Google Misses Another Chance To Be The Web Platform

from the strategic-errors dept

A few people have submitted various stories on the web about how Google has killed off their SOAP Search API in favor of their AJAX API, which is much more limited. Some are saying that this is more of a business decision than a technical one — in that the new API gives Google a lot more control over how their results get displayed. This seems like a bad decision. One rule of developing products for others to use is that you should never, ever take away features — and doing so to take more control over how something is used is doubly bad. Google should know better, and it’s surprising that they still went forward with this plan.

While there’s no denying that Google is a tremendously successful company, for years, we’ve believed the really big opportunity online is to become the web platform that powers much of what people do online. Rather than doing that, unfortunately, they seem to be focusing not on being the platform that powers much of the web, but the platform that sells advertising to any kind of media. Given the company’s success in making money on ads, this makes sense — but it’s much less defensible long term (and so far the company has failed to find a real followup to its success with web-based ads). In the meantime, Google has ceded the efforts to power web services to folks like Yahoo and Amazon — though neither have been able to get enough traction in that area to matter.

Still, what makes this that much more interesting, is Tyler Hall’s submission to us, where he notes that the company he works for relied on Google’s SOAP API for what they do, and found that since the API went down quite frequently, they had to write their own scraping tool as a backup, which they’ve now released publicly for others, under the EvilAPI banner. Tyler wonders about the legality of this, but he’s certainly not the first to do something like this. We wrote about a very similar effort to get around the limitations of Google’s API two years ago. And, given that Google’s entire search engine is based on scraping the web, they’d get a ton of pushback if they went after anyone else for then scraping their results as well. Overall, it seems like Google’s new mantra of trying to focus more has them focusing on the wrong thing. They’re focusing much more on the advertising business than the platform business, and if you look at it historically, that’s almost always the wrong choice. Google hasn’t made many false steps so far, and you’d have to believe they have better insight into what they’re doing than any outsider — but it’s difficult to see how this is a good strategic move.

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Comments on “Google Misses Another Chance To Be The Web Platform”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve always been an avid reader of Techdirt but more and more your articles are becoming more ignorant.

The **AA being against copyright infringement is perfectly fine, granted some of their legal tactics are just stupid but you tell them to embrace a technology that serves only a platform to make their music more popular and self-admittedly less profitable but that it’s better for up and coming artists… how is that a reason for the to embrace P2P?

You’re pushing opinions with very little proper backing and more and more Techdirt is becoming like Slashdot.

Tony Fu says:

Google insight is more into profit making....

I believe like you suggested that Google people are very shrewd when it comes to business sense. This is only my observation: Insisting on a particular API is like insisting that English is the best and should be made the official language for the world. As long as people can “understand” and “use” an existing language, for example, “AJAX”, then it’ll be a waste of resource and time to maintain another language. In the end, they’ll be making the universal language of “money” no matter what language is spoken.

Humbly yours,


Matthew says:

I don't get it, but

By your own admission, In the meantime, Google has ceded the efforts to power web services to folks like Yahoo and Amazon — though neither have been able to get enough traction in that area to matter. So perhaps Google sees something else down the road?
The AJAX thing doesn’t strike hard with me, but I am not much of a programmer or web page designer. So it’s a smidge more difficult to quote Google on your web page. So you might actually have to download search results and reformat them to your page, or let your page be a part of Google’s vast collection.

So, without trying to advertise your site, show me what the big deal is.

Nobody Special says:


Supportability is a huge key word that the Techdirt authors should experience. And there is good indication that the SOAP interface often went down. That would tend to point to support problems.

I think it is great if Google chose to step backwards and make their system reliable. It is about time developers worried more about reliability then features. The world would be better off.

Also, it is just possible that someone realized that a growing trend was to cut out the business model of Google. And if they choose to make a business move ahead of technical, then they join the ranks of many a company that survived. It is NOT in the best interest of a company to always put technical ahead of business. And Google MUST be in business for Google. Anyone saying otherwise should do us a favor and stick their heads back in the sand.

