Google Base, the service that has been on an off the 'Net in alpha mode for the last few weeks has gone beta and is live. Google Base has been described variously as an online database, competition for Craigs List, or Google's first crack at eBay. There's truth in those characterizations, to various degrees, but I think Base is really more about the "structured Web." If you try it out (anyone with a GMail account already has an account for Base), you'll I'd like to see a generalized API to Base.see that you can enter information in any one of a dozen categories that Google has predefined, or you can create a custom category. The former, complete with editorial rules that ensure key fields are filled in, structure the data people put in Base in standardized ways. Any entry can have free-form lists of name-value pairs for attributes that don't fit in Google's schema.
This, of course, is a big boon for Google. Here's the value proposition: "We've been crawling the web grabbing everything you post and storing it online for searching. So, why don't you save us both a lot of time and just store it on our servers in the first place?" What's more, it's all conveniently categorized so that Google can provide better search results on that data.
It's not clear to me that it's as big a boon to people who want to store data...yet. The big promise seems to be more relevant placement in searches, but Base searches are separate from standard Google searches (with some unspecified potential crossover).
I'd like to see a generalized API to Base (something like the Atom API, for example). There is a bulk upload option, but I'm looking for something more general. Suppose, for example, that I could build a BYU off-campus housing application that used Google Base as the persistence layer? Now that would be great for me (no database to worry about), great for Base (more entries), and great for users (custom entry and search for the vertical).
Another nice tie-in would be to Google maps. Events, property listings, and lots of other things have locations. Any search for things with locations ought to return a map as well as a text listing.
Speaking of search, the interface is a little confusing. There are filters placed on the search as you narrow it down and you can clear them. It took me a while to figure out that's what was happening. Some rearranging of the interface and a few more visual clues would help.
A friend and I were talking about Base yesterday and it struck me that in the Web 1.0 era, Yahoo! or Excite wouldn't have done some of the things Google has because we were all too self conscious about creating "products" that appealed to the casual computer user. Base isn't really for that same kind of user--it's still too raw. Nevertheless, Google gets points for doing something unique and interesting. We'll have to wait and see if it's also important.