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Larry Page to boost Google even more as becoming CEO again

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Choose any of the thousands (if not tens of thousands) mirrored reports by AP that Google founder hopes to prove he’s ready to be CEO [April 1, 2011] to learn the hopes and worries of the fans and anxious investors about the return of Larry Page [38] as CEO of Google after 10 years of Eric Schmidt’s [55] leadership.

Warning update: Google as an evil enterprise: the perception changes as vital APIs are shut down  [June 1, 2011]

An update from the Chairman [Eric Schmidt, Jan 20, 2011] (emphasis is mine)

Google -- Eric Schmidt with Sergey Brin and Larry Page in 2001

When I joined Google in 2001 I never imagined—even in my wildest dreams—that we would get as far, as fast as we have today. Search has quite literally changed people’s lives—increasing the collective sum of the world’s knowledge and revolutionizing advertising in the process. And our emerging businesses—display, Android, YouTube and Chrome—are on fire. Of course, like any successful organization we’ve had our fair share of good luck, but the entire team—now over 24,000 Googlers globally—deserves most of the credit.

And as our results today show, the outlook is bright. But as Google has grown, managing the business has become more complicated. So Larry, Sergey and I have been talking for a long time about how best to simplify our management structure and speed up decision making—and over the holidays we decided now was the right moment to make some changes to the way we are structured.

For the last 10 years, we have all been equally involved in making decisions. This triumvirate approach has real benefits in terms of shared wisdom, and we will continue to discuss the big decisions among the three of us. But we have also agreed to clarify our individual roles so there’s clear responsibility and accountability at the top of the company.

Google - Larry Page in the European Parliament -- 17-June-2009 Larry will now lead product development and technology strategy, his greatest strengths, and starting from April 4 he will take charge of our day-to-day operations as Google’s Chief Executive Officer. In this new role I know he will merge Google’s technology and business vision brilliantly. I am enormously proud of my last decade as CEO, and I am certain that the next 10 years under Larry will be even better! Larry, in my clear opinion, is ready to lead.

Sergey [Brin, 37] has decided to devote his time and energy to strategic projects, in particular working on new products. His title will be Co-Founder. He’s an innovator and entrepreneur to the core, and this role suits him perfectly.

As Executive Chairman, I will focus wherever I can add the greatest value: externally, on the deals, partnerships, customers and broader business relationships, government outreach and technology thought leadership that are increasingly important given Google’s global reach; and internally as an advisor to Larry and Sergey.

We are confident that this focus will serve Google and our users well in the future. Larry, Sergey and I have worked exceptionally closely together for over a decade—and we anticipate working together for a long time to come. As friends, co-workers and computer scientists we have a lot in common, most important of all a profound belief in the potential for technology to make the world a better place. We love Google—our people, our products and most of all the opportunity we have to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

Then watch this Perspective from Google: Eric Schmidt & Larry Page – Zeitgeist Europe 2010 [May 19, 2010] to understand the quite subtle differences between the two leaders. Note that Larry Page is introverted vs. the typical extroverts as business leaders. Note as well (from reply to a question) that Google is not doing the typical business planning exercise but Larry and Brin ideas are simply financed because the operation is generating sufficient revenues for that. This is giving them a unique competitive advantage of moving along innovative things while all the rest of the industry is loosing time with planning.

From Zeitgeist 2010 Google Partner Forum Europe held 17-18 May 2010. Featuring Eric Schmidt (Chairman of the Board & CEO, Google) & Larry Page (Co-Founder & President, Products, Google).
[from 1:20 he is talking about how much he was struck by captioning and translation …]
Note: Switch on the caption and try also the translation on this video. Generally it is a great experience (although not always perfect, since it depends on the clarity of the speech). More information on the technology is available under the Captions tag on the YouTube blog. Best to start is probably here: The Future Will Be Captioned: Improving Accessibility on YouTube [March 4, 2010] and here: Happy Birthday Automatic Captions! Celebrate with more videos and higher quality [Nov 19, 2010]

For detailed analysis – however – of the possible effects of Larry Page becoming CEO again it is better to turn to Fast Company’s earlier 7 Ways Larry Page Is Defining Google’s Future [March 16, 2011] article (quite long). Here is the essence:

The company line on Page’s ascension is that it does not mark any effort to “fix something” at Google. After all, the company reported stellar earnings the day it announced that Page would replace Eric Schmidt. It generated more than $29 billion in revenue in 2010 and 24% annual growth. Page has been part of what has been an unusual but effective ruling troika with Schmidt and fellow cofounder, Sergey Brin.