Finally, you need to look at who cares? It is not that big of deal if you piss off a few developers. It is a huge deal if you make a large mass happy with better offerings for them.

Google is first and foremost a search engine. And they should continue this focus on core technology ahead of becoming “the web platform.” We don’t need a replacement for Macroslop. And a single unified location to do things is a good way to get another macroslop.

The Fifth Columnist says:

Re: Supportability

Perhaps Google is looking at various new business models other then the older system of profit ahead of service. As the business world moves deeper into the Post Modern Era, we are finding that new models of business, other then putting great profit ahead of great service, “Do No Evil” works better and had far greater PR then the old school of money, greed, and high profit. Your sideways shot at Microsoft, reveals more then you know. First, I promote in the real world, several open source project. I also, in the real world, work with clients, 94 percent of them, use MS products and platforms, simply because MS grew from a small software company into a huge global corporation based on the old system of profit and gain. Google has set new standards, found new methods of making money but still at their core, they push the new models of business and find areas to grow. MS has become a victim of their own success by not exploring the new models but they are leaning because they see Google as creating the new tools for the new business models of this new era. Growth comes through innovation and service, money always has and always will follow the new growth. AJAX has great potential and do not be surprised if alot of the aspects of SOUP are not ported over to Ajax. The new model continues to grow, we must all learn to grow with it. Just some thoughts from a tech in the field.

Anonymous Coward says:


English is the offical language of the world. Fly an airplane anywhere and they are REQUIRED to speek english to you. Sometimes they revert to native languages when speeking to other natives but the must be able to speek english (Controlers and pilots). Most programing languages are english, yes you can make other language varible names and such but the keywords are english. What language is tought as the 2nd language almost everywhere? English

Rational Beaver says:

Perhaps Google is simply going about this another way:

“But Dave Girouard, the boss of Google’s small but growing enterprise division, says that “tens of thousands” of organisations have already signed up to use Google’s web-based tools in place of traditional in-house e-mail systems and other software.”

Hagrin (user link) says:

Get Your Facts Straight

The ignorance on this post and the comments boggles my mind. Let’s review actual facts here –

1) Google announced on their Google Code blog that they will not pull support for the SOAP API and have no plans to do so. Whether or not that is to be trusted, who knows. However, they have stated that no additional resources will be used on this project and no more API keys would be handed out.

2) Scraping Google search results violates their ToS – there is no “question about legality” at all here – according to their ToS, you’re in violation.

3) The AJAX API is not a substitute for the SOAP API as they allow you to do two seperate operations. The AJAX API requires you provide Google a valid URL that the requests are coming from – something the SOAP API never required. What this means is that you can no longer use the API to drive background processes or data collection – this is meant more to fuel a front-end user experience. The two APIs are really apples and oranges when looking at them from a SEO PoV.

Wolfger (profile) says:

Re: Google = M$ = Evil Empire

Mark, your reply makes no sense. Let me elaborate:
1) Every company has their own rules. This is not limited to Google and Microsoft, it is everywhere. Even the FSF has its own rules (ever hear of the GPL?).
2) Their own format? Google suddenly owns AJAX? How very interesting. When did they do this?
3) If you don’t like it, live without Google. There’s nothing Google does that isn’t also done by quite a few other companies. By no means do you have to “live without the internet” by refusing to use Google.

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chaizzilla says:


getting rid of SOAP is a bad idea; if the interface was going down, make it better. it’s specifically a bad idea for google, i know at least my part of the fan base got into google in part because they seemed pretty solid. shutting down SOAP is just the sort of thing to exacerbate emergent ~goin’ to seed~ vibes. they seriously need to think about integration of their services as a core service itself, it would help bring back that ~got their sh*t together~ glow. they should hire some older folks and get them to blog, too, the increasingly predominant giggling shrillies does *not* set them apart, & definately doesn’t inspire confidence .

well with that overstated, the comments thread was a little odd, like, raise your hand if you’re familiar with SOAP?

ascould really benefit from integration among their services,

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