Translation service Gengo is seeing increased global uptake, according to cofounder and CTO Matt Romaine, who spoke about Gengo's successes recently at the Small Business Web Summit for SaaS vendors, held in San Jose. As a language translation service powered by human translators and accessed via an API, Gengo has a fairly unique business model. It is an API-as-product while also using the API to engage a human workforce to carry out sophisticated business processes. Romaine spoke with ProgrammableWeb about how businesses are using the Gengo API.
Key to scalability: Quality at high-volume levels
“One of the key reasons for using an API is for the ease in completing a significantly large volume of content,” Romaine says.
With clients including TripAdvisor, YouTube and e-commerce sites like Vestiaire Collective, Gengo needs to provide customers with a scalable, accurate and speedy translation service around the clock. “We’re talking millions of words (or characters, depending on the source language—like Japanese, Chinese, etc.) in weeks. Rather than sending e-mails or using Dropbox to transfer huge Excel files of content (as one might typically do when working with a translation agency), services such as Vestiaire and TripAdvisor spend just a few days programming a connection between their system and our API," he says.
“Our comprehensive online resources make the development process very simple. When the integration is complete, Vestiaire (for example) can send as much or as little content for translation as they want, programmatically," says Romaine. "For example, ‘programmatically’ might mean ‘Whenever there is a new product description to translate, automatically send it to Gengo,' or it might mean ‘When I click this button, send the current batch of 250,000 descriptions to Gengo.’"
As pointed out in ProgrammableWeb’s recent summary of translation services, many businesses rely on Gengo for more accurate translations than they could get via Bing or Google, creating a better user experience for the customer.
“Gengo is powered by human translators,” said Romaine, “so customers will notice a difference in quality, sometimes significantly better with Gengo, depending on the language. At times I tell developers ‘You can treat us like a machine, but we’re powered by humans’—and, in the case for translation, people produce better quality output due to the nature of languages. Despite the involvement of humans, the power of crowdsourcing has enabled us to scale our platform, allowing our users to request anywhere from one word to millions of words in a short span of time.”
Translation for ecosystem and community development
At present, Gengo is seeing fast growth among businesses savvy with developing ecosystems and community networks in their customer base. “More than specific content-type verticals, we’re seeing certain business models adopt our API in growing numbers,” Romaine says. “Businesses that benefit from increased liquidity between buyers and sellers are integrating with our API because translating the content increases both audiences.
“For example, there’s a hardware device that has a growing third-party application ecosystem (like an ‘App Store’). This device maker has integrated with the Gengo API, allowing a community of third-party developers to request translations, eventually increasing their user base with new markets. The third-party app developers now get access to a new region of users, the device maker is reaching new markets and users are excited to experience their favorite apps in their native languages.
“Another area growing for us are platforms that have lots of user-generated content (UGC)—much like TripAdvisor’s reviews. While the device maker example is more e-commerce-related, we’re also noticing a growing number of services that rely on community-created text content to increase their audience. Similar to the device maker, these UGC platforms benefit from increased liquidity—‘submitters’ and ‘readers’, if you will—so expanding into new markets with the Gengo API means an increase in both content and audience. This doesn’t mean everything is translated: often, just seeding a new region with translations is enough to get a community started.”
An API business model that activates a remote workforce
For businesses that seek to use APIs to activate access to a remote workforce, Gengo is a market leader to watch. ProgrammableWeb has reported on other APIs that enable access to a human workforce in the past, including Fancy Hands, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and the copy-editing service Wordy. This fairly unique API business model could grow as more startups look to ways to use crowdsourcing and micro-employment to orchestrate service delivery (via API) in a global marketplace.
“The idea of an API in front of a crowd of humans has been around for a few years; Gengo is just focused on translation,” says Romaine. “The most difficult aspect for an API service driven by humans is maintaining quality. While we have our internal methods for monitoring and improving the output of our translators, we’ve learned that providing contextual information can be very helpful as well. For the Gengo API, this means having support for requesting additional contextual information from the customer, submitting this alongside the actual data to translate. In my opinion, ensuring a strong support system at the API-level to provide a clear means for communicating questions is an important lesson when dealing with an API involving humans.”
Romaine is seeing more developers integrating the Gengo API into their business models in order to drive new monetization opportunities. “I’ve noticed there are basically two approaches to monetization when integrating the Gengo API. One approach is to seek a direct revenue stream on top of the integration—so for example, Transifex and PhraseApp are two services that simplify managing the localization of websites and applications. Both have integrated the Gengo API, and charge a cent or two to their customers on top of our API price. This creates a new, direct revenue stream for these businesses," he says.
“The other approach is more indirect. Services like Zendesk have a plugin so that their customers can respond to support tickets that arrive in a different language. While the Zendesk customer still needs to pay for the translation, Zendesk does not charge any additional margin—so translation is a ‘value-add’ feature.”
The Gengo API is available for a free trial. Developers using the API are offered an ongoing discount to enable greater monetization potential from using the translation service.
By Mark Boyd. Mark is a freelance writer focusing on how we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly about API business models, open data, smart cities, Quantified Self and e-commerce. He can be contacted via email, on Twitter or on Google+.