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Google’s Developer Dilemma: Open Up Google+ Or Hold On To ‘Something Special’?
Google’s reluctance to open up a full API was front and center Thursday afternoon as several members of the Google+ team hosted a “fireside chat” with developers at the 2012 Google I/O conference.
The company has been, in the words of Google+ VP Bradley Horowitz, “tentative” in its approach to opening up a complete read-and-write API because it believes “something special” and “magical” is happening on Google+.
“We want to create something that elevates engagement,” Horowitz told a group of several dozen developers, many of whom asked questions about getting complete API access. Horowitz said he doesn’t like tools that would automate posting to Google+ (potentially at the same time as they post to other social networks) because that kind of content doesn’t generate user engagement.
(Google’s David Glazer also reiterated a point that the company has made before when he said that another reason Google has been slow to release APIs is that it doesn’t want to have to change the rules for developers later.)
Implied in Horowitz’s comments is that the company believes opening up full read-write API access would lead to an influx of spam (at worst) and/or low-quality content (at best) as developers create many of the same kind of tools that allow automated publishing on other social services.
But therein lies the dilemma. Although Google activity appears to be growing to a small degree, it lags well behind primary competitors like Facebook and Twitter, both of which have more fully developed APIs. You could say the company has two choices:
- Open up a full read-write API so that developers can create more useful tools and apps that would increase activity/usage of Google+, but would also lower the quality that Google sees as its competitive advantage, or
- Continue to not offer a full read-write API so that content remains more engaging, but suffer from lower activity and usage in the process.
It’s clear from Horowitz’s impassioned speech that Google+ plans to stick with the latter option for the foreseeable future. He didn’t, however, completely rule out offering a full read-write API someday. “Part of our tentative nature is because we want to get it right,” he said.
But all was not bad news for developers. The Google team didn’t specifically confirm any future plans, but did hint strongly that developer requests such as adding Google+ comments to the API and offering vanity URLs to all users are in the team’s plans.
On the latter point, Horowitz said having vanity URLs would be “incredibly useful” because, if you’re at a party and want to connect with someone who’s also on Google+, “you shouldn’t have to give someone a 16-digit number.”