Nov
05
2010

Scroogle temporarily breaks and gets rewritten for the fourth time, as Google make ANOTHER interface tweak

Scroogle went offline temporarily for the third time last night, after Google made yet another change to the auxiliary web interface the not-for-profit uses to serve up a privacy-friendly version of Mountain View’s search engine. “We regret to announce that Google changed their output format once again.”, founder Daniel Brandt posted on the site’s news page.

Now, the site has returned – but Brandt is not satisfied with the compromise he had to make to get the site working again. “I have to tolerate more bloat, and there are occasional screw-ups in the parsing…But it is usable,” Brandt tells us. “Google’s coding gets more complex as the files get more bloated. I’m not sure it’s worth trying to clean up what I’m showing now, because I have little faith that Scroogle can last much longer.”

Brandt and Scroogle (www.scroogle.org) have been scraping Google search results since 2002, letting privacy-conscious netizens search Google without being tracked by the web giant. But it has suffered three major setbacks over its lifetime up to now. The first happened this past May, after Google removed an interface page where Brandt was scraping results. Brandt tapped a different interface to get the service working again the next day, but this interface soon disappeared as well.

Brandt recovered again, but another change to Google’s interface took Scroogle down for a third time yesterday. “The last time this happened was in July, and we were down for five days,” he says. “During that time we looked for the simplest remaining Google format we could find, reprogrammed our parser, and ended up with something that worked. However, the file we fetched from Google was three times more bloated for the same information, as compared to the previous format we used, and we are still not happy about this.

“Now it looks like even more bloat. We have to take a closer look at the new format and see if we can program around it.”

According to Brandt, his service requires a Google interface that serves up Google results in a relatively simple format. Scroogle is run entirely on donations. There are no ads.

Scroogle originally scraped results from an interface at google.com/ie, which Google built for use inside the sidebar offered by Internet Explorer 6. But as Google killed its support for IE6, it snuffed this interface. Brandt replicated the setup through another page — google.com/search — by adding an IE parameter (“&output=ie”) to the URL. But then this option vanished as well. And so on.

Google has never attempted to shut down Scroogle directly. But historically, it seems, there have been conflicting opinions within the company over how to treat Brandt and Scroogle. Nowadays, the site itself does turn up in Google’s search results.

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