We’re at the San Francisco Design center, blogging Inside Network’s third annual Inside Social Apps conference. Founder of Inside Network Justin Smith sat down with Google+ Engineering Director David Glazer for a fireside chat called “The Google+ Platform Roadmap in 2012.”
The following is a paraphrased transcript of the discussion.
Justin Smith: Google+ APIs are currently invite only. What should developers expect from those?
David Glazer: Very early on we decided there were three stages. One, create great user experience. Two, use relationships and identity to activate other Google products. Three, then do that for anyone else who wants to take advantage of that. We’re doing those overlapping. We have Google products taking more advantage of people’s real identity. As we understand and feel good about the capabilities, we’ll start to add APIs.
Justin: How are communications going to work? What are the dynamics of how applications are going to work?
David: So, if I have a website, I’m publisher and I want to have rich experience for visitors to use the plus one button for sharing and to start rich conversations about their site. There’s a whole area around that kind of sharing. That’s one of the areas that has been getting traction for us. The status of our APIs is that they’re still invite-only. We have a few dozen games up there seeing different successes. Then there’s the Hangouts API, which is not for use publicly yet but there’s lots of capabilities. There’s really exciting things we’re seeing there that are intentionally below the radar.
Justin: When will those APIs be available for testing?
David: The unsatisfying answer is when it’s ready. We want to avoid hurting users and developers. What that means is that we made a conscoius choice to roll it out deliverately. It’s the opposite of the land grab model of launching a platform. The things we want to avoid there is hurting users and hurting developers. We didn’t want to get developers on board and then change the rules on them when we have a new policy or a new mechanism.
Justin: What are things you’re still working on now?
David: Before we launched the first few games, we saw equal amounts of anticipation from the community – “gee, I hope they allow games” and “I hope they never allow games.” We listened to both sides because they’re both legitimate feedback. So we tried something new, by making what people do in games easily accessible to people who care, but not in the way of the people who don’t care. We set up a separate place where you could see people interacting in games and put that aside. What we’ve been tuning over time is finding the balance so that people who are interested in being more engaged in games, how do those conversations work without creating spam.
Justin: Google+ has segmentation of games related content. That balance is a challenge for any social service. Another interesting design decision is how social graph is architected on Google+, which is asymetric, follower, circle-based. How does that affect distribution? How should developers think about how the stream will work differently than on Facebook?
David: So far it doesn’t have to affect your [developers’] thinking. We’re trying to put control in the hands of users. Any time you’re [users are] sharing something on Google+ you choose your audience.
Justin: So will games always be segmented on Google+?
David: “Always” is a big word. So “maybe” is the answer to the literal question. The answer to the principle of the question is that it will always respect both types of people — those who want games and those who don’t. We will always respect both. Our first cut works pretty well and we’re fine tuning that.
Justin: The big picture affecting developers is the distribution of Google+ within Google’s other properties. People are interested in the way google is thinking about that first-party cross-promotion. How should we be thinking about how Google will be distributing Google+ throughout the network?
Carl: I don’t think of it in terms of cross-promotion or the importance of product to the company. It’s the importance of users to users. The bvious insight is that people care about other people so that should be baked into what you do while you’re online. The reasons Google+ is named that is we didn’t think of it as “Oh we want to add another product.” We wanted to up the game to help our users. It’s a mechanism for users to connect and share what’s interesting.
Justin: So we can expect more Google+ integrations in Google products?
Carl: Yes, where it’s good for users. There are a lot more places where we can make users happier by showing them content that’s relevant to them.
Justin: Another area Google has been investing a lot in recent years is Android. Some have said that Android will be a major way that Google+ will gain traction. What would you say to that?
David: Mobile is obviously growing faster than the rest of the web. Therefore I think Google+ will see a lot of traction on mobile devices. Right now there are a couple of devices that are seeing adoption, but we want to have a first-class experience on all of them.
Justin: Will there be any APIs specifically for mobile or tablet?
David: Yes. Though I wouldn’t specifically call them Google+ APIs. It’s more about location and identity. Anyone who builds an app on a mobile device has a set thing around location, and around communication because you’re holding a communication object. I want those APIs if I’m building on that device. And I want APIs that know [about user relationships]. There’s nothing special about the sharing API just because it’s mobile. We think about any new feature in the product and think about the mobile web, desktop, native application. We’re aiming for capabilities across all of them.
Justin: How will user acquisition work for apps on Google+?
David: All the games on the Google+ canvas are also available from Chrome Web Store. You You can discover a game from Google+ or the web store.
Justin: So it’s just organic? Will there be an opportunity for developers to spend to promote their apps?
David: Google is perfectly happy to help people use ad money to reach their audience. We’re looking at new formats for apps and everything else. That’s one channel. There are lots of channels and we like all of them.
Josh Constine [question from the audience]: Will there be applications on brand pages?
David: We’ve talked about that, we’re hearing requests. It’s a reasonable request but not one we’ve prioritized yet.
Justin: What about other apps that not games? Is there an opportunity for them on Google+?
David: We’re interested in ones that get users engaged. Games tend to be first to get people engaged when people are in a social environment. Our platform technically