17 Apr 2002 markpasc   » (Journeyer)

The Google API

Yeah, I've not mentioned it yet, but suddenly several articles herd my thinking thataway.

Adam 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:

Well, 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:

The 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. Meanwhile, this week's Disenchanted article is specifically on Google's SOAP API... by way of construction toys:

Where 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.

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