Google pulls the rug out from under web service API developers, nixes Google Translate and 17 others

Google pulls the rug out from under web service API developers, nixes Google Translate and 17 others

Summary: Saying they can no longer afford to maintain the service, Google will shut down its hugely popular Google Translate API. This API made a whole generation of creative mashups and mobile applications possible.

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One of the most popular public web services on the Internet, the Google Translate API, was deprecated without warning Thursday and will go dark later this year. Visitors to the API's web site were greeted with the following notice:

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.

When asked what exactly constituted "extensive abuse" a Google spokesperson said that the company has "no more detail to share" on the matter.

In the Google Code blog, Adam Feldman (Product manager for Google APIs) mentioned Google Translate in a list of 18 web services used by Ajax and mobile app developers that would be going away. He wrote:

As the web evolves and priorities change, we sometimes deprecate APIs – that is, remove them from active development – to free up resources and concentrate on moving forward. Today we're announcing a spring cleaning for some of our APIs.

Except for Google Translate, all the deprecated services will continue to work for their "standard deprecation period", which is normally 3 years. A few were replaced with better APIs, but most will simply be dropped.

Updated: Feldman has posted an update to the Google Code blog saying the Translate API will continue as some sort of paid service. He writes:

UPDATE June 3: In the days since we announced the deprecation of the Translate API, we’ve seen the passion and interest expressed by so many of you, through comments here (believe me, we read every one of them) and elsewhere. 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.

After the break, you can find a complete list of the APIs affected by Google's "spring cleaning".

Continue reading: Deprecated and discontinued APIs >

What do you think of Google's move? Participate in the discussion

First, the following 7 services are deprecated immediately (which means new applications should not be written to use them) but Google has not said when or if they will remove the functionality for existing users:

In addition, 11 more services are scheduled for shutdown. Google says they will keep them running for up to 3 years, except of course for Google Translate:

The shutdown of the Google Translate API will kill what has become a cottage industry of iPhone, Android, and other mobile phone and web apps that embed translation services, such as SMS programs that send messages in the recipient's language. I have published two of them myself on the Android Market. Mine grew out of a sample I wrote for "Hello, Android" that teaches Android developers how to call web services on a background thread. The source code for that sample is available here in the Translate project.

Google says it will continue to support the Translate Web Element, which is a JavaScript snippet you can add to a web site to enable a translation button for the whole page or section of a page. Because of their nature, however, web elements cannot be used in applications or mashups, so they are no substitute for a real web service API.

A quick search of the Android Market shows over 600 apps that could be rendered non-functional in a few months because of this change. The number of apps in Apple's iPhone app store that used the service is probably similar, not to mention numerous web sites, mashups, toolbars, and web browsers that depend on it. Naturally, Google's own branded sites and programs will not be affected - just third party software.

Google Translate is one of an all-too-rare breed of computer technologies that can enrich the lives of ordinary people all over the world regardless of their wealth or status. The real-world applications are enormous, ranging from the personal (helping people make friends in different countries) to the politic (reading an unfiltered version of what government are saying to their own people in state-sponsored media).

By making this service available for free, and encouraging developers to incorporate its API into their applications, Google did more than anyone since Gorbachev to tear down the walls that separate us. They also built for themselves a tremendous amount of goodwill, both for their technical achievements and service for the betterment of mankind. Competitors such as Microsoft will try to fill the gap, but somehow I don't think it will be quite the same.

Updated: Feldman has posted an update to the Google Code blog saying the Translate API will continue as some sort of paid service. Google still refuses to answer questions about the change.

What do you think of Google's move? Participate in the discussion

Topics: Enterprise Software, Browser, Cloud, Google, Networking, Software

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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45 comments
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  • wow

    this is insane... come on google, to tell devs to f. off
    tatiGmail
    • Google's new motto: "Be more evil every day"

      @tatiGmail
      DDERSSS
  • my opinion

    Boooooooooooooooooooooooooo! what the ... ?
    apophys@...
  • "Economic burden" translated

    Think about it. What this means is that Google Translation did not provide Google with enough raw data (location, spending habits, etc.) to help them target ads (their only revenue source). That's why things like Chrome and Wallet are perfect for them--they funnel all kinds of juicy data right into their cloud. Any API that doesn't do this is dead meat. Yeah, they're "open" alright. Open to collecting all the data they can about you to feed into their ad-making machine!
    Userama
    • Re: Data collection

      @Userama Maybe that's why they left the Translation WebElement and the translate.google.com web site alone. Google can collect more information from those.
      Ed Burnette
    • RE: Exclusive: Google pulls the rug out from under web service API develope

      @Userama

      Talking bullshit API is dismissed too !
      Watchman247
  • "Open" WEB APIs - Madoff kinda scam

    Hopefully no one wasted time building anything on top of that hype.
    LBiege
  • A Recurring Theme With Google

    How many organizations build -- to them -- mission critical systems utilizing Google APIs or applications only to have the rug pulled out from under them? Time and time again, Google abandons tech when it is unable to monetize the tech. When will they drop Google Docs?
    Your Non Advocate
    • If you build "mission critical" software...

