Google Retires Pioneering Web Services API

SOAP API AJAX Web services

Google released its SOAP API in 2002, allowing developers for the first time to begin incorporating data from Google's search results into their own non-commercial applications. Earlier this month, it quietly stopped issuing new license keys and took offline the developer's kit for the API. The SOAP API will continue functioning for existing users who already have keys, but Google no longer is devoting any development resources to the retired interface.

A Google spokesman cast the move as part of the company's ongoing purge of underperforming products from its packed portfolio. In retiring the SOAP API, Google is opting to concentrate resources on the AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and Extensible Markup Language) API it released in June.

The new AJAX API has some advantages over SOAP offering: It's lightweight, easier to use (developers have long complained about the irony of SOAP's name -- Simple Object Access Protocol -- given the specification's complexity), and has no daily limit on queries. The SOAP API, which never moved out of beta status, carried a 1,000-queries-per-day cap. But the AJAX API, also in beta, has other limitations, such as returning a maximum of eight results per query.

Developers in Google's Web APIs discussion group are grumbling about abruptly losing the SOAP API and the strong push to migrate to the AJAX interface. Several have suggested that Google reopen the SOAP API -- or a comparable API allowing server-side access to search results -- as a paid service.

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Google is staying mum about its plans: "I can't comment on future plans except to say that we're always evaluating our services to provide the best experiences for our users," a spokesman said.

Google's SOAP Search API creator, Nelson Minar, weighed in on the controversy in his blog. "It seems like good discipline to me; when your corporate culture has a 'go fast, do a lot of things, fail often' approach to product development, you have to do something with the things that succeeded in launching but then failed to make a big impact on the business," wrote Minar, who is no longer working at Google.

In an earlier post, Minar called his decision to use SOAP for the API a mistake: "Let me say now I'd never choose to use SOAP and WSDL again. I was wrong." SOAP suffers from both its complexity and from "massive interoperability problems," Minar wrote, and is not an ideal choice for building an attractive API.