To help feed its insatiable information hunger, Google has begun publicly testing Google Base, a service designed to host and make searchable "all types of online and offline content," the company announced.
Described as an extension of existing Google content collection efforts, such as Web crawl, Google Base can be used by large companies and individuals alike to post data in the form of categorized items that Google will host and make searchable for free, wrote Bindu Reddy, a company product manager, in Google's official Web blog shortly after midnight Wednesday EST.
"This beta version of Google Base is another small step toward our goal, creating an online database of easily searchable, structured information," Reddy wrote.
People who post items to Google Base are asked to classify them with keywords or phrases, which Google calls labels, and to describe them with terms, which Google calls attributes.
In this way, Google appears to have made its most concrete move to date into the realm of user-generated content and tagging, popularized by services such as the Del.icio.us social-bookmarking site and Yahoo's Flickr photo-sharing site.
The range of items that can be posted on Google Base is broad, encompassing such disparate things as poems, events, recipes, research papers, products and job postings, according to information on the Google Base Web site (http://base.google.com).
In addition to appearing on Google Base, items posted there could also surface in Google's main Web index, the Froogle comparison shopping site and the Google Local listing of businesses.
In fact, Google will not promote Google Base as a service for information searchers, since the plan is to make Google Base data appear in Google's various search services, said Salar Kamangar, a Google vice president of product management, in an interview.
"Our primary goal with Google Base is to extend the ways we have of collecting content to make more information available to searchers," Kamangar said. "Google Base is intended as an information store for other Google properties."
The Google Base search service is intended primarily for those who feed content to it, so that they can see how their results appear and experiment with labels and attributes, he said.
"We're not driving [search] users to Google Base," he said. "This content will be searchable in some way from other Google properties."
For example, if an item is being posted for sale, it will appear in Froogle searches, and if it is a business listing, it will appear in Google Local. Shortly, in a matter of weeks, Google's general Web search will begin delivering Google Base results that are appropriate to that service, Kamangar said.
Google Base isn't built to be specifically an online classified-ads service, as was rumored when news of Google Base first surfaced in late October. "We could have done many things differently if that had been the intent," he said.
Those rumors returned last week when a Google patent application was made public that describes a system called Google Automat to help individuals advertise products and services online.
Google has historically relied heavily on pulling information from Web sites to index it, but it is increasing the ways it offers for users to push information over to Google, he said. One such service is Google Video, to which users upload their videos to have them indexed and hosted. But Google Base is open to a wider variety of information. "It's a more general way for people to push information to us," Kamangar said.
Individuals and companies whose Web sites and information are already indexed by Google probably don't need to re-enter that information in Google Base, unless they want to take the opportunity to more granularly label and categorize their data, he said.
The new service should be very attractive for individuals and companies that want to feed to Google information that Google hasn't yet indexed, either because the information isn't online, or because it's online but technically difficult or impossible for Google to index, he said.
To facilitate matters, Google Base can create a Web page to host information items, if the owner of the information doesn't have a Web site to post it to. Likewise, Google Base will also accept links to external Web sites where information resides, he said.
Current users of Google Base include CollegeBoard.com Inc. and CareerBuilder.com.
Although Google Base is billed as a repository for "all types of online and offline content," some things can't be posted, including items that promote violence and offers of illegal drugs, fake documents, prostitution and other illegal activities. A full description of Google Base guidelines and editorial policies can be found at http://base.google.com/base/base_policies.html.