Google, Bing and Babelfish: What’s the best translation engine?

Two months ago I wrote about an effort to evaluate the quality of the three major free machine translation (MT) engines:

  • Google Translate
  • Bing (Microsoft) Translator
  • Yahoo! Babelfish

Ethan Shen has wrapped up the project, soliciting input from more than 1,000 reviewers. He summed up his findings here.

Here are the findings that jumped out at me:

  • Google wins, hands down, translating longer text passages. No big surprise here.
  • Bing and Babelfish are competitive translating shorter texts (150 or fewer characters). Bing did quite well with Italian and German, while Babelfish did well with Chinese.
  • Google’s brand trumps all. About halfway through his test, Ethan removed the brand names from the search engines, so the reviewers did not know which engine was doing which translation. The change in results was significant. Reviewers were 21% more likely to say Google was better than Microsoft when they knew the brand names. And reviewers were 136% more likely to say Google was better than Babelfish.

This last finding is what poses the greatest hurdle for Microsoft and Yahoo!

When it comes to machine translation — perception is (almost) everything. If people think you’re the best translation engine, then you are the best.

Integration is the other key element of success, and Google Translate is doing well here also — I absolutely love the Chrome browser integration.

Ethan is not done with his research. This is only stage one. To help him with stage two, click here.

Bing cuts the clicks

Disclaimer: I work for Microsoft, so take this with a grain of salt.

Since Bing launched I’ve been thinking a lot about search engines and how I use them.

I’ve got two recent examples that illustrate why I think Bing might be onto something. Bing, for certain scenarios, cuts the clicks you must make to get the information you need — or at least the information I need.

Checking a sports score

I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. When I want to get a Cardinals score, I often go to ESPN, but that site loads so slowly and is so busy that I have been going to Bing lately and just entering “Cardinals” in the search window. Here’s what I get:

bing_cardinals

Bing gives me a nice summary of the Cardinals schedule. If there’s a game going on at the moment, I get a real-time sports score, which is nifty. Google, as shown here, only gives me a link to the Cardinals’ site. Another click, instead of a score.

google_cards

Checking on a flight

My wife flew to Oakland recently and I wanted to check on her flight. So I entered the flight number into Google and Bing. Here’s what I found:

bing_southwest

I got the arrival time so I knew when I could call her.

Google gives me a link to another site that will give me the details that Bing already gave me.

google_southwest

Google got to where it is today by prioritizing speed. Austere web design and massive data centers gave its search engine a massive advantage over everything else out there.

But speed isn’t just about how quickly a search page loads, it’s about how quickly you find what you’re looking for. If a search engine knows you’re looking for a sports score and not a sports team web site, it can save you a click and, as a result, save you time.

Time is clicks. You save people time by saving them clicks.

Granted, I’m probably not the most objective observer of the Bing vs. Google debate. So what do you think?

Are these two Bing innovations going to stick?

Bing Beats Google in Insta-translation

Bing recently added a nifty new translation feature — one that is so simple and in many ways so obvious that I can’t help wondering why Google never got around to doing it. But that’s a topic for a later post.

For now, I’d like you to try entering the following text strings into both Bing and Google (to save you time I created pre-loaded hyperlinks):

Below are screen shots of the first text string in both Bing and Google. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

bing-iloveyou

google_i_love_you

Google, despite its massively powerful translation engine, doesn’t simply answer your translation question. Instead, it provides links.

I realize that this is a relatively minor feature and that it currently only supports a small number of very common text strings, but it’s still a very handy feature for a translation geek such as myself.

Now, I’m not saying Bing is perfect. When it comes to technical searches — or when I just need to look up a Wikipedia article quickly — Google still does better, sometimes far better.

But I’m glad to see Bing integrating translation in an intuitive way. It’s a feature that I’ll be using again.

PS: Here is the blog announcement of this feature from Microsoft Translate team.