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April the 14th

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April 11, 2002

Detecting intelligence Tim O’Reilly, publisher of O’Reilly and Associates, is one of the most interesting people in publishing today. Here’s a bit from his latest column on his company’s web site:
There are now dozens of Amazon rank spiders that will help authors keep track of their book’s Amazon rank. We have a very powerful one at O’Reilly that provides many insights valuable to our business that are not available in the standard Amazon interface. It allows us to summarize and study things like pricing by publisher and topic, rank trends by publisher and topic over a two-year period, correlation between pricing and popularity, relative market share of publishers in each technology area, and so on. We combine this data with other data gleaned from Google link counts on technology sites, traffic trends on newsgroups, and other Internet data, to provide insights into tech trends that far outstrip what’s available from traditional market research firms. […]

Eventually, these inefficient, brute-force spiders, built that way because that’s the only way possible, will give way to true Web services. The difference is that a site like Amazon or Google or MapQuest or E*Trade or eBay will not be the unwitting recipient of programmed data extraction, but a willing partner. These sites will offer XML-based APIs that allow remote programmers to request only the data they need, and to re-use it in creative new ways.

Why would a company that has a large and valuable data store open it up in this way?

My answer is a simple one: because if they don’t ride the horse in the direction it’s going, it will run away from them. The companies that “grasp the nettle firmly” (as my English mother likes to say) will reap the benefits of greater control over their future than those who simply wait for events to overtake them.

[09:15 PM]
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