Yesterday, in a short blog post called "spring cleaning," Google announced it is deprecating (slowly killing) its Google Translate API.
APIs product manager Adam Feldman seems to have deliberately buried the lead, listing the Translate API among a collection of others. But linking to the API's page shows the software will be shut on December 1.
The Google Translate API page offers this cryptic explanation. "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."
How do you "abuse" a translation tool, and how does that cause any "economic burden," let alone a "substantial" one?
It should be noted that Google is not shutting down the Google Translate page, at translate.google.com. In fact, the notice specifically points people to the translate page for translation services. That page also lets you cut-and-paste substantial amounts of text and get a translation into many languages.
What this means, however, is that Web sites will no longer be able to directly translate their pages into other languages using an Application Program Interface linked through Google. This is going to be an enormous burden on users all around the world, a return to the Tower of Babel the Web has been in the process of becoming, with Web addresses in languages for which many users have no translation -- essentially a series of loosely-linked national Webs rather than one global resource.
I think, at minimum, users and developers deserve a fuller explanation. Until then conspiracy theories will abound:
- Was this done at the demand of a specific government, and if so which one?
- Is Google slowly dropping translation services?
- Will alternatives emerge, say, through a fork?
- Is Google's huge advantage in the costs of doing Internet business falling, resulting in the demise of its "experiment first" culture?
We deserve to know, as the "summer of code" begins, whether Google is inviting developers to its own version of "Hotel California." You can check out any time you like but you can never leave...