Fee-Based APIs Are Coming (It’s a Good Thing!)
Why would a login-protected SaaS business application want to search Google? The web is the largest collection of human knowledge ever assembled. It’s also slowly being re-engineered semantically as a giant global database. Thus opportunities abound for businesses to systematically mine the web and provide value-adding services on top of web-sourced data. So why isn’t Google opening up its API to B2B use? Google may be a search engine by function, it’s an advertising company by revenue. Google doesn’t make money crawling the web, its revenue is primarily generated by Sponsored Links. Since ads don’t mesh well with API-sourced data (typically returned in a non-human readable format such as XML or JSON), Google doesn’t have much to gain by giving it away.
This post would end on a rather pessimistic note if it weren’t for the wonders of competition. Being a distant second in the search market, and no longer the centre of attention, Yahoo has been quietly but relentlessly pushing the envelope lately. They supported microformats long before Google did. They also announced fee-based use of their BOSS Search API starting this year. This is great news for two reasons. Firstly, the fee eliminates the restriction to ad-based systems. Secondly, the fee comes with assurances: response time guarantees, continued investment and support, as well as no usage limits.
Search engines and semantics are increasingly the “glue” of the Internet, a global repository of information which is starting to look more and more like a database (albeit one with no overarching schema). Fee-based APIs enable an ecosystem of value-adding niche B2B players to mine, transform and add value to web-sourced data. I hope other web properties follow Yahoo’s lead and open their API, for a fee, to B2B use.