And yet Page is becoming CEO at a crucial inflection point in Google’s history. The company is beset by rivals everywhere — Apple and Facebook, both of which are closing off chunks of Internet activity beyond Google’s reach; Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, and others that compete fiercely against it in multiple markets; and even the U.S., the EU, and other governments that want to curtail Google’s ambition. Lately, Google has had more and more public whiffs (see Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google TV).

It’s true that Page is not stepping into a dire situation as Steve Jobs did at Apple in 1997. Page doesn’t need to be a turnaround artist. Yet he has to do something potentially harder: make changes to a winning formula in the face of intense scrutiny, when momentum appears to be against him. To borrow a sports aphorism, winning your first championship is easy compared with trying to repeat.

To outsiders, Page might seem an odd choice to be CEO. He’s personally reserved, unabashedly geeky, and said to be introverted. We won’t be seeing him keynoting A-list conferences with grand vision statements or sitting down for intimate conversations with the press (Google declined to make him available for this article). But after talking to high-level Google executives who work closely with Page, as well as ex-Googlers and other outside observers, a picture begins to emerge of how the search company will change under him. Here’s our seven-part guide to the Google of today — and tomorrow.

  1. A Little Top-Down Leadership Goes a Long Way
  2. Spur On Your Frenemies [encourage your “enemy friends” to do something]
  3. When in Doubt, Check the Data
  4. When in Creative Mode, Don’t Start With Data
  5. A Social Life Is Overrated
  6. Listen Up: Talk Is Cheap
  7. No Goal Is Too Big (And Some Are Too Small)

1. A Little Top-Down Leadership Goes a Long Way

Google - 20% delivering 50% which worked well till 10000 employees For much of its early life, Google reveled in its bottom-up culture. The governing philosophy was “Let’s hire lots of really smart people and let them do whatever they want,” says Brian Kennish, a Google engineer from 2003 to late 2010. Employees — especially engineers — were given unparalleled leeway in deciding what they wanted to work on and encouraged to use 20% of their time to come up with new ideas.

The archetypal product of this era was Gmail, which was born when engineer Paul Buchheit hacked it up in a single day in the summer of 2001. He showed the prototype to his colleagues, and when they expressed interest, Buchheit pulled other promising engineers onto his team. This kind of thing happened time and again at Google; among other products conceived deep within the company’s ranks were Google News, search suggestions, and AdSense, the contextual advertising system that accounted for nearly $9 billion in revenue in 2010.

Kennish, echoing several other former Googlers, adds, “This system worked really well until the company reached about 10,000 workers. After that, things started to break down.” (Google now has 24,000 employees and plans to hire another 6,000 in 2011.)

Android represents a new order, one that Page, who has long played a role in product strategy, will accelerate. … Page and Brin pushed Google into mobile, buying Android when the project was an eight-person startup in 2005. (Schmidt later joked that they didn’t tell him about it until after the deal.) At the time, Google’s mobile strategy was a hodgepodge effort to install its apps on lots of different mobile phones. Page realized that game would never scale. Eustace says it would have required “5,000 people, each one trying to port apps to all the different phones.” For Google to truly benefit from the transition to mobile phones, it would need to shoot for something bigger. Page gave Andy Rubin, Android’s indomitable chief, the resources to run the division as an autonomous unit. Their ambition helped Google settle on a course to release an entire operating system, rather than a single phone. What’s more, Google made Android free and allowed phone manufacturers and carriers to tinker with the software.

Google Andy Rubin (center) with major early partners HTC CEO Peter Chou and Christopher Schlaeffer T-Mobile -- 8-Oct-2008

Android, then, is as much a marvel of management as it is of engineering. “It wasn’t that Larry handed down his vision on stone tablets,” Eustace says. (In other words, he’s not Steve.) But Page had the founding idea that “what was necessary was an ecosystem,” and Android wouldn’t be where it is today if he hadn’t pushed for Google to do something more ambitious. Google - Android Patrners in Open Handset Alliance -- 6-Nov-2007

Page has done this elsewhere. Google’s recent success with YouTube in the face of an unrelenting stream of criticism can be chalked up to a similar management tactic: Page empowered YouTube CEO Salar Kamangar in much the same way he has Android’s Rubin. … As Page takes over, he’ll still find product seedlings everywhere. Google’s product lineup is replete with services that offer overlapping, needlessly duplicative functionality. Android’s triumph should serve as a sweet reminder of the value in imposing just enough discipline before letting the kids chase the ice-cream truck.

