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Google Alert Shows the Power of Google's Web API Program

By Cory Kleinschmidt, 10/15/2003

When Google unleashed their Web API program in 2002, web developers were giddy
with the prospect of tapping into Google's power and comprehensive index of
web pages and documents. Many of the early applications were simple tools that
performed basic functions that weren't terribly useful to the Internet population
at large.


As developers got their feet wet and learned what they could really do with
the API toolset, they dreamed up ever more useful functionality. One of the
first applications with universal appeal was Google Alert, which tracks searches
automatically and e-mails you when Google's search results change for those
terms. That's a great timesaver and a new way of researching information on
the Web.


I've been using this free service for several months now, and was curious
about the how's and why's of the service, so I asked its creator, Gideon Greenspan
for the scoop.


Traffick: Google Alert has been receiving great press coverage. What
do you think about your little creation?


Greenspan: Things have been going very well with Google Alert. The
service
already has a large number of users in over 120 countries and is growing
rapidly and exponentially. I've been adding many new features and doing a
lot of optimization and streamlining to keep improving the site.


Traffick: I've been watching the evolution of Google Alert and noticed
that new users no longer have to have their own Google API key. How did you
get Google to change that policy?


Greenspan: Originally, each user had to provide their individual Google
Web APIs key because each key allows a limited number of queries per day.
When Google noticed how many people were signing up for a key just to use
it with Google Alert, they gave me a special key with a much higher
capacity. I guess they wanted to streamline things and avoid so many
non-developers getting API keys. The change was good for Google Alert too
because people are more likely to sign up if they needn't go through an
additional step. So far Google have continually increased the capacity of
the special key to match Google Alert's growing needs.


While Google has so far been very encouraging and supportive of Google
Alert's growth as a free service, at some point we're going to have to put
a business model in place, since neither I nor Google can keep this
running indefinitely without any form of revenue stream. I envision
keeping the basic service free, but adding premium services which allow
greater search capacity and other additional features for a reasonable
monthly charge.


Traffick: Is Google actually working with you as a partner, or merely
advising you about business models they will offer their blessing to?


Greenspan: For now Google has had no input into how Google Alert should
work, other than providing the special APIs key and initiating discussions
over a formal business relationship. I'm talking with various people
inside Google about how this relationship will develop and it is taking
some time - until the discussions are concluded the premium service will
be on hold. I'm hoping we can agree on a business model that allows both
Google Alert and Google to make money from a premium service, while
keeping the basic service free.


Traffick: It's interesting to see Google's reaction to your work. Many
people had the impression that Google wouldn't accommodate developers as they
have with you. Do you think they see the API tool as a competitive advantage
over other search engines and don't want to advertise what they might allow
some developers to do?


Greenspan: The impression I get is somewhat different - that Google
released the Web APIs to see what would happen, without a specific idea of
how they would develop or be used. Google Alert is apparently the heaviest
user of the APIs, so Google has an interest in encouraging its growth
to help nurture a community of Google-based applications.


Traffick: What kind of new features can users expect?


Greenspan: Some of the features envisioned for the premium
version:



  • Track more different searches (currently limited to 5)

  • Track more results
    per search (currently limited to 50)

  • Perform searches more frequently
    (currently limited to daily)

  • Manage a distribution list for alert emails.

  • Track the rank of specific
    sites for a Google search.


All users now have customization options for their HTML and RSS feeds, so
you may want to check that out too.


Traffick: Have you heard about SEO Count (formerly Google Count)? It
uses the API to monitor rank and provide ranking reports similar to WebPosition
Gold, and it is fee-based. The devloper behind it said Google asked him to
change the name but has so far allowed him to charge for this service that
uses the API.


Greenspan: I hadn't heard of it - thanks for the pointer. As mentioned
before, rank tracking is a feature I'm planning to add as part of the
premium service of Google Alert, but there's a technical issue I'm waiting

to hear about from Google first.


I'm actually surprised about what that service is doing - I guess if it
gets big enough Google will start wanting their cut but are happy to let
the experiment run in the meantime. I consciously chose not to take that "leap
and hope" attitude with Google Alert, since I wanted to respect
Google's API terms. I also don't want to be charging people for a service
before I can guarantee its continuity and scalability, and I can't do that
while the Google Web APIs is in beta and no commercial agreement with
Google has been made.


Traffick: Thanks for your time Gideon. We'll keep checking in with you, as
the Google Web API and Google Alert evolve together.


Cory Kleinschmidt is webmaster of Traffick.com. 

 

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