Google Translate: Ten Years Later

translate

I remember when Google Translate went live. Hard to believe it was 10 years ago.

I remember thinking that this relatively new technology, known as Statistical Machine Translation (SMT), was going to change everything.

At the time, many within the translation community were dismissive of Google Translate. Some viewed it as a passing phase. Very few people said that machine translation would ever amount to much more than a novelty.

But I wasn’t convinced that this was a novelty. As I wrote in 2007 I believed that the technologists were taking over the translation industry:

SMT is not by itself going to disrupt the translation industry. But SMT, along with early adopter clients (by way of the Translation Automation Users Society), and the efforts of Google, are likely to change this industry in ways we can’t fully grasp right now.

Here’s a screen grab of Google Translate from 2006, back when Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Arabic were still in BETA:

google_translate_May2006

Growth in languages came in spurts, but roughly at a pace of 10 languages per year.

google_translate_growth

And here is a screen grab today:

google_translate_May2016

 

Google Translate has some impressive accomplishments to celebrate:

  • 103 languages supported
  • 100 billion words translated per day
  • 500 million users around the world
  • Most common translations are between English and Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese and Indonesian
  • Brazilians are the heaviest users of Google Translate
  • 3.5 million people have made 90 million contributions through the Google Translate Community

 

The success of Google Translate illustrates that we will readily accept poor to average translations versus no translations at all. 

To be clear, I’m not advocating that companies use machine translation exclusively. Machine translation can go from utilitarian to ugly when it comes to asking someone to purchase something. If anything, machine translation has shown to millions of people just how valuable professional translators truly are. 

But professional translators simply cannot translate 100 billion words per day.

Many large companies now use machine translation, some translating several billion words per month.

Companies like Intel, Microsoft, Autodesk, and Adobe now offer consumer-facing machine translation engines. Many other companies are certain to follow.

Google’s investment in languages and machine translation has been a key ingredient to its consistent position as the best global website according to the annual Report Card.

Google Translate has taken translation “to the people.” It has opened doors and eyes and raised language expectations around the world.

I’m looking forward to the next 10 years.

Adobe: The best global consumer technology website of 2016

For the 2016 Web Globalization Report Card, we studied the following 15 consumer technology websites:

  • Adobe
  • Apple
  • Canon
  • Dell
  • HP
  • HTC
  • Lenovo
  • LG
  • Microsoft
  • Nikon
  • Panasonic
  • Samsung
  • Sony
  • Toshiba
  • Xiaomi

The consumer technology sector includes many of the most globally successful companies. So it’s no surprise that the top four companies are also in the top 25 list: Adobe, Microsoft, Samsung and Nikon.

Adobe emerged on top even though it is not the language leader; Microsoft leads with 43 languages.

But Adobe leads in global navigation and consistency. Shown below is the Japanese home page, which shares the same global template with most other country websites:

adobe_jp

 

In the footer is the global gateway link, as indicated by the map icon. I recommend upgrading this icon into the header to improve findability. I also recommend using a generic globe icon.

adobe_gateway_footer

Clicking on the map icon brings up an effective global gateway menu overlay. Notice how the country/region names are in the local languages. I call this a “universal” global gateway because it can be used across all localized websites (instead of supporting a separate menu for each local website):

adobe_gateway

Adobe also makes good use of geolocation to help determine which localized website users prefer. For example, if a user in Ecuador inputs Adobe.com, he or she is taken to the .com English-language website but presented with this overlay that lets the user know there is also a Spanish-language site available.

adobe_geolocation

This way, users remain in control but also made aware of localized websites. To learn more about geolocation strategies, check out Geolocation for Global Success.

Adobe also one of a growing number of companies that make use of user-facing machine translation to allows users to self-translate content. Here is a screen shot from the user forums. While the execution could be more user friendly, the feature itself is something more companies should be supporting (and many are currently testing):

adobe_forum_translation

On a separate note, I wanted to highlight the mobile home page for Nikon.

Notice the globe icon in the header. Nikon is one of the few consumer tech websites to include a global gateway link in the header of its mobile website.

nikon_mobile

To learn more, check out the 2016 Web Globalization Report Card.

The top 25 global websites of 2016

Web Globalization Report Card 2016

 

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the 2016 Web Globalization Report Card and, with it, the top 25 websites:

  1. Google
  2. Facebook
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Hotels.com
  5. NIVEA
  6. Booking.com
  7. Nestlé
  8. Pampers
  9. Adobe
  10. Intel
  11. Twitter
  12. Microsoft
  13. American Express
  14. BMW
  15. 3M
  16. Hitachi
  17. Starbucks
  18. Nike
  19. Samsung
  20. Cisco Systems
  21. Nikon
  22. TNT
  23. Philips
  24. Autodesk
  25. ABB

It’s hard to believe that this is the twelfth edition of the Report Card. Over the past decade I’ve seen the average number of languages supported by global brands increase from just 10 languages to 30 languages today.

And, of course, the top 25 websites go well beyond 30 language. Google supports  90 languages via Google Translate and 75 languages on YouTube. And Facebook stands at 88 languages.

But it’s not just languages that make a website succeed globally. Companies need to support fast-loading mobile websites, locally relevant content, and user-friendly navigation.

Notable highlights among the top 25:

  • Wikipedia is far and away the language leader, with content in more than 270 languages. The company also now supports a mobile-friendly layout that is considerably lighter (in kilobytes) than most Fortune 100 mobile websites.
  • NIVEA provides an excellent example of a company that localizes its models for local websites — one of the few companies to do so.
  • Nike made this top 25 list for the first time, having added languages and improved global consistency and navigation.
  • As a group, the top 25 websites support an average of 52 languages.

For 2016, we studied 150 websites across 15 industry categories — and more than 80% of the Interbrand Best Global Brands. Websites were graded according to languages supported, global navigation, global and mobile website architecture, and localization.

Congratulations to the top 25 websites!

In search of a better translation icon

A few years ago I wrote about the translation icon and its many variations at that point in time.

I thought now would be a good time to revisit this icon.

Let’s start with the Google Translate. This icon has not changed in substance over the years but it has been streamlined a great deal.

Here is the icon used for its app:

google-translate-icon

Microsoft uses a similar icon across its website, apps, and APIs:

microsoft_translate

I’m not a fan of this icon, despite how prevalent it has become.

Before I go into why exactly, here is another app icon I came across:

another-translate-icon

These first three icons display specific language pairs, which could be interpreted as showing preference for a given language pair. This is the issue that I find problematic.

Why can’t a translate icon be language agnostic?

Here is how SDL approaches the translation icon:

sdl_translation

Although the icon is busy, I’m partial to what SDL is doing here — as this icon does not display a given script pair.

Here is another icon, from the iTranslate app:

iTranslate_app

The counter-argument to a globe icon is this: It is used EVERYWHERE. And this is true. Facebook, for example, uses the globe icon for notifications, which I’ve never understood. Nevertheless, the globe icon can successfully deliver different messages depending on context. In the context of a mobile app icon, I think a globe icon works perfectly well.

 

So the larger question here is whether or not a language pair is required to communicate “translation.” 

Google and Microsoft certainly believe that a language pair is required, which is where we stand right now. I’d love to see this change. I think we can do better.