Monday, March 20, 2006

Scraping, APIs and the monetization of Web 2.0

I realize that this title broke a previous oath not to say Web 2.0 but I couldn't help myself as I think that one of the issues that not enough people have focused on is the light discussion of monetizing Web 2.0 thus far.

Over the weekend, while crawling through my various feeds and readings I came across a couple of things that brought me back to a topic I have been thinking a lot about. First Debi posted an article about people re-purposing the feeds of other bloggers into their own product without their knowledge. Second I came across these guys who claim that they have integration with Myspace. How did I miss THAT story? :-) Both of these things made me think a bit about how content and information flows from web to mobile, web to web, and mobile to mobile.

I don't have much to say about the issue that Debi raises other than I think that the content creators should have a say in what happens to their content. Enough said. By the way the same goes from record labels and artists. :-)

On the second one I had to check out the Myspace integration to understand what was meant by integration. I signed up. During the registration process I was prompted by the opportunity to sign in with my Myspace account (complete with logo etc.) which I didn’t do, but I am left to assume that this then allows me to import my account profile settings into the new application. Ok, that’s what they meant by integration. When we refer to integration we mean that we have a deal with a company or we use open APIs or some other method. I know that in the past there have been questions regarding the legality of screen scraping and technically it is the least effective way to accomplish what you are trying to do. I would suspect that there are certainly some business issues associated with taking that approach (use of logos, how you represent the relationship with said company, copyright etc.) Frankly it’s not my concern as it is not how we choose to integrate with 3rd parties.

So aside from scraping, what is a company to do if they want to cross the mobile to web or web to web divide? Generally you can use the API’s that are open to developers, like the Blogger API in Google’s case or you have to structure some kind of commercial arrangement with a company. As a company you need to be aware of what the policies are that different companies have with respect to APIs. In general, most of the companies that we interact with don’t allow public access to their APIs. This is a good thing in that there is no ambiguity for the path we have to follow. We have to initiate contact and make a convincing business case for why we should be able to establish a bi-directional relationship with those companies. We usually try to do that by sharing money that our subscribers pay to access our community.

On the open API front, you have to realize that whatever you do from an API perspective, that the other party has disclaimed any support and can do whatever they want with respect to changing their API’s etc. We originally implemented our Live Journal integration using XML-RPC and after a brief conversation migrated our implementation over to Atom. Supporting open APIs is a choice that we hope to enable with Rabble as we move down the road and our APIs become more mature. Making our APIs available to 3rd parties and also allowing people to monetize that integration is something that we think is important in the future of mobile.

The problem category I have observed is when you allow access to API’s but preclude commercial use. The most obvious example of that is Flickr. Flickr will let you mash up, mix, create clients and go crazy for non-commercial purposes. Given what I have seen with Shozu and many other companies, I take non-commercial to mean that they aren’t charging customers. We actually do charge customers. All of our customers pay for Rabble. Because of that we went directly to Flickr and have been trying for many months now to get something in place that ranges from simply letting our users use Rabble to post to Flickr, to actually being one of the drop down options on the Flickr website (you have to ask right?).

I will continue to bug the business development guy at Flickr but I think an important question that should be asked is, what are the plans for the Yahoo API business? I am not aware of any commercial deals with any of their companies with respect to commercial use of their APIs. I hope I am wrong but if I am not, we are witnessing the aggregation of a number of businesses that have been touting the “small pieces loosely joined” concept on the one hand while not really fostering the development of businesses that have revenue on the other. Can anyone point me to some deals that exist? Stewart?

No comments: