Sunday 14 April 2002

The Google API?

Burningbird “just can’t see any usefulness of the Google API for weblogging.”

Dave Winer “ran a survey on Scripting News asking if the Google API is useful. The number one answer was ‘Yes, there are lots of possibilities.’ The second most popular choice was ‘The lightning bolt hasn’t hit me yet.’”

Mark Pilgrim has written PyGoogle, a “Python wrapper for the Google web API. Allows you to do Google searches, retrieve pages from the Google cache, and ask Google for spelling suggestions.”

I have no idea whether the Google API is useful; perhaps the lightning bolt will strike me, perhaps not. But I agree absolutely with Burningbird when she writes:

I keep hearing from you all that you’re really only concerned about attracting readers who come to the weblog to read what you say. Yet we’re inundated, drowned, overwhelmed, and suffocated by all of the technological gimmicks that we absolutely must have at our weblogs or perish!

In the nearly twenty years I spent as a photographer, I learned one significant truth: the less reliance I placed on technological gimmicks, the better my pictures became. One film, one developer, one paper, one camera, two lenses (one slightly longer than normal, the other slightly wider than normal—if I’d been an absolute purist I would have settled for just the normal lens, but I hated Cartier-Bresson with a passion).

When I taught photography, I suggested this minimalist approach to my students. Most of them rejected it out of hand, protesting that it restricted their creativity. When I repeated the Japanese aesthetic maxim—the further you travel along a narrow path, the wider it becomes—they looked blankly at me, as though I’d spoken to them in a foreign language.

I can’t see weblogging gimmicks as being any different — though, if someone can explain how the Google API will make me a better writer, I’m willing to listen. But I suspect the New York photographer Ed Feingersh’s late 40s aphorism applies equally to weblogging:

The cameras get better and better, but the pictures stay just the same.

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Jon, I assume you're not an engineer, you do a great job as a writer. Keep doing what you';re doing. But developers need to explore the google api, looking for nuggets that will mean something to users like yourself. I think you and Shelley have misunderstood what the google boxes are about. Her comments always are pretty nasty and dismissive (yuck), please don't go there yourself, what we're doing serves a purpose just not the purpose you[re criticizing us for.

Posted by dave winer on 14 April 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I have my Nikon 995 digital with a fish eye, telephoto and wide angle. Digital does tend to make one want to play around. For film, I have my Nikon 8008, use Fujichrome Velvia 50 (and sometimes Kodak 200) slide film, with one lens (telephoto, 70-210). I find that for myself, admittedly an amatuer, that's all I need.
Love Nikon's optics. Customer service is atrocious, though.

Posted by Burningbird on 14 April 2002 (Comment Permalink)

The "technological gimmicks" that appear on so many blog sites [mine included, I confess] remind me of when desktop publishing first took off. Documents would often have 20 plus typefaces. A memo at least six. A letter, ten or more.
Why, because they could. Suddenly there was a new freedom, and equally soon things settled down and design ethics took over.
I think blogging is going through a similar experimental phase, and eventually things will settle down, and then the gimmicks that survive will have to have proved themselves useful in some way or other.
Dave Winer is welcome to explore all these bits and pieces, but without them having a solid role to play, they will be ignored.
And I should also point out that unlike Mr Winer I do not find Shelley's comments "nasty and dismissive", in fact, like the one quoted by Jonathon, it was spot on and incisive.

Posted by Allan on 14 April 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I agree that Google boxes are a gimmick; they're this year's syndicated news box (like the Java stock ticker before it, the hit counter before that, and so forth). The real potential of the Google web API lies in invisible uses, like automated data mining over time. Google is a form of collective intelligence; being able to tap into this would be another form of market research. Who does Google consider the top 100 authoritative sites for [pick an topic]? What sort of sites are considered authoritative? Now find out why they're considered authoritative (by finding who links to each site). What sort of sites are linking to them to make them authoritative? Now ask the same question every day for a year and graph the results. Etc.

Posted by Mark Pilgrim on 14 April 2002 (Comment Permalink)

That's a great way to see the Google API being used Mark. I don't find Shelley's remarks dismissive either. Just the opposite. I don't see how Google boxes make me a better writer :)
But I kinda look at the Google box like a 'hello world' app. Or like those anoying java applets everyone was so fond of using awhile back (like you say above Mark). Much cooler things I expect to see down the line.
Just another tool for the toolbox.
I'm going to try and get JEdit to use the API to search Google for help on particular words highlighted in the buffer I am editing for example. Shouldn't be too hard - but we'll see. Should be a fun exercise.

Posted by Karl on 15 April 2002 (Comment Permalink)

One thing the Google API could help writers out with is spell checking. Google makes the best spell checker I've ever seen. I like it better than I also do not think That Shelley is dismissive. It is healthy to have skeptics thinking hard about things. Somebody needs to be asking "what's the point." It makes the answers so much better. She's not saying don't play around with this new technology. She's just saying that, so far, she doesn't see the value it adds to weblogs. Very likely Mark is right when he says that the real value is what it can do behind the scenes.

Posted by Will Leshner on 15 April 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I wrote a JEdit macro that does what you suggest Will -

Posted by Karl on 17 April 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour