This article was published on April 12, 2012

Developing for a platform that doesn’t have a public API is risky business

Developing for a platform that doesn’t have a public API is risky business
Drew Olanoff
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Drew Olanoff

Drew Olanoff was The Next Web's West Coast Editor. He coined the phrase "Social Good" and invented the "donation by action" model for onlin Drew Olanoff was The Next Web's West Coast Editor. He coined the phrase "Social Good" and invented the "donation by action" model for online charitable movements. He founded #BlameDrewsCancer. You can follow him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, or email [email protected]

Update: This post has been updated with comment from Google, please scroll down for updates.

The new Google+ redesign may have people goofing about some of Google’s design choices, but the release has also affected an unfortunate developer, whose extensions have become a casualty of the drastic changes.

Developer Mohamed Mansour has posted the details of these issues under the title “Thank you Google for breaking all my apps and extensions without warning!” on Google+, and is arguably one of the most active developers thinking of new ways to tweak the platform for users to have a more personalized experience. Here’s part of what he had to say today:

Why is Google trying to be so evil to the developer community?

Change is good, but you know what is even better? Relationship with your third party developer community who technically spend hundreds of hours building on top of this platform for free. Where the hell is the transition period?

My extensions and apps were downloaded way over two millions times from the last 10 months. Look at my GitHub page, I loved this platform so much that I spent my personal and free time evangelising for it to make the experience better and more enjoyable. Clearly I wasn’t the only one, tons of developers spent their precious time, free time, extending this platform which many of your users loved and adored.

If Mansour sounds familiar, it’s because he created a fantastic Chrome extension that assisted blind users participate in a Google+ Hangout. That work is now in the dumpster now that the Google+ redesign has broken his apps.

There are a few different angles you can take on this. First, you can think that Google doesn’t care about its developer community, as it didn’t tell anyone about the changes before they were officially announced. A company that big surely doesn’t care about folks like Monsour, right? That would be the headline that would get a ton of pageviews.

The fact of the matter is that Google+ has not published a public API, and Vic Gundotra of Google has made that very clear on many occasions, as we’ve covered previously:

Today at the Web 2.0 summit, Vic Gundotra said that Google wants to give access to outside developers slowly, and is working on developing its API’s for services like Google+.

About its API’s, Gundotra said that the company doesn’t want to do anything “rash” by putting out API’s that they’d have to roll back and upset the developer community.

This doesn’t let Google off of the hook completely, though. By not moving those APIs along, they have set themselves up for losing talented developers like Mansour by not giving him the tools that he needs to channel his passion, which happens to have been focused on its platform.

Mansour was never paid to focus on Google+, he chose to. That type of passion is what sent Twitter into the stratosphere, as developers built all kinds of cool apps using its public API. While Google doesn’t need to grow as quickly as Twitter needed to, mostly for financial stability reasons, it doesn’t mean that the company should ignore something as wonderful as a community that wants to spread its social layer’s seed.

I’ve reached out to Google for comment, specifically the Google+ developer relations team, and I’ve yet to receive an official response on the matter. I’d love to see the company reach out to Mansour to patch things up, as his work has been one of the reasons why I think Google+ is so important.

This is a cautionary tale for developers who unleash their passion, as well as their time, on a product that doesn’t have a proper publicly available API. I don’t think anyone is specifically at fault here, but it definitely could have been avoided, and I’m leaning towards pointing the finger at Google+, as it should have known that something like this would happen.

Google+ is still in its early days and it needs passionate technical minds looking for new ways to tinker with its platform now more than ever.

Does this make Google evil? Hardly. Clearly new to social? You betcha. Wake up, folks.

We’ll let you know if Google gets back to us with a statement.

Update: We received a statement from David Glazer, Google+ Engineering Director, commenting on the use of undocumented and unofficial APIs:

“We appreciate and value developers contributing to our platforms and services, and continue to develop and support our official API.  We can’t support applications built on undocumented, unofficial APIs, including those based on reverse-engineering or scraping Google+’s user interface.”

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