See also:
Google Buys Android for Its Mobile Arsenal [Aug 17, 2005]: “The 22-month-old startup, based in Palo Alto, Calif., brings to Google a wealth of talent, including co-founder Andy Rubin, who previously started mobile-device maker Danger Inc.
CrunchBase on Android

In July 2005, Google acquired Android, a small startup company based in Palo Alto, CA. Android’s co-founders who went to work at Google included Andy Rubin (co-founder of Danger), Rich Miner (co-founder of Wildfire), Nick Sears (once VP at T-Mobile), and Chris White (one of the first engineers at WebTV). At the time, little was known about the functions of Android other than they made software for mobile phones. This began rumors that Google was planning to enter the mobile phone market, although it was unclear at the time what function they might perform in that market.

Introducing Android [Nov 5, 2007]

[2:19] The creators of Android talk about their new open platform for mobile phones and the Open Handset Alliance. To learn more, visit: http://www.openhandsetalliance.com

Where’s my Gphone? [Andy Rubin, Nov 5, 2007]

Google Android chief Andy Rubin Android is the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. It includes an operating system, user-interface and applications — all of the software to run a mobile phone, but without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation. We have developed Android in cooperation with the Open Handset Alliance, which consists of more than 30 technology and mobile leaders including Motorola, Qualcomm, HTC and T-Mobile. Through deep partnerships with carriers, device manufacturers, developers, and others, we hope to enable an open ecosystem for the mobile world by creating a standard, open mobile software platform. We think the result will ultimately be a better and faster pace for innovation that will give mobile customers unforeseen applications and capabilities.

Google, Bidding For Phone Ads, Lures Partners [The Wall Street Journal, Nov 6, 2007]

Among the handset makers that have signed on to the initiative are Taiwan’s HTC Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Motorola Inc. Operator partners include Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile, Sprint Nextel Corp. and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo Inc. (See the entire list of Google’s partners.) …

But until new handsets based on Android come to market, it won’t be clear how far operators have gone to satisfy Google’s desire for open mobile software. Some carriers have said they still want to make sure Android doesn’t allow sensitive user information to fall into the hands of rogue third-party developers, leading to invasions of privacy and security risks. Those issues partly explain why large U.S. operators such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC, have yet to sign on to Google’s initiative.

Verizon Wireless is still weighing whether to join, a person familiar with the company’s thinking said. AT&T, in part because it exclusively carries Apple Inc.’s iPhone in the U.S., is restricted from partnering with Google, people familiar with the matter say. …

Sprint hasn’t agreed to carry a Google-powered phone yet, but signed on to the Android alliance while it continues talks. John Garcia, the carrier’s senior vice president of product development, said using Android in phones would make it easier to get a variety of mobile applications to consumers. Mr. Garcia said mobile-game makers routinely have to test their applications on an array of Sprint phones, writing specific programming code for each one. That could become a thing of the past if an open platform becomes widespread.

Android Open Source Project [Oct 20, 2008]

[4:26] An introduction to Android Open Source Project. Android is the first free, open source, and fully customizable mobile platform. Android offers a full stack: an operating system, middleware, and key mobile applications. It also contains a rich set of APIs that allows third-party developers to develop great applications. Learn more at source.android.com.

From this (my own) blog:
OPhone OS (OMS) 2.0 based on Android 2.1 [July 5, 2010]
Android 2.2 (Froyo) excitement is just the tip of the iceberg for the current Android momentum [July 9 – Sept 10, 2010]
Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and 3.0 (Honeycomb) [Dec 30, 2010 – Feb 4, 2011]

What’s behind Android’s race to No. 1? [March 8, 2011]:

It’s no longer the era of the BlackBerry — or the iPhone. According to a market research report released this week, Google’s Android operating system now is the most popular smartphone platform in the United States.

