While I never met Halsey Minor, I did visit the company he founded (CNet) once in search of a potential partnership many years ago. Have been curious about his ventures after that for some time. Grand Central was one of the early start-ups in the web services space. John Battelle spent time recently with Halsey at Grand Central and reports:
The company is in a really interesting space, essentially providing the glue that allows for innovative companies to create really cool tools through web services…When the web is viewed as a platform, individual services can be snapped together to make for powerful and previously unthinkable solutions to common problems. Grand Central is something like a big Lego board, a common interface where corporate IT guys, web developers, and publishers can think up and build cool new hacks.
Imagine you’re using Salesforce.com and your CRM system tags a bunch of potential leads. With Grand Central as the intermediary, your company could write a process that goes out through Grand Central to a bunch of disparate web services – Dow Jones, Dun & Bradstreet, Google, the SEC – and compiles a dossier of competitive information for your salesforce to use when it calls on that client. Grand Central negotiates with each of the databases and/or websites, organizes all that information into a format Salesforce.com understands, and then pushes it back into the system.
Not convinced? How about this: I think it’d be really cool to use such a system to hack together an index for the internet economy (or anything else) via dozens of feeds, integrated into an online application showing the health of the sector in real time, with various knobs and buttons you could tune. We tried to do this at the Standard, but it would have taken too many engineers too long. With web services and Grand Central, the idea may be possible to execute. Still don’t see it? How about an application (perhaps integrated into your calendar) that knows when you have to go to the airport for a flight. It asks you for your flight number and your location (if it doesn’t already know), then runs a process which queries online traffic information sites, MapQuest, and SABRE to determine when you need to leave for the airport. It determines which route is the best, then sends you an email with a map and the optimal time to leave.
using web services to open up previously dark and deep databases of corporate information is a very interesting aspect of the search story. These databases require many levels of access control – many require fees and security/querying protocols, and many are not HTML compliant. Until the web weaves itself into more of a platform, and companies like Grand Central allow for business models to develop which make them available to the masses, those corporate databases will remain unsearchable to most. Halsey commented that the massive amount of useful, structured data that is in fact NOT available through Google et al is an extraordinary problem/opportunity.