      @facebook@...
      using free public APIs, you're an idiot. Here's your sign.
      jasonp@...
  • Clarification, please

    Ed,

    I just spent a good portion of last week manually redoing about 300 web pages adding a little javascript from Google so they will display the little page-translate drop-down utility. Am I correct that the announcement doesn't apply to that?
    Rick_R
    • Clarification, please

      @Rick_R Are you referring to the Translate WebElement at http://translate.google.com/translate_tools?hl=en or http://www.google.com/webelements/#!/translate ? If so, then the announcement does not apply to that. At least not yet.
      Ed Burnette
  • Pulling the Plug

    And that is why I dislike this move towards using all of these web api's. I know some people that use things like this in key parts of software, and if the host can arbitrarily pull the plug on things your application is now useless.

    Much better when you have a copy of the API's yourself, so even if the company chooses to no longer support the API, you can continue to use it if its needed.
    vel0city
    • Power of web services

      @vel0city On the other hand, look at all the power web services provide. Years of development, thousands of servers, and to take advantage of that with a few lines of code, it was quite attractive.
      Ed Burnette
      • It's very attractive

        @Ed Burnette

        In fact attractive enough that many people would pay to use it. That's why this makes so little sense. Charge a licensing fee to help offset your costs. This idea that everything must be "free" in exchange for your information is crazy. Just charge for your services Google.

        Although if they actually charged for it they couldn't just pull the plug like this. They'd have to support people who use it, etc. So the costs would go up to support that infrastructure. Wait, why does MS charge for their software again? Oh yes... XP is 10 years old and still supported.
        LiquidLearner
  • "Not economically viable"

    Sounds like the scene from Falling Down:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UX4b_rhT0nU

    If anybody wants proof that Google is greedy, look....
    Joe_Raby
  • Another Google failure

    Apple and their developers are the clear winners here. They're making superior product that people enjoy using while Google's crappy products just keeps getting crappier.

    The only one who seems to be making money from Android is Microsoft. Hopfully developers will wise up and ditch Google.
    iPad-awan
    • Apple?

      @iPad-awan I wasn't aware Apple provided web service APIs like this. Please send me the link.

      BTW there are plenty of iPhone apps that use the Google Translation API too. Maybe more than on Android, I don't know.
      Ed Burnette
    • RE: Exclusive: Google pulls the rug out from under web service API developers, nixes Google Translate and 17 others

      @iPad-awan You're full of crap, Apple is way behind google in language services and translation as well as input and as Ed said, many of the apple apps used the Google Services as the back end...

      If anything, this is to gut part of the feature set that apps are bringing to Apple and further give Android more advantages (to which there are clearly many!)
      slickjim
  • In case anyone missed it, we're in the Larry Page era of google now.

    The stock has tanked since he took over. With Bing steadily and significantly eating away at their search share, do not track being added to browsers, android being pwnd daily, and facebook eating their lunch and brain draining away the top talent, google now has to look to the flip side of the ledger and look seriously at cost cutting.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Significant?

      @Johnny Vegas
      Bing is taking about as much market share from Google as the Mac is from Windows. Android is dominating the smart phone market. I'm not entirely sure how Facebook would be eating Google's lunch since they really don't directly compete against one another. Of course they have to look at the cost side of the ledger...companies that don't fail, it's as simple as that. It took Microsoft an awfully long time to figure that one out, and they still are active in verticals they need to get out of. APIs come and go, so really...the sky isn't falling for Google because this one is going bye-bye. To make that leap would be akin to making the leap that Microsoft was in big trouble for deciding to deprecate MSDASQL for their 64 bit operating systems...a decision they reversed with Windows Server 2008 and Vista SP 1 because of consumer backlash. In technology today, the paying consumer is king. My guess is that Google may find enough demand to convert this particular API into a paid service and it'll live on.
      jasonp@...