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Community Reacts to Deprecated Google APIs

by Michael Floyd on May 30, 2011 |

When Adam Feldman, the APIs product manager for Google, announced that several programmer interfaces have been deprecated from the API Directory, the development community reacted loudly and in force. While some APIs on the list will be deprecated with no shut down date announced, others like the Translate API will be shut down at the end of the year. Feldman wrote in his Blog last week:

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.

There was an immediate reaction from the developer community with hundreds of responses posted in the blogspot post as well as other forums including ZDnet and reddit. The reaction has been largely negative, but nowhere was the reaction more heated than in the case of the Translate API. The Translate API page that states:

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. For website translations, we encourage you to use the Google Translate Element.

In many cases newer APIs replace deprecated ones, but in Translate’s case Google has replaced an API with the Translate Element, a simple function call buried within a GET request, giving away functionality in the process. The reaction was swift.

Franz Enzenhofer wrote:

As you can (argue) that some of these API(s) do not get used as much as they used to and there are better alternatives, this is obviously not true for the translate API, where you even state the shutdown is due to "extensive abuse".

Ed Burnette, the author of the book “Hello Android: Introducing Google’s Mobile Platform” writes:

Please find some way to keep the Google Translate API available, even if you have to make it rate limited like the Twitter API. I use it in one of my examples in a book that teaches Android programming (Hello, Android) and also in two apps on the Market. It will break a lot of apps if you shut it off completely.

C. Scott Ananian expressed a problem faced by many legitmate users:

At One Laptop per Child, we were hoping to hook into the Translate APIs to allow cross-language communication between school kids in different countries. I'd like the second the recommendation about to leave the APIs open for educational/non-profit use at least -- there's about 2 million kids in Uruguay (alone) who could benefit. Why not create an application key system like in some other google products so that you can shut down the abusers while still providing services for the "good guys"?

elmar wrote:

I find it hard to believe that the only workable solution was to close it.Worse, this kind of decision makes it hard to trust the availability of any Google API in the future. I will think twice before investing time and effort into integrating an API which might or might not be offered in the future.

As speculation on Goggle’s abuse comments started to escalate, one developer sugested that black hat SEO tactics were being used to tap the translate API to get better search engine rankings. Feldman finally responded in the Blog, saying:

Deprecating the Translate API was the hardest choice for us to make -- we’re excited about the global web, and about helping developers and webmasters anywhere reach audiences everywhere. We continue to invest in our Translate offerings, including the Google Translate web element. But the Translate API was subject to extensive abuse -- the vast majority of usage was in clear violation of our terms. The painful part of turning off this API is that we recognize it affects some legitimate usage as well, and we’re sorry about that; we hope that our other offerings will cover many of those legitimate use cases.

Feldman’s comments have not stopped the dozens, if not hundreds, of developers who have pleaded to reinstate the Translate API, or to at least allow the service to remain up.

Deprecated APIs with no shutdown date include the Wave API, Code Search, Feedburner, Diacritize, Finance, Power Meter, andSidewiki. But it is the APIs with scheduled shutdown dates the developer community seems to be reacting to including the Books Data APIs, Blog Search and the Image API. Others include News Search, Patent Search, version 1 of the Safe Browsing API, TranslateI, Transliterate, Video Search API and the Virtual Keyboard API.

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This is wrong by Roopesh Shenoy

This is absolutely wrong from Google - millions of people all around the world have helped shape the Google Translate service by contributing their time and effort in order to make it better. In return, I am sure quite a few of them were expecting it to be open to all for usage.

Now it is understandable if Google starts charging a moderate fee for the infrastructure it provides, but shutting off the API completely is ridiculous. Come on Google, if possible keep a free tier (like you do for almost all services), and work out a pricing scheme beyond that. But don't do this.

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