Google actually relies on our users to help with our marketing. We have a very high percentage of our users who often tell others about our search engine. — Sergey Brin
So spake one of the co-founders of Google. But what happens when your users start to tell others about your search engines in ways that you don’t like? When they present your search results in ways that hurt or confuse your brand? You would probably try to control how those users used those results. That seems to be what Google has done with the release of their new Google Ajax Search API.
You agree that you will not, and you will not permit your users or other third parties to: (a) modify or replace the text, images, or other content of the Google Search Results, including by (i) changing the order in which the Google Search Results appear, (ii) intermixing Search Results from sources other than Google, or (iii) intermixing other content such that it appears to be part of the Google Search Results; or (b) modify, replace or otherwise disable the functioning of links to Google or third party websites provided in the Google Search Results.
The key terms here are that the order and appearance cannot be modified. And that is the essence of the Google brand: the order of the search terms. Fortunes are made and lost based on Google search position. Business plans are build around it. Millions of people around the world use the top ten results to find information, guide purchasing decisions, and so on. Mess with that order in some consistent way — in some, god forbid, way that people find valuable — and you’ve lost control of your brand, who you are, and likely your ability to advertise.
Now, with the new API, you can only use and display Google data inside a tightly circumscribed, parameterized boundary. Their order, their look and feel, their ads, their brand.
Of course there are many other ways of presenting search results. Many of the more interesting.ways to present the data reorder the results according to other criteria or third-party data (like other search results), or even dispense with a linear order. Now if you want to pull in search data and manipulate it in this way, you’re going to have to use the Yahoo! REST API’s. But will Yahoo! follow suit and get rid of their general API’s in favor of brand-preserving Ajax widgets? Dave Megginson doesn’t think so, but sees some clouds on the horizon.
Data APIs are not going to disappear, of course. AJAX widgets don’t allow mash-ups, and some sites have user bases including many developers who rely on being able to combine data from different sources (think CraigsList). However, the fact that Google has decided that there’s no value playing in the space will matter a lot to a lot of people. If you care about open data, this would be a good time to start thinking of credible business cases for companies to (continue) offer(ing) it.
I view this as a Hertz vs Avis opportunity for Yahoo! — “we try harder” with web services. Where Google might have been the first choice for many developers, now many will build the Yahoo! API’s into their applications and their frameworks. It takes just a few common plugins for packages like Drupal to boost market share.