The first phone running Android, the T-Mobile G1, wasn’t announced until September 2008. Only 2½ years later, the research firm comScore says Android is No. 1 in the U.S. with 31.2% of the market, compared with 30.4% for BlackBerry’s business-friendly operating system and 24.7% for the iOS from Apple, which powers the seemingly omnipresent iPhone.

What accounts for this meteoric rise? Here’s a summary of what makes Android popular, based on conversations with smartphone experts, buzz on the tech blogs and reader responses to our query posted on the @cnntech Twitter feed.

  • Consumers like choices
  • There’s basically one iPhone
  • There are dozens of Android options
  • Integration with the internet
  • Openness of the Android Market
  • Apps that do what you need, not what you don’t: In terms of app numbers, Android is losing big to Apple. Google’s Android Market has 150,000 apps. Apple has more than 350,000. But Gikas said the Android apps pretty  much cover everything an average consumer would want a phone to do, so having more apps isn’t necessarily the best selling point.
  • Stealing the best of everything and then giving it away

Platform Versions [Android Developers site, extracted on April 1, 2011]

Google Android Platform Versions - Historical Distribution -- 1-April-2011

Platform API Level Distribution
Android 1.5 3 2.7%
Android 1.6 4 3.5%
Android 2.1 7 27.2%
Android 2.2 8 63.9%
Android 2.3 9 0.8%
Android 2.3.3 10 1.7%
Android 3.0 11 0.2%

2. Spur On Your Frenemies [encourage your “enemy friends” to do something]

2009.04.30. [2:33] What is a browser? was the question we asked over 50 passersby of different ages and backgrounds in the Times Square in New York. Watch the many responses people came up with.

Less than 8% of people who were interviewwd on this day knew what a browser was.
[But most of them knew Google, and most of them considered Google a browser.]

Two years ago, Google sent a camera crew to Times Square, in New York, and asked passersby a simple question: What is a web browser? “A browser’s a search engine,” said one guy. Another respondent was pretty sure that “it’s what I search through — like, to find things.” When asked which browser they use, most people said Google, while a few renegades stuck to Yahoo and AOL. None of these, of course, are browsers.

So if you’ve ever wondered why Google needed its own web browser, called Chrome, here’s why: It needed Chrome to goad Microsoft, Apple, and other browser makers into reigniting innovation in what had become a moribund market. Everyone’s efforts collectively improve the web as a whole, which is good for Google and its ad business. Even if its rivals merely copied Chrome’s advancements — superfast, stable, and, thus far, impossible to hack — Google saw that it could achieve its larger goals.

Expect Page to launch even more initiatives that may seem futile when considered alone but that are, in fact, designed to wake up drowsy competitors. Think about such “puzzling” Google moves as releasing its own branded phones — the Nexus One and Nexus S — and competing against the handset makers and carriers that it’s supposed to be courting. Or about Google’s initiative to wire America with fiber-optic lines, as its plan to roll out superfast Internet to several cities suggests. Google really wants Verizon and others to pick up the pace. And when those rivals do, Google will benefit from the innovations that result.

See also: Sun Valley: Schmidt Didn’t Want to Build Chrome Initially, He Says [July 9, 2009]
Comment: Chrome came out in September 2008.

3. When in Doubt, Check the Data

Deciding questions by data is to Google what eye-catching design is to Apple, or what global supply-chain management is to Walmart. It forms the spine of every major decision, and nearly every minor one. Data’s preeminence in Google’s culture helps prevent anyone at the company from pulling rank. It also wards off resistance to change. This will only become more important as Page takes over as the top decision maker at a company whose core search algorithm, PageRank, is named for him.

… Even Page has proved willing to reverse himself if the numbers don’t bear him out. …

Google’s devotion to data isn’t always an asset (as we’ll explore momentarily), but there’s likely no other way for the company to conceive of itself because that’s how Page operates. “I was talking to Larry on Saturday,” says Nikesh Arora, Google’s chief business officer, when we sit down to talk the following Tuesday. “I told him that I’d gotten back from nine cities in 12 days — Munich, Copenhagen, Davos, Zurich, New Delhi, Bombay, London, San Francisco. There’s a silence for five seconds. And then he’s like, ‘That’s only eight.’ “

