In which Google Base launches…


Right. Now. This is interesting. Google Base has launched and is both pretty weird and pretty interesting. The concept is fundamentally pretty simple – it’s almost like a completely open content management tool where you can post a recipe or a personal profile or a classified ad or whatever kind of thing you want. The item is then added to the internet as a standalone page – A recipe for Beef & Broccoli Over Shells for example. You can then contact the poster and navigate through similar items by tags (here called ‘labels’) or search through the complete database to find events, jobs, news, products, reference articles or whatever other type of data you want to define and submit.

From a personal perspective, I don’t quite get it – there’s no obvious reason I can think of for an individual to post a recipe to the service – but from a business perspective it’s really interesting. Basically it’s a complete circumvention of the problems with the Semantic web which abandons decentralisation and microformats completely. If your company has a database of things (whether that be products or pictures or weblog posts or news articles or whatever) that it represents on the web, then Google Base suggests that you should not wait to be spidered and nor should you expect them to do all the heavy-lifting to work out what your site is about. Instead, you just bulk upload all your data to Google directly and associate each entry with your corresponding page on the web. Google get an enormous amount of new useful data to organise and present to people, while the businesses or start-ups that use the service get new interfaces created for their content, and a greater findability and navigability for their data, products and services. And when Google creates an API for the service, suddenly every data source that uses them has an API as well. That’s pretty astonishing.

It’s not all positive for the businesses or start-ups, of course. It consolidates the idea of Google or a parallel search engine as the definitive place to find out information of any kind (rather than the local brand that you usually associate with events, restaurants or whatever). And that kind of corresponds to a larger question about whether Google is gradually and systematically eating the web. And I think there are larger problems too – the lack of any form of solid identifiers that will indicate whether you’re talking about the same film or book (in the review space at least) seems to me to be am issue. But generally it’s pretty interesting.

Which brings me to a fun challenge to my old employers. My old colleague Mr Biddulph (who has been freelancing for the BBC for a few months) and Mr Hammersley (of RSS, web services and utilikilt infamy) have been working on a representation of the BBC Archives Infax database for a few months. They’ve written about it in two pieces: The BBC’s programme catalogue (on Rails) and Hot BBC Archive Action. So why not make this content more explorable and searchable (and help define the way the web understands TV and radio programming) by bulk-submitting the entire massive database to Google Base? That would be an extraordinarily interesting move…

A couple of other interesting pieces: