut down the Google Translate API by December without any replacement.


In fact, the announcement was just part of a list of other APIs that would get changed or modified but none of them will have the same fate as Google Translate. If you go on the Google Translate API page, you will read that this is

Due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse, [...]

This is quite a shift that naturally causes quite some confusion amongst users and fans of the API like Jeff Jarvis for instance who points out in a tweet that

At Davos, Eric Schmidt said Google Translate would bring world peace. Oh, well, so much for that.

and Samuel Klein who wrote on his blog that

This is a sudden shift, both from their strong earlier support for this API (I was personally encouraged to use it for applications by colleagues at Google), and from their standing policy of supporting deprecated services for up to 3 years.

Needless to say that there is a lot of speculation around why Google is pulling the plug on one of their most promising and probably most popular APIs. As Samuel Klein points out in his post, if the real reason was the “economic burden” many users would be more than happy to pay for the use of the API.

As matters stand, libraries using the API to offer better services but also Wikipedia need to look for alternatives quickly if this is really the last word by Google.

Trying to find a positive aspect here, this could be the starting point of a broad push of Google Translate into the different Google products from Chrome to Android to Chrome OS. Only time will tell.

There is still Google Translate that you can embed on your website or blog using Google Web Elements. For programmers this is understandably far from being an ideal solution, especially if they have included the Google Translate API into their own products and services.

Until the lights go out, I would like to point you to one of my favorite use cases for the Google Translate API: babelwith.me which is a text chat that enables you to chat with people from around the globe without knowing their language. And that is (was) really the strength of the API, connecting people.

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