On May 26th, Google announced it was end of life-ing or deprecating several of its previously free to use APIs. The APIs that are being dropped are:
Almost all of these APIs are most commonly used by spam sites. The spam sites use the APIs to create near infinite numbers of pages using content scraped from the APIs. Google’s recent efforts to decrease the number of spam sites is a multifaceted approach. No longer limited to de-listing and de-ranking spam sites, Google is going after the tools the sites use to create their content.
Most legitimate users won’t miss these APIs with one or two exceptions: the Translate API, and the Image Search API. While the Google Translate API is easily one of the most used APIs amongst bloggers, powering hundreds of thousands of auto-translated WordPress sites that use any number of multilingual plugins for WordPress, it is also the most abused. Spammers translate content from Spanish, French, Italian, and other languages to English to create content automatically for their spam blogs. Simply pick a site that has content you are looking for, and translate its RSS feed before posting; in 100 lines of code you can have new content every day on any topic, with a translation that is strong enough to fool the bots.
Several of my blogs earn an extra $1,000 a year because of Spanish language traffic that comes from automatic translation of my celebrity gossip blog from English to Spanish. I have never viewed this as spam, though the users who read a poor translation of my already poorly written take on the latest news about Tom-Kat Cruise may. Companies have even built seemingly legitimate businesses (more on the seemingly part in the next post) on top of the API. Ortsbo.com, which does chat translation, had reached a valuation of nearly a billion dollars using Google Translate to convert chat conversations from various languages. Having built such a strong dependence on a piece of tech that you don’t own is especially dangerous if you aren’t incenting the company providing the tech to keep it running.
The original goal of these APIs was to help site owners create content that would be monetized through AdSense. In a lot of ways Google wanted to be your partner in the spam-site business, but as the endless amounts of online advertisers dried up, and competition entered the search space, Google changed its policies towards auto-generated content. Where it had once encouraged mash-ups, and computer generated content, now Google will de-list you, remove you from AdSense, and put you out of business by taking the free APIs and not even giving you a pay alternative.
Personally I’m amazed that Google hasn’t turned on an API usage fee. Amazon has a great number of pay-for-use APIs. I use the Alexa API this way for a lot of my research on Web sites as part of SEO consulting, and Google has some pay APIs such as the AdWords API that lets you do keyword research for about a penny a lookup. One would have expected that Google would just leave the APIs with a small free quota, and offer more for paid users of the API. This is the new freemium model that the Internet seems to be moving toward. With Microsoft moving to providing “data as a service,” one would have thought this model would have been a great way to go tit-for-tat with the things Azure is promising other than just hosting/computing services.
If you have any WordPress plugins currently relying on a Google API, like translation services, or a Google Image lookup, or, most significant to Bloggers, the Feedburner API, it’s time to start looking for a backup plan.