Citing a “substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse,” Google announcedthat the Google Translate API “has been officially deprecated as of May 26, 2011” and that it would be shut off completely by December 1st, 2011.  The code page suggests that users instead take advantage of the Google Translate Element to add translation functions to their web pages. Translate API joined several other application programming interfaces (APIs) as the company cleaned out its attic.

First off, what does Google mean by “deprecated”? Google will terminate usage and development. According to “the official Google code blog,” the standard deprecation period could be as long as three years unless otherwise indicated. During that period, the product is frozen and gets no new features. In the case of the Translation API, the number of requests has been limited immediately and the full shutdown will take place in just six months.

This decision adds an urgent requirement for users to find a replacement machine translation (MT) engine, which might cause some language pairs to disappear in the absence of support by Bing or other MT engines. The net effect will be the absence of translation where there might have been some before. While this undermines the capabilities of other companies, it doesn’t hurt Google. The company will offer MT options for search and other functions in a wide range of languages, as Tamar Yehoshua, Google Translate’s director of product management, told us in an earlier interview this year (see “What to Do about Google,” Mar11). Some users will castigate Google for retiring this API, but most probably missed the ever-present “beta” designation or terms and conditions that accompany many of the company’s products.

What exactly is Google shutting down? The popular Google Translate function for short ad hoc translations will remain, as will the Translate Element for website translation. But the API that opened up the MT engine to general application integration will stop working. When we wrote about it upon its release to the general public in March 2008, we commented on its ease of use and integration.

Given the rather harsh but terse reason for terminating it – “substantial economic burden” and “extensive abuse” – we can only assume that: 1) Far more people used the API than Google had anticipated; 2) some of those users might have been social media competitors, so rivals might have benefited more from the MT capability than Google could gain with the additional training data; and 3) like Facebook and its realization that its crowdsourcing innovations were of immense competitive advantage, Google came to understand the strategic benefits of limiting the technology’s reach.

Thus, we suspect Google’s plan for the next few months is to quietly wind down the free service while the company puts the finishing touches on its Translate API 2.0, the new no-longer-free sequel. This function is too powerful and too popular to disappear. The challenge for the for-fee version will be to find the right balance of price, ease of integration, and translation quality in a market that Google itself trained to expect for free.

See: Global Watchtower