Mashup best practice #2

Following up on my finger-wag at Google for not properly supporting mashup developers by messing up versioning, I have to now send them full props for one thing they’re doing very, very, right.

One half of Postel’s Law says “Be liberal in what you accept”, and Google has done exactly that in at least two places. First is in Google Maps, where you can enter pretty much anything resembling a street address, and more often than not it’ll grok it. That’s not to suggest it couldn’t be improved mind you – about a quarter of the time I probably have to refine what I enter, but still, that’s not bad. Without this capability, Maps mashups would be a lot more difficult to develop in part because there exists no widely adopted standard format for an address, leaving prose as the only option for interchange. By doing this Google is absorbing the costs of solving the problem, and relieving mashup developers of the burden. Quite the contrast to their API versioning policy! 8-O

Another example of this I’ve noticed is Google Calendar, where it can accept dates also in prose, even relative ones like “tomorrow”. And this is despite having somewhat decent time and calendaring standards. So why the prose? It just simplifies integration, as the calendar integration with GMail demonstrates; it can pick out dates from an email without requiring the sender conform to any particular standard. Actually, I don’t know if that’s GMail or calendar doing it, but I hope it would be the calendar so that it can be more easily reused in other calendar-integration scenarios.

FWIW, I recall Peter Norvig saying something in his recent highly publicized run-in with TimBL about the value of this approach (mining existing content) over authoring new content; just can’t find the quote I’m looking for right now, but I’ll add it when I do.

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