4. When in Creative Mode, Don’t Start With Data

… As Google grows into more arenas where engineering alone can’t carry the day, most notably in social and handheld interfaces, Page will have to tweak this data-driven mind-set to embrace more creative types if the company is to thrive. Google has never invested heavily in hiring classically trained designers, and insiders say that due to a constant shortage of creative staff, engineers sometimes decide the look of their own products. …

And yet, despite Page’s personal inclinations, there are signs that Google is pushing itself to transcend its design deficiencies. Matias Duarte joined the company’s Android team last year from Palm, where he was lauded for creating the well-regarded user interface for its mobile operating system called WebOS. Duarte admits that since signing on, he has come to rely on data as a tool in the design process — but not, he insists, as a crutch. Whereas the look and feel of Apple’s software and hardware are kept secret and revealed to just a few people, Duarte’s designs are shared widely inside Google and with other partners and testers. (Google routinely tests products this way before sharing them with the world, calling the process “dogfooding,” as in the company eats its own dog food. Or, in Duarte’s case, “Droid-fooding.”)

Duarte points out that this openness has led to novel insights into what users want. Honeycomb, Google’s new tablet-specific version of Android, includes an eye-catching interface to show people all the recent applications they’ve been using. It’s a feature that the iPad sorely misses — and it came about only because of extensive statistical analysis of usage patterns. The lesson: Google can succeed in more creative pursuits if it pushes the limits of its data-centric culture but still relies on that culture to enhance creative solutions. “We don’t design by committee; we don’t design by focus group,” Duarte says. “But we do verify everything we’re trying to do with our design with stringent, large-scale user testing.” …

5. A Social Life Is Overrated

Page’s apparent lack of personal interest on the web’s major social sites creates a convenient narrative for Google’s dreadful record in the space — a string of failures that include Dodgeball, Jaiku, Lively, Buzz, and Wave. Orkut, the social network that Google engineer Orkut Büyükkökten launched in 2004, is still alive (it’s big in Brazil), but few Googlers consider it a success. Meanwhile, Google has had several social-networking savants in the ‘plex and let them slip away to found other companies, among them Evan Williams (Twitter) and Dennis Crowley (Foursquare). …

… “There’s an EQ — an emotional intelligence — around social software, and it just might be out of Google’s reach,” says Jason Shellen, who spent four years as a business-development exec at Google after it acquired Blogger and who now works at AOL. …

… But that’s not to say Google is giving up on social. Far from it. Its success relies on understanding how the web works, and the web is getting more social all the time. Google has continued to acquire social startups — most recently Slide for $228 million (not to mention its rumored interest in buying Twitter for $10 billion). According to sources, Google isn’t planning a Facebook clone but rather it intends to roll out new social features across all its products. Its ultimate aim seems to be to collect and analyze the social activity that’s going on across the web, beyond Facebook’s walls. …

… If Google can’t compete with Facebook directly, perhaps it can render Facebook moot by making everything else on the web feel like Facebook. Still, building a fun web-based community turns out to be harder than building a great smartphone (witness the utter failure that is Apple’s Ping). Don’t be surprised if this is one arena where Page is happy merely to have a credible offering.

6. Listen Up: Talk Is Cheap

The company became the biggest search engine in the world because it built a better product, not because it created better TV ads than Yahoo.

Google’s build-it-and-they-will-come naïveté seems almost cute in the age of Apple. Many of Google’s advances go unnoticed by the public because nobody hears about them. Do iPhone owners know that Android lets you dictate email by voice? Imagine the marketing fun Apple would have there. Or that Google Voice rings all your phones when someone calls you, and transcribes your voice mail to boot?

With its new CEO an introvert, perhaps Google will never tap its inner Apple. But maybe, in the bigger picture, that’s a trade-off worth making. Page is not a CEO out of central casting, despite the fact that Wall Street and the media tend to prefer extroverts as leaders: the superhero who puffs out his chest and delivers bold, motivating pronouncements. According to some surprising forthcoming research from management professors at Harvard Business School, the University of North Carolina, and Wharton, though, introverts can be more successful leaders — particularly in dynamic, uncertain, and fast-changing environments like the tech industry. “They tend to be less threatened by others’ ideas,” says Adam Grant, a Wharton professor and coauthor of the study. “And they’ll collect a lot of them before determining a vision.” Because introverts spend more time listening than talking, they hear more ideas.

