17 Apr 2002
(updated 17 Apr 2002 at 18:04 UTC) »
The Google API
Yeah, I've not mentioned it yet, but suddenly
several articles herd my thinking thataway.
Vandenberg discusses XHTML (look for See, there's
this Web, and it has these "standards"). His argument
is eminently reasonable, though I've done my share of
rah-rahing for XHTML and whatnot.
Here's the slightly-snuck assumption:
people are people and computers are computers, and Webpages
are primarily meant for communicating with other people and
not communication with machines.
Web pages have been for people to
communicate with people, but the whole point of XML, CSS,
and XHTML is that web documents should be
communicable to machines. For example, if I only had to
specify particular paths along the DOMs of XHTML documents,
Stapler would be much simpler software (an alarm clock,
database, web fetcher, and the path walker). Also, machines
have to communicate this content to people; that's all well
and good if you have a standard way of doing that, such as
the visual web browser, but what if the human can't see? The
machine needs to be able to understand enough about the
content to convert it between different media--so that's how
the accessibility argument relates.
It's a good argument and certainly nothing to ignore,
but the important part is:
web browser as a universal client is still a very powerful
idea. ... [N]on-HTML Internet APIs... are going to
complement web browsing, not replace it.
I certainly don't read all the web in RSS. Even if I
could add everything in there, would I?
Probably not, though I would read more there than most people.
So, first off, HTML isn't going away any time soon.
week's Disenchanted article is specifically
on Google's SOAP API... by way of construction toys:
have all the young and amateur engineers gone? Apparently to
computers, where the philosophy of olde-time Lego, Meccano
and Heathkit is in super-overdrive.
This philosophy is all about building personal
projects with easily understandable, easily connectable,
pre-made parts, and the world of software is now
awash with hundreds of thousands of them.
The article is a comprehensive guide to where the
Google SOAP API came from, and while not explicitly saying
this is only throwing the doors open to the web services
world, it's so. Here I unveil my cynicism (or, perhaps,
optimism): specifically I agree with Aaron
Straup Cope in that the Google API isn't
earth-shattering in and of itself. Gee, people can put
"top-ten Google hits for <dfn>foo</dfn>" search
boxen on their Radio pages. Couldn't you do that before?
Yeah, but it's qualitatively easier now.
After all the moaning about how no one is deploying web
services, this throws the door wide open to them, full stop.
Now that Google's done it, will Dictionary.com do it?
Aaron's weblog yields an
example of the utility of such a service, even though
you could do that with a more complex API too.
(Aside: probably not, since the revenue
model remains to be seen. Might they start selling product
placement in example usage text?)
I'd like to think this is, as I said, optimism. Maybe
I'm a victim of the hype, but if this is only the beginning
of web services, there are going to be so many even
more amazing services, and they're all in the
future, awaiting invention.