Google advanced – providing guidance through APIs

Google is just my favorite pet company. Always innovating new things, but still doing it in way that raises curiosity. And objection! But were it not raising
heated debates, it just wouldn’t be anything.

Today I happened to come across a Google cam car on the road. It’s an
otherwise ordinary car, that has a pole/tripod attached to it, and
there are cameras mounted so it can see to all directions.

It sparked
my imagination, and I did come to think how strange things we actually do
as humanity. Photograph systematically roads, countryside, people, buildings,
forests, and everything in between. Although a bit jaded, I have to mention
that Orwell’s 1984 had the famous telecasters, which were placed in every home and they made the government able to spy on any individual it wanted to. It is no wonder that these moving cameras are raising some privacy
conserns. But come to think of it, I think we already gave up on privacy a long
time ago, with security cameras.

Streetview?
Go to
http://maps.google.com/help/maps/streetview/

Let’s get to the idea stage. I talked to a tech friend today on the phone.
We always have infinitely refreshing talks about technology. He’s into it,
and I am a devout follower. We both hacked code as children, and exchanged
knowledge and skills in the classic way: he taught me things, and I taught
him different things in return. It came to my mind that perhaps how Google
can tap into the companies business even further, is by offering more refined
and easy to use APIs. Companies could start to use programming, even if their
main developer had only had 1 year worth of formal disciplining in computer
programming.

The APIs would go from current web-accessible data searches into much more
strategically valuable data. Perhaps Google would start provisioning some of the
data as per-pay only, depending on how much work it take to make the data.
I don’t know G’s strategy so well that I could speak in this arena.

Microsoft offered the same idea perhaps 25 years ago: everyone can and
should become a programmer. In fact, any company that doesn’t have its custom engineer who programs, will wither!!

What is this compulsion behind being specifically a programmer?
It’s the power that code leverages. You can cut repetitive tasks, you can
order (sort, view) information in different ways; add, remove, join, archive,
refine – basically you work on the information. And information has become
an arch-factor in every possible field of human activity. It directs the action,
spreads the word, makes sales possible, etc. Without information we’d really
be lost.

With modern tools like Google there’s one big change: we no longer are required
to tap the keyboard to make input data. We just guide the process of selection,
and data sources provide us huge amounts of data.

But there’s a cost: developing code costs time and effort. It’s by no means
an easy skill to master. Even the most user-friendly language has to be
learned, and then there’s all the learning with application programming interfaces.
It’s like learning a new natural language. I’ve learned assembler, Pascal,
Basic, Visual Basic, Perl, C, Scheme, Java, C#. They all take their own time. It becomes
easier to learn more languages when you already have a basis on something, but it’s
no free lunch nevertheless.

Here comes Google’s part: it’s a software/services house, that has a LOT
of intelligent code. You may not realize it, but the search engine is one
big chunk of code lines. It probably has at least hundreds of thousands of
source code lines, but might span to millions. The engine has to have pretty
sophisticated parsing engine for HTML and other format content, too. Then there
are the algorithms that rank a page (PageRank), and a LOT of code to fight abuse – which tries to promote pages
into better positions than they truly deserve.

With this knowledge of code, Google has started to produce APIs (interfaces for
programmers to use, from all the main languages). An API is specifically
targeted at certain problem set: like searching. It has its own Search API.
code.google.com/apis/ajaxsearch/
I’m thinking that small companies, perhaps with some aid from specialized
consultants, could start using the vast data search and other capabilities
that Google has. It’s not just searching for web pages anymore – there’s
plenty more. And I’m 100% sure we’re only beginning to see the whole thing.

What about financial/strategy search, for example? Let Google mine the right
path you should take operations-wise. You could make calls to the Strategy-API
and Google would make its knowledge of the markets available to you. It could
return results regarding competition. Call it mini-BI, whatever. The idea would
be to start applying real knowledge in hard situations, with minimal programming.
Because usually small and medium businesses apply butt-knowledge to business
problems, and often this is the reason they don’t grow (actually they would like
to, but don’t see the growth potential areas).

We’d have to make a careful balancing between the benefits and fear of being
controlled. Google is a nice fellow, but there’s something in its way of
functioning that makes hair stand on end: too much things are free. We’ve
been taught for all our lives that there’s no such thing as free lunch.
The common knowledge goes: use the services, and lose your soul. This is what
many people think. Google is the modern day incarnation of a camera for aboriginals.
The same with Facebook: be there, and say byebye to privacy. It’s not so simple in reality.

I’ve actually read the document which defines Google: The Anatomy of a Search
Engine. It’s a bit dry technical documents that illustrates what the goals of
Google are, and what are some of the details of its inner workings. The PageRank
algorithms, the heart and soul of G, are not public. Google has probably been
refined a lot from those times of about 1996-1997. I don’t believe in losing my
soul! 🙂

Links
http://www.securityfocus.com/columnists/304

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