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Posted By: hagrin
Date: 21 November 2005
Google has released yet another new web application called Google Base. With so many offerings from Google, many users (even experienced computer users) are a little perplexed by exactly what Google Base is. The following tutorial will breakdown what Google Base is, what it might be in the future and the tips and tricks on how to use this new system.
What Exactly is Google Base:
So, what exactly is Google Base? As defined by Google's About Google Base page:
Huh? Let's examine this statement a little more closely. Google Base provides users a web interface to manually submit content to Google's search index as opposed to Google automatically crawling your website. This allows users to submit content that they want to make sure shows up in Google's indexing services. Giving users an additional method by which to post their content just ensures Google's ability to "control the Internet's data". Many see Google Base as a direct competitor to websites such as Craigslist. One of Google's first practical applications of Google Base came in their announcement of small merchants selling on Google.
But why else would Google offer a service such as Google Base? As ZDNet's Garrett Rogers writes, Google could be preparing for the "worst" - a shift in compiling Internet data based on future legislation outlawing web crawlers. Search engines illegal? A recent CNet article reports how Canadian legislation was proposed stating that the caching of a web page should be deemed illegal. If this worst case scenario occurred, Google would be prepared by using Google Base as a user submitted "opt-in" approach to indexing web content.
Google is currently offering the Google Base service free of charge. The sevice, in its first iteration, is only available in one language - English. Google Base in effect is a "hosting service" for users who do not have a web site to house their material in a centralized location.
Starting Out - Registration:
Now that we have explained a little more about what Google Base is, you're probably asking yourself how do I use Google Base? Well, if you just want to browse data, you can just go to the Google Base home page and start browsing the offerings of others based on content categories. However, if you want to post your own content, you will need to either use your existing Google Account or sign up for a new Google Account here. Once you have your account setup, you need to be logged in on the Google Base page.
Posting a Single Item:
Users can post their content to Google Base in two basic ways - posting a single item or posting items in "bulk". The easiest method is to post a single item. To do so, first go to the Google Base home page. Here, you will see that you have two options - to choose an existing item type or create your own item type (see Figure 1).
Choosing a pre-defined category over a unique category created by the user doesn't offer any additional benefits it seems. Unique categories can make your content stand out, but this can also be done by applying accurate labels and attributes (discussed later). After choosing your desired option, click the next button to be brought to the posting form.
The posting form that you will see on the next page will vary based on what category you chose to post your entry under. The form is tailored to ask you to input details that are relevant to category you are posting to. The example I will use will be a "Reference Article" posting and I will use this tutorial as the content I want to post (see Figures 2 and 3).
The first field Google Base requires you to fill out is the "Title" field. Think of the title field as the "headline" or the subject of your post. You want your title to be "keyword dense" and concise. Having a "catchy" title isn't as important as a precise, on-topic title due to the nature of how search engines and their algorithms interpret and rank each document. Underneath the title field are several detail fields that are specific to the category you are posting under. In this instance, the detail fields (which are not required fields) include author, publication name, publish date (and time), pages and publication volume. As you can see from Figure 2, you have the ability to add additional details and, in my example, I have added the detail "Format" to clearly define what format my article is in. To the right of the details section is a blue box that allows you to upload up to 10 pictures relating to the article. You can either include images that are stored on your local hard drive or images that are already available via the web.
Following the details and picture sections, users are prompted to enter "Labels" or keywords to describe the posting. These can be equated to meta tag keywords and how they were used in determining the content of an indexed page. Again, the section is optional; however, I suggest filling it out as this will be one of the key ways web surfers will find your content. You can post up to ten keywords or phrases and they need to be separated by commas.
Near the bottom of the form, users are required to enter in a description of their post. Basically, this section translates to the body of a web page with one catch - HTML is not allowed. Therefore, you can't just copy and paste your code from your website - you will need to strip the HTML tags out of your description. Following the description section are fields for your contact information and the Item's location. Item location will play a massive role when trying to get listed into Google Local as you can define down to the street, city, state and zip where your item is located. Finally, you can insert an optional URL that links your Google Base posting back to your website and the page that actually contains this contact.
Once you have everything filled out the way you want, click the preview, save draft or publish buttons depending on if you need to revise or if you are not ready to post yet. Once you approve the posting, you have successfully posted your first Google Base item.
Posting Items in Bulk:
So, we've covered how to post a single item to Google Base. However, what if you already have a lot of content with an existing website and you want to "bulk" upload all this information to Google Base? Well, Google provides a method of performing those bulk uploads. To get to the bulk uploading interface, click on either the bulk upload link on the Google Base home page or the "Bulk Upload Files" option if you are viewing your already posted items.
First, you will notice that Google gives you the option to sign up for FTP access. Of course, this is a great idea. Click on the sign up link and choose a username and password. Once that's done, your FTP information will be shown for ftp://uploads.google.com which, when FTPing in, drops you to an empty directory. Once you have your FTP account, click on the "Specify a bulk upload file" link.
Creating the name of your bulk upload file is a necessary step - you cannot just upload items to the Google FTP. If you do upload items to the FTP that don't havea corresponding bulk item file name, it will processed and discarded by the Google Base processing service. At this point, Google Base requires that you format the file you just specified in one of several formats - Tab-delimited , RSS 2.0 , RSS 1.0 or Atom 0.3. Which format you choose should be entirely based on your needs, available options and the easiest way for you to automate this process. Personally, I "hacked" together an automatic bulk uploader using PHP, .Net and a task scheduler. I highly suggest reading through this tutorial to understand the complexity of the bulk upload file creation.
