FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, November 18, 2005

Is Google Base a Killer App in the Making?

The recent beta launch of Google Base -- an XML/RSS classified advertising portal in the vein of Craigslist -- positions the Internet juggernaut to disrupt not just one business, but many.

The most vulnerable victim is the newspaper industry, which has taken its share of lumps recently. Local papers, after all, derive as much as 80% of their income from classified ads. But they can't blame Google Base for their woes, as the Internet broke the business model for newspaper classifieds long ago.

Rather, Google Base is a threat to the established Internet classified sites that have carved out niches for themselves. Some believe that Google Base could even pose a threat to other Internet giants such as eBay and Monster, which became killer apps themselves by allowing individuals to market products and services on a wider scale than was ever before possible. One enormous incentive for using Google Base is that its entries appear to come up very high in Google searches, thereby becoming, if nothing else, a powerful search engine optimization tool.

The biggest immediate problem for Google Base is that, with all the hype surrounding it, it will surely attract spammers and could quickly be filled with junk, suffering the fate that befell Usenet newsgroups. But, assuming that users continue to find value in the tool, at least a couple of solutions could emerge. One, Google could simply charge a small fee for each posting; even a fee of a few cents per posting would deter serial spammers. Another is that third-party developers will see huge opportunities in developing filtering tools and mashups for easier, more accurate parsing of Google Base data. This will be even easier as Google issues open APIs for Base.

It's important to remember that Google Base is still a beta app and has a ways to go to catch on with the average user. In fact, Bill Burnham speculates that classified advertising is just the beginning for Google Base, that it's capable of aggregating and relating a wide variety of XML and RSS feeds... becoming, in essence, a giant SOA hub where anyone -- or any computer -- can access all forms of structured data. "With the database assembled," Burnham writes, "Google will be able to deliver a rich, structured experience... because Google Base will in fact be a giant XML database it will be far more powerful than a structured directory. Not only will Google Base users be able to browse similar listings in a structured fashion, but they will also ultimately be able to do highly detailed, highly accurate queries."

Russell Beattie suggests that Google Base could ultimately evolve into a singular personal information aggregator:

Imagine in your aggregator you could receive not only Posts but forms as well. And calendaring info, and images, etc. And this stuff wasn't just HTML formatted inside the Description tag, but actually processable by the aggregator itself. I guess then the Aggregator becomes a Universal Data Reading Client instead. On the other side of the equation, I currently have a weblog which has only one way to create new items, a button called New Post which has just two fields, Title and Content. Now what would happen if I added more ways to create items: New Calendar Item and New Review and New Classified, etc. Each one of these extra types of posts would all have Title and Content, but they'd also have fields filled with additional arbitrary information which was included in the RSS also. If your aggregator didn't understand these fields, they could just display them.

Even if Google Base isn't this killer app, it will help us better understand how to ultimately build it... and whether or not we truly want it in the first place.