The Server-Side Pad

by Fabien Tiburce, Best practices and personal experiences with enterprise software

Fee-Based APIs Are Coming (It’s a Good Thing!)

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While Google has captured an overwhelming share of the search market by combining relevance with simplicity and speed, capitalizing on Google’s data to build business applications hasn’t been easy.  To this day, while you can buy a license for Google apps, maps and other offerings, the terms of use of the core search engine remain restrictive for B2B use.  In no uncertain terms, the terms of use state “The implementation of the Service on your Property must be generally accessible to users without charge and must not require a fee-based subscription or other fee-based restricted access”.    While this doesn’t rule out commercial ventures per se, it does rule out fee-based systems.  Ad-based systems are inappropriate for most B2B applications delivering the type of value-adding service that a corporate client typically expects to pay for, without ads and other distractions.

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.

Written by Compliant IA

May 28, 2009 at 9:32 pm

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