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.

The top 25 global websites of 2016

Web Globalization Report Card 2016

 

UPDATE: The 2017 Web Globalization Report Card is now available.

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!

Google to the Internet: Go mobile or watch your sales rank fall

Four years ago, for the Web Globalization Report Card, I began noting (and rewarding) those websites that supported mobile devices. Even then one could easily see the virtual grounds shifting in favor of mobile devices. But at the time, only about 20% of the websites studied supported mobile devices.

In this year’s Report Card, the majority of websites are now mobile friendly. Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed a flurry of newly responsive web designs from a diverse range of companies including Philips, Merck, VMware and Pepsi.

Even Apple now supports a responsive website. Shown below are before and after screen grabs:

apple_responsive

If your company hasn’t yet made the leap to mobile, now is the time to accelerate your plans — unless you don’t care much for your search ranking.

Google has made it abundantly clear that websites that do not support mobile devices are going to suffer.

Beginning April 21st.

According to Google:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

All languages. All regions. This makes great sense given that markets like China and Indonesia are overwhelmingly experiencing the Internet via mobile devices.

Google wants to remain relevant to mobile users which means your website needs to remain relevant to Google.

Which means, ultimately, remaining relevant to your web users. Particularly if you plan to succeed globally.