The hallmarks of Google culture, including the weekly TGIF [Thank God It’s Friday] sessions where Page and Brin take questions from employees, are precisely about creating dialogue. Even if the company relies less on 20% time for unfettered product development, Page’s personal style is likely to keep new ideas flowing. The key for Page is to “surround himself with some extroverts,” Grant says. “Extroversion and introversion are the only personality traits where you need a balance between the two to be an effective team.” As the success of the Bing sting indicates, Page seems to be listening to his extroverts in embracing a bolder public profile — not for himself, but for Google.

Google TGIF in 2006 with new Googlers wearing propeller heads

See also: What’s it like to work in Mountain View? [Google]

Transparency is a staple of Google’s working environment – all voices matter and Googlers enjoy a variety of opportunities to share information and voice questions and opinions. For example, every Friday we host a “TGIF” [Thank God It’s Friday] event in Charlie’s Cafe, where Googlers can learn about the company’s latest news and ask their tough questions in live Q&A sessions.

7. No Goal Is Too Big (And Some Are Too Small)

That audaciousness — the ambition to tackle a seemingly unsolvable problem with deep reservoirs of money and data — is the ultimate insight into what makes Google Googley. “When people come to Larry with ideas, he always wants it bigger,” says one ex-Googler. “His whole point is that only Google has the kind of resources to make big bets. The asset that Larry brings is to say, ‘Let’s go and make big things happen.’ ” (This may explain why Page isn’t interested in a Facebook killer: “With social, there isn’t a problem for Google to solve,” says the former Googler Shellen.)

That’s what’s thrilling about Page taking the helm at Google right now. You get the sense that under his leadership, Google could try its hand at anything. More than anything else during my interviews with people who know Page, one comment stands out: “I don’t care what you put in the article,” says David Lawee, Google’s head of acquisitions. “To me, this is the real story: Larry is a truly awesome inventor-entrepreneur. My aspiration for him is that he becomes one of the greatest inventors-entrepreneurs in history, in the realm of the Thomas Edisons of the world.”

The example used in the above article to prove the point is the Statistical Machine Translation research applied in Google’s machine-translation system:

[Franz] Och oversees Google’s machine-translation system, a spectacularly ambitious effort that analyzes text found on the web to create statistical models that can transform one language into another. Machine translation is far from perfect, but Google’s project, which began in 2004, has succeeded far beyond what most experts thought possible. Including Och. Google spent a year trying to recruit him; each time, he explained to Page and other execs that what they were asking for couldn’t be done. “They were very optimistic, and I tried to tell them to be cautious,” he says. “It’s really complicated, extremely expensive, and you need very large amounts of data.”

The company hired Och despite his skepticism, and today, machine translation (along with speech recognition) is one of Google’s best-known artificial-intelligence projects. It’s also a key competitive advantage. Even on the iPhone, you’ll use Google’s software to help you read that French road sign or to transform your voice commands into text searches. Och now seems bemused by this success. Google, he says, simply had far more resources — more data, more computing power, more money — than he ever thought possible. Google can now translate 58 different languages. “When I started at Google, if you told me that five years later we’d be able to translate Yiddish, Maltese, Icelandic, Azerbaijani, and Basque, I would have said, That’s just not going to happen,” he says. “But [Page and Brin] didn’t believe me. And I guess they were more right than I was.”

Inside Google Translate [July 9, 2010]

Let’s see for more details a presentation by Franz Och who oversees that work:
Google Faculty Summit 2009: Statistical Machine Translation [Oct 5, 2009]

Google Tech Talk, July 30, 2009 [49:50] Most state-of-the-art commercial machine translation systems in use today have been developed using a rules-based approach and require a lot of work by linguists to define vocabularies and grammars. Several research systems, including ours, take a different approach: we feed the computer with billions of words of text, both monolingual text in the target language, and aligned text consisting of examples of human translations between the languages.

Google - Static Machine Translation improvements for languages launched recently -- 30-July-2009[13:28 – 14:24] … some of the languages we’ve launched recently, Hindi, Thai and Hungarian … It is quite challenging for some of the languages to find data …

Doubling Up [Franz Josef Och, Sept 29, 2008]

Machine translation is hard. Natural languages are so complex and have so many ambiguities and exceptions that teaching a computer to translate between them turned out to be a much harder problem than people thought when the field of machine translation was born over 50 years ago. At Google Research, our approach is to have the machines learn to translate by using learning algorithms on gigantic amounts of monolingual and translated data. Another knowledge source is user suggestions. This approach allows us to constantly improve the quality of machine translations as we mine more data and get more and more feedback from users.

