Can small software developers who use Google's APIs avoid being crushed by the giant? It's become a familiar story elsewhere in the industry. If you create a popular utility for Windows, there's a strong likelihood that Microsoft will bundle a rival in with the operating system, removing your market. And Apple once told developers they should forget about making money, and that writing for the Mac was a higher calling.
Yesterday Google launched a free alerts service which looks like a direct competitor to the popular independent service Google Alerts. But Alerts co-founder Gideon Greenspan isn't worried. Speaking to us from Tel Aviv where he's been based for several years, Greenspan said Google had been nothing but positive. The search engine regards Alerts as a flagship for its Web API service.
"Google isn't charging for its web APIs. But that's what they would like to see. Queries cost money and APIs don't carry ads," he told us. When he launched the service fifteen months ago he anticipated that the search engine would want to take a cut of future revenue, and its a relationship he's happy with.
Google Alerts now has close to 100,000 registered users, and will soon complement the free service with a premium pay-for service. Pricing has not yet been finally decided, but Greenspan said there will be a range of options from around $5 to $20. His free Alerts service already does much more than Google's, such as timed delivery of results; sending the results to multiple recipients such as a group, or giving users the ability to embed the results as HTML or RSS.
Google's web APIs are rarely discussed as a revenue source, and there's no indication that they will be. It's not alone: Amazon.com wants to be a platform too. But if Google can earn the trust of software developers, and Alerts is a poster-child, then it's halfway to a valuable additional business. ®