September 04, 2012

An API Tribute to Google Feeling Under the Weather


If an API never really launched, will anybody notice when it’s withdrawn? In the case of the Google Weather API, at least, the answer is a quiet yes.

It didn’t start with much of a bang—in fact, it was never even announced—and its demise seems to be just as much of a whimper. During its entire existence, Google never officially supported the unreleased release. It didn’t even have an official page; it was just another feature in the home page portal, iGoogle, which launched seven years ago and will officially be retired late in 2013. Users who rely on this entire resource need to make other arrangements for their data.

Google has been winding down various services for some time now. Google Video has essentially been ported to YouTube, its more popular cousin. The Symbian Search App is headed out the door. Google Talk Chatback is done chatting. And perhaps most noticeably, the Google Mini—the SMB-friendly version of the Google Search Appliance—was put to rest just a few weeks ago.

The Google Weather API apparently won’t even last as long as the rest of iGoogle. Developer blogs have noticed that several location-specific requests have returned error messages. Perhaps most damningly, iGoogle itself, which the API serviced, is using another a different resource to serve weather requests.

From our perspective, however, the Google Weather API deserves a better sendoff. It did many things right, which can be important reference points for any company launching an API today.

For one thing, it won over developers because it was simple, direct and clean, as those experimenting with the service pointed out, in typically great reviews. Unlike so many kludgy offerings out there, it did the work for the user. Developers didn’t even need to identify specific locations (say longitude or latitude) to get it to work, they just had to enter ZIP codes. In many cases, city names were enough. It processed the data fast, and perhaps best of all, the XML call was right to the point—it gave a positive response or returned an error message.

In addition to the technical qualities, there are other factors at play here. Weather services were among early true-content APIs to find a market, and this one in particular was a critical proof-of-concept option. Even without a major promotional push—or really any kind of marketing support—it helped legitimize the field.

And of course, we can’t discount the importance of the marquee name behind it. This was Google, one of the world’s most recognizable Internet brands, putting out an API. The general public, all those people for whom Google is so common it’s a verb, probably never heard of it. Yet it surely helped open the door for to mass API development for powering apps.

Perhaps examples like this pioneering Web API are a reason why today’s cloud enterprise and consumer online services are filled with APIs traversing the web with too much chatter to give the Google Weather API a moment of silence. So we give it our applause.