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Twitter Kills Auto-Translate Feature, Makes it Harder for You to Read Tweets

twitter2-786x305[1]Twitter has quietly removed Bing translation from its mobile apps and web platform. The feature had first shown up in May in Tweetdeck, and was added to Twiiter’s iOS and Android apps in June.

There’s been no announcement from Twitter to explain the change, but users have been commenting on the change for a few days now:

I don’t know about you but I’m not surprised to see it go; this was a feature which was never going to work well. A 140 character tweet simply isn’t long enough to provide enough context for an auto-translate function.(Sure, a person can do it, but we’re talking computers here.)

An auto-translate feature works well with longer pieces of text: articles, press releases, and blog posts. It doesn’t work so well with abbreviations, slang, text-speak, and other informal language.

I’ve never used the Bing Translation in Twitter, but a few years ago I helped beta test an independent project to offer a similar feature. That project was based on Google Translate, and not Bing, and it proved less than successful. I eventually gave up on it because so many of the tweets were unintelligible; too much of the context was lost in translation.

I do still translate the occasional tweet, but in my experience I have often had to ask for a second translation from an actual person before I was sure that I understood the tweet.

Did anyone use the Bing translate feature? How well did it work?


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rogXue August 8, 2014 um 6:14 pm

used it and loved it. Sucks that it’s gone…

Nate Hoffelder August 8, 2014 um 6:55 pm

I’ve read a number of comments to this effect on Twitter. It’s making me regret not having tried it.

puzzled August 8, 2014 um 9:23 pm

"I eventually gave up on it because so many of the tweets were unintelligible"

Doesn’t this describe most of the tweets anyway, regardless of the language?

Alan August 8, 2014 um 10:06 pm

I used it a lot. My son is a bicycle racer and many of his races are in Europe and the tweets are how I follow the races. I’ll miss the translation feature.

Moriah Jovan August 9, 2014 um 4:12 am

I follow bullfighting, so yeah, I used it a lot.

Annon August 9, 2014 um 6:49 am

The strangest and creepiest thing happened as I was using translate before it was shut down.
With all the conflicts going on now, many users were using Twitter to relay information to their followers and some would swap between English and their own language.
I did notice, as I was following the updates on the current conflict in Gaza [must faster than the media updates], following those Palestinians who supposedly work in humanitarian roles, i.e. in hospitals, tweeting in Arabic and a couple of instances I used translate to read what they were writing, and the creepiest event unfolded when one of them tweeted about a rocket heading to a location in Israel. I thought I was hallucinating when I read it, but fifteen to twenty minutes later, the media was reporting about it as well and mentioned the same location.
It made me shut down my Twitter account and altered my perspective on the Gaza situation with respect to the fact that rockets are being launched from certain hospitals.
Since that day, or a day after, I noticed translate was nowhere to be found. I thought it was something wrong with my account. Obviously not. So I am now wondering if it’s a case of Twitter shutting translate down for other reasons.

Laila August 9, 2014 um 12:54 pm

I agree I think it was shut down to stop the ease of communication during the gaza conflict.

Moriah Jovan August 9, 2014 um 7:29 pm

Man, I never thought of that, but you’ve probably hit the nail on the head.

Keishon August 10, 2014 um 6:46 am

I used it to read posts from Rome for artwork related tweets but on the whole it was a very useful feature.

Nate Hoffelder August 10, 2014 um 9:19 pm

After reading the comments here I think I should switch from Google to Bing for my translation needs.

Over the past few days I have gotten garbled tweets out of Google Translate, while commenters are swearing by Bing. I’m going to need to look into Bing and see if it is better.

Indy August 15, 2014 um 7:57 am

I really liked the auto-translate feature. It was a good tool for easily increasing a foreign vocabulary, but it had big problems translating German to English, because it often could not deal with the German language’s important trailing verb. Typically this meant "without" & "not" was omitted, which radically changed the meaning of the statements and would be dangerous for anyone relying upon the veracity of the translation. It was amusing to people like me, who are looking to progress their language proficiency tweet by tweet and already understand the structural significance of German verb placement, so can check if it didn’t just turn the meaning of the statement on it’s head.

Nate Hoffelder August 15, 2014 um 8:06 am

Google Translate has a similar problem. And yes, it is fun to check and see if the meaning of a sentence was reversed. What’s even funnier is that sometimes I don’t notice because there’s not enough context.

Scarsnbumble August 16, 2014 um 3:30 am

I used auto-translate a lot as I am learning Spanish and it’s a pain that it’s disappeared. Now I have to cut and paste into Google Translate. Thankfully, there are phone apps which have a translate feature.

aaron August 24, 2014 um 10:43 am

Very sad to see the translate feature go. I used the translate feature all the time while following world events, especially in the Ukraine, Russia, and South America. Yes, the translations weren’t always perfect, but they were almost always good enough to give me the gist of what was said and for news articles from there I could decide if I wanted translate a linked news story.

Vimes September 22, 2014 um 7:04 pm

I used it to talk to friends from across the globe & to read their tweets. For what I needed it for it work perfectly (mostly) & created lots of laughs when it got it completely wrong 😉

Why not still have it there, & users could CHOOSE to use it or not. Isn’t that whats important? The users?

BRING IT BACK!! It’s not perfect, but it was perfect for me!

Mike September 22, 2014 um 11:27 pm

Agree completely Vimes! Yes it wasn’t perfect but it was a heck of a lot better than nothing! Hope they bring it back.

Twitter Restores Bing Translations After Long Absence ⋆ The Digital Reader January 22, 2015 um 3:36 pm

[…] Translator integration was added in July 2013 but was unexpectedly removed in August 2014. I can't speak as to how it worked before, but now when twitterati encounter a tweet in a foreign […]

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