Once you have your file created, all you have to do is upload the file to the uploads.google.com FTP site. Once that is done, the file will be moved out of your FTP directory and processed several hours later. If all goes well, you will see your Active Items number increase, you'll receive no errors and you will get a screenshot that looks like the image below (see Figure 4).
The Future of Google Base:
The future of Google Base is uncertain to many right now; however, that is not due to the lack of possibilities. On the contrary, Google Base has a limitless supply of practical uses for it from using it as a free hosting service, to a replacement for database applications, to a free auction site and many other ideas. So with so many possibilities, what should Google do to harness Base's power?
Step One screams at most tech savvy users - API, API, API. Once Google releases an API for Google Base, programmers everywhere will scramble to create the latest and greatest Google Base applications that assist in pulling down and uploading information into the Base indexing service. An API's power can be seen on numerous fronts including programmers hacking their way through Ebay's API to create Ebay stores, Paypal's API to help create e-commerce websites and numerous other exmaples. An API would allow web developers to interface their web applications into the Google Base system eliminating their need for a mySQL, SQL Server or some other database application to be installed. For as many possibilities that currently exist with Google Base, those options will multiply with the creation of an API.
Second, and an issue I have with many of Google's applications, Google Backs lacks clear and understandable help and support information. Even though they offer an About page and a FAQ, there are several other places that they can expand their knowledge base. For instance, when first looking at the categories, I wasn't sure what the difference between some of the categories were and where my content should be posted. General descriptions of the categories are needed to help users more accurately define what category their content should reside.
Finally, many users have already expressed concerns over the lack of content filtering going on with Google Base submissions. Already, users are finding numerous spam pornography posts as well as posts relating to illegal or potentially illegal material. Although giving users the ability to directly interface with Google Base sounds great in theory, in practice, spammers and other malicious users will try and capitalize and profit on being included in Google's indexing service. The worry from most web publishers is that their content will be buried underneath a pile of spam and money making schemes.
- Official Google Blog
- Official Google Base WebSite
- ZDNet's Googling Google Blog by Garrett Rogers
- News.com's c|net - "In Canada: Cache a page, go to jail?" by Elinor Mills
- Version 1.02 - 06 December 2005 - Added additional information concerning bulk item uploading.
- Version 1.01 - 23 November 2005 - Added blurb about opening up Google Froogle to small merchants to list their items using Google Base.
- Version 1.0 - 21 November 2005 - Original Article
Google has released a new Google Base API for developers to make even more applications for the Google Base index. What's interesting about this API post is that Google provided a small demo for developers to start brainstorming possible API implementations. As always, I'll be taking a look at the new API to see if there are potential applications I could build to help Google users.
The Google Base blog announced layout changes to test user surfing behaviors. From the blog:
This change allows us to experiment with how you browse and search on Google Base and see related items. The item details page enables you to see all the attributes and labels attached to the item and provides links to items with similar labels. We want to measure how this navigation changes the number of searches and other ways people will use it. In the future we plan to test a number of other navigation changes in order to optimize the Google Base experience. By the way, search results that display Google Base items on Froogle, Google Local and Google will continue to point directly to item URL.
Do you need Google Base help? If you're performing bulk uploads, I bet you do since the bulk upload procedure is unclear, not working, tempermental and just plain frustrating. However, another Google product, Google Groups, has some good information and help on Google Base here.
If many of you were wondering why I haven't finished my Google Base tutorial, now you know why - it really doesn't work when it comes to bulk uploading. I actually already have a RSS 2.0 feed ready and an automated process to FTP the information to Google, but the articles are overwriting, disappearing and just plain never showing up.
ZDNet's Google Blog has posted an entry about a new Classifieds director job opening at Google. The inference is obvious - Google will be taking Google Base and trying to take away market share from such places as Craigslist and Ebay. I know, I know, most of you are thinking - market share, first to market, ease of use, etc. and I would agree with you that Craigslist and Ebay are the market leaders in the classified and auction arenas.
But, where both of them fail, Google has the chance to succeed. Let's start with Ebay. Ebay, although easily the leader in auction sites, requires that it's auctioners pay fees for posting their items. In Google's case, they would eliminate posting fees and base their business model strictly on ad revenue. If the same number of "buyers" exist at both sites, then auctioners would make more money using the Google system and hence be drawn to post their items using their system. If buyers can find the products they need with Google's system easier than they can with Ebay, then the buyers will migrate towards Google and away from Ebay.
A post on the Official Google Blog expresses the ability for local merchants to upload their offerings/products to Google Base so that they are listed when users search through Google Froogle Local.
This is the first real application of Google Base as directed by Google and one could see it as direct competition to such online shopping places as Craigslist and Amazon. However, after taking a step back, think about why Google would offer such a service.
First, they create yet another way of gathering the world's (well, for right now, the USA's) data and creating a dependancy for many online shoppers and merchants. Second, with more shopping data available, Google can now collect even more data about a user, what products they are interested in, the merchant locations that they purchase from and apply this data to their AdWords and AdSense programs. Having actual human behavioral data, once in a large enough sample, could trump the accuracy of feeding the "right" advertisements to Google users over keyword density searches.