Thursday, November 17, 2005

Test Drive: Google Base has Huge Potential, Modest Start

After a bumpy start (recurring Google theme these days?) the Beta version of Google Base is online, already filling with items and filling people's minds with questions about the implication of its presence. It's definitely an EARLY Beta swag at this - search results do not provide links to database records, just links to external items - but you can see some early outlines of what the service will entail with just a little doodling:

- Early competitive targets are hinted at via its list of existing record types: Course Schedules, Events and Activities, Jobs, News and Articles (with its bulk upload capabilities this one could be very interesting), People Profiles, Products, Recipes, Reference Articles, Reviews, Services, Vehicles and Wanted Ads. In other words many types of content that database publishers like to make money with today.
- The tool itself is reasonably flexible if you want to create your own item (record) types: here's an example of a company rating record that I quickly cobbled together based on content from a recent weblog entry. So from a technical standpoint is it possible to create business information records in this format fairly easily? In a general sense, yes, BUT...
- A gander at Google Base's Terms of Service is fairly revealing. If you put content in Google Base it says that Google does not want to impede your ownership rights but it reserves the right to display content from the service in Google products. No liability on Google's part for technical failures. They may use advertising as they please.
- A reporting feature allows users to notify Google about bad or questionable items, allowing for a certain amount of community-generated quality control.

Bottom line? For the short term this is a facility designed to collect mostly user-generated media and other forms of content from open source enthusiasts. While it's not entirely far-fetched to think that it could be used for serious business information that's not likely to happen until models for monetizing content in the established categories have been worked out. The most likely candidate for early business-oriented postings are feeds from government sources and other regulation-related public information; posting press releases may also be an early candidate for clever people who know how to add value to them with Google tools. The main factor to ponder with Google Base: databases have been moving towards commoditization for some time, but now developing structured content for the masses has become that much easier.

Consider this a shot not only at eBay, Craigslist and other more traditional databases but as well a poke at wikis and other simple database tools which do not have the ease of use, sorting and and data formation offered by Google Base. It took Google a while to get around to helping webloggers to monetize their content with advertising, so expect another shoe to drop at some point that may provide for more monetization capabilities to be added to Google Base. But even with those capabilities the lack of true service-level agreements, subscription control and other key components used for premium business information sources is not likely to make Google Base a serious player in many forms of business publishing for quite some time. But with Google's push into enterprise computing it's possible that Google Base could become a search-friendly tool for organizing many forms of enterprise content. This in turn may find business content being sent to enterprises for local storage in Google Base. Profound implications from all angles, to be sure. We'll see how this develops, but expect Google Base's growth to be driven by creative users and adapters of its content as much as by Google's own product efforts. That could mean a highly accelerated path to growth.
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