A nice property of the learning algorithms that we use is that they are largely language independent — we use the same set of core algorithms for all languages. So this means if we find a lot of translated data for a new language, we can just run our algorithms and build a new translation system for that language.

As a result, we were recently able to significantly increase the number of languages on translate.google.com. Last week, we launched eleven new languages: Catalan, Filipino, Hebrew, Indonesian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Ukrainian, Vietnamese. This increases the total number of languages from 23 to 34.  Since we offer translation between any of those languages this increases the number of language pairs from 506 to 1122 (well, depending on how you count simplified and traditional Chinese you might get even larger numbers). We’re very happy that we can now provide free online machine translation for many languages that didn’t have any available translation system before.

So how far can we go with adding new languages in the future? Can we go to 40, 50 or even more languages?  It is certainly getting harder, as less data is available for those languages and as a result it is harder to build systems that meet our quality bar.  But we’re working on better learning algorithms and new ways to mine data and so even if we haven’t covered your favorite language yet, we hope that we will have it soon.

See also:
Statistical machine translation live [April 28, 2006)]

Google Translate adds 10 new languages… [May 15, 2008]: “We’ve recently added translation capabilities for 10 new languages to Google Translate, bringing the total to 23 languages. The newly featured languages include Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian and Swedish.

Translate between 41 languages with Google Translate [Feb 26, 2009]: “recently added Turkish, Thai, Hungarian, Estonian, Albanian, Maltese, and Galician to the mix. The rollout of these seven additional languages marks a new milestone: automatic translations between 41 languages (1,640 language pairs!). This means we can now translate between languages read by 98% of Internet users.

51 Languages in Google Translate [Aug 31, 2009]: “we’ve added 9 new languages to Google Translate: Afrikaans, Belarusian, Icelandic, Irish, Macedonian, Malay, Swahili, Welsh, and Yiddish, bringing the number of languages we support from 42 to 51.”

A new look for Google Translate [Nov 16, 2009]:

Translate instantly: Say goodbye to the old “Translate” button. Google Translate now translates your text right as you type.

Read and write any language: Want to say “Today is a good day” in Chinese, but can’t read Han characters? Click “Show romanization” to read the text written phonetically in English. Right now, this works for all non-Roman languages except for Hebrew, Arabic and Persian.

Text-to-speech: When translating into English, you can now also hear translations in spoken form by clicking the Speaker Icon.

Giving a voice to more languages on Google Translate [May 11, 2010]:

One of the popular features of Google Translate is the ability to hear translations spoken out loud (”text-to-speech”) by clicking the speaker icon beside some translations, like the one below.

We rolled this feature out for English and Haitian Creole translations a few months ago and added French, Italian, German, Hindi and Spanish a couple of weeks ago. Now we’re bringing text-to-speech to even more languages with the open source speech synthesizer, eSpeak.

By integrating eSpeak we’re adding text-to-speech functionality for Afrikaans, Albanian, Catalan, Chinese (Mandarin), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Latvian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, Vietnamese and Welsh.

Five more languages on translate.google.com [May 13, 2010]: “In 2009, we announced the addition of our first “alpha” language, Persian, on Google Translate. Today, we are excited to add five more alpha languages: Azerbaijani, Armenian, Basque, Urdu and Georgian — bringing the total number of languages on Google Translate to 57.

Poetic Machine Translation [Oct 5, 2010]: “A Statistical Machine Translation system, like Google Translate, typically performs translations by searching through a multitude of possible translations, guided by a statistical model of accuracy. However, to translate poetry, we not only considered translation accuracy, but meter and rhyming schemes as well. In our paper we describe in more detail how we altered our translation model, but in general we chose to sacrifice a little of the translation’s accuracy to get the poetic form right.”

Franz Josef Och site
Google Translate blog

Google Technology RoundTable: Human Language Technology [Aug 21, 2008]

Human language technology experts at Google, Franz Josef Och and Mike Cohen discuss their exciting research in machine translation and speech technology with Alfred Spector, Google VP of Research and Special Initiatives.

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