Getting excited about Web services  APR 15 2002

Web services is the latest buzzword that promises the change the way we ___[fill in the blank]___. Since the last buzzword that lived up to its hype was "World Wide Web", I'm naturally a little skeptical. But I admit that Web services makes me feel just a little bit tingly. Google recently released an XML-based API that allows people to access their search results without a browser. Amazon is letting participants in their Associates program use an XML API to access product information.

So what can you do with all this? How about using Amazon's API** and some XML-formatted data from weblogs.com to build a list of the most linked books on the Web (more info)? And you know what the best part is? You can use BookWatch's RSS document and Google's API to add the most recent search results for each of the books on the list, which is useful because Google searches for book titles and authors often yield links to authors' Web sites, sample chapters, and reviews.

The biggest challenge for companies offering Web services will be how to make money with them. Free and unlimited Web services would suit developers best, result in fast adoption and defacto standardization for those offering the services, and promote an explosion of innovation. But as we saw with the Web, a free product, no matter how many people are using it, doesn't necessarily translate into revenue down the road. Plus it conveys a false sense to Web users that everything online must be free, which is ultimately self-defeating for everyone trying to do business on the Web.

It's nice to see that Google and Amazon are on the right track. Google is betting that a free teaser of their API (only 1000 searches/day currently allowed) will demonstrate to developers the power of Google in their applications and hope that they upgrade to a more industrial strength version (at least, that's what they should be thinking). Amazon is limiting the use of their API to their Associates for the purpose of driving traffic back to Amazon and (hopefully) increasing sales.

** Note: I'm pretty sure that Paul didn't use Amazon's API to get the book information from them because I don't think they offer that capability yet (although they say that they are going to). I think he just screen scraped the info. Paul?

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