Many if not most Second Live Viewers have automatic language translation features. Those translators depend on Google’s translation services. The viewers use a Google API (Application Programming Interface – basically a protocol for asking a question and getting an answer). Google has announced that as of December 2011 the service will be turned off. (Reference) Google’s translation page will remain. But, the door to the service which SL viewers use will close.
Effective immediately, the service is being ‘throttled’. A limit is set on the number of requests an application can make per day.
Google sited their reason for closing the API part of their translation service as abuse. It seems it was too popular. As it was a free service the ‘abusive’ load on Google servers was a financial drain.
Using Google translate in an SL viewer provides no means for Google to present Google Ads or otherwise generate a means of income.
The volume of translation requests coming from SL could be enormous. With machine translation turned on the viewer is sending every line of chat text through the system. Plus each viewer is sending its requests. The result is the same chat is translated once for each person within chat range with each one generating a translation request.
The SL translator built into viewers and Translation HUD’s is not smart. It needlessly translates everything for everyone not just things needing translation. I can see how deciding what to translate could be a complex problem.
The reason for the change is not solely attributable to Second Life. I’ve read there are 600 or so RL apps now using the service too. So, abuse is likely wide spread.
What Happens Now?
The translation service will continue to work until December 2011. So, there are 6 months in which to figure out what can be done.
One consideration is figuring out how often the service is used and the volume of chat being translated. The assumption is the SL translation load is huge. But, we have no hard information as to how many have it turned on or actually use it. There is no public information on Second Life’s use of the translation service. It is possible to collect it. The Translation API uses an Application Key unique to each user/application that allows one to collect statistics on the application. Linden Lab’s use of the API used the request process that omits sending the key. That means no stats. So, that could be changed and stats could be collected over the remaining months. With that information we would know how important, or not, the service is to SL residents.
While it is possible to switch to another service, Google finding it unsustainable suggests other services will too. The result would be a cascade of translation services closing their API as Viewers and HUD’s, as well as all the other RL apps, switch to other services. Obviously changing service providers is unlikely to solve the problem. However, changing service providers was Merov Linden’s suggestion. So, it may happen.
Currently it looks like we will lose translation services in Second Life. It may be possible to improve the ‘smarts’ in the translation service to reduce the translation load and may be get some more time from other providers. But, for the foreseeable future it looks like free translation is going to end. The only question is when.
Licensed Translation Service
It may be possible to obtain a license for translations services from Google or another provider. That would likely incur some cost. I think it likely that Linden Lab would need to pass the cost along to users. So, I expect to see the translator removed from SL Viewers. At best it would be offered as a ‘pay for’ service like the Voice thing.
The Lab is already having serious problems with SL Chat. I think it unlikely they will even think much about translation until after existing problems are resolved. I’m hopping we’ll soon hear something on how the recent Chat Load Test went in ADITI. (Update: We did. Review coming soon.)
It just looks likes free translation services for SL Chat and many RL apps will come to an end.
Quoting Adam Feldman, APIs Product Manager:
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.
The subject has not yet come up again in the mailing lists. I doubt it will until Google comes out with some kind of pricing model. Until then I doubt we’ll hear much from the Lindens.