It’s All About The APIs

Google’s been hearing a lot about APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, recently. Their lawsuit versus Oracle has dominated the tech headlines, and a lot of it centers around whether or not APIs can be copyrighted, and this require a license to use: ie. did Google break the law when they created their own Dalvik Java virtual machine to use the Java API rather than license J2ME from Sun/Oracle?

But my issue with Google revolves around other APIs, and other Google products. One with a very new API, and one without an API at all.

The other reason everyone is talking about Google lately is Google Drive. The long-rumored cloud storage service is nice, but they launched without an iOS client (they say it’s “98% done”). But more to the point, while they say they’ve released the APIs to interact with Google Drive, I haven’t seen a single iOS app updated to support it. No matter what I might think about the merits of Google Drive compared to Dropbox or iCloud, I’m certainly not leaving Dropbox until all the apps I already use support Google Drive as well.

What Google should have done was reach out to prominent Dropbox-supporting developers months ago and helped them add Google Drive support to their apps, so the updates would be ready on day one. Google can’t seem to get their act together on that. (See: how many Android apps still haven’t been updated to use the style guidelines released with Android 4.0.)

The other Google product is Google+. I was a Plusser from the very start, and for a time thought G+ would be the only social network, bookmark service, news reader, photo sharer and blogging platform I’d ever need. Recently, though, I’ve drifted away from G+. Not because of the content. In spite of what you may have heard, G+ is far from a ghost town. It’s the best way to keep up with several of my closest friends, in fact. But the problem is that it’s too easy to forget.

I mentioned last week my fascination with Flipboard for iOS. The more I use Flipboard, the less I use anything else for grazing on the interwebs. Having my Google Reader, Twitter and Facebook feeds all in one app, using a slick magazine-style UI, is incredibly compelling. I flip through all my feeds, throw anything interesting from any of them into Pocket for later perusal, and I’m done.

What’s missing here? Google+. Since Google has chosen not to release a third party API for G+, it can’t be added to Flipboard. And because checking my G+ stream involves a completely different app than everything else, that app tends not to get used (even though I’ve put it on my first home screen for easy access).

(Note for the LiteralNet: Yes, Google+ has a partial API, but it only provides read-only access to public data. Using it would not allow Flipboard users to reply to posts or see anything shared directly with them but not public.)

Google used to be smarter than this. Their whole empire was based on getting you what you wanted as then getting out of your way. The vast majority of Google searches bypass the Google home page entirely, coming from browser search bars or mobile devices. Google’s early competition made you go to them. How are Yahoo and Alta Vista doing these days?

And yet, that’s exactly what Google’s doing with their “bet the company on this” social network. Their decision not to release a third party API means that Google+ is a lot less engaging, a lot less used, than it could be.

And it’s giving me doubts about the entire Google ecosystem. Maybe I’m better off keeping all my documents in Dropbox, using industry standard formats instead of the goofy little pointers to cloud documents Drive creates. Maybe I’m better off sticking with Rdio than relying on Google Play Music. I know I’m better off with my Kindle library (de-DRMed and backed up to Calibre in my Dropbox) than I would be with Google Books.

So what about it, Google? Can you get your act together before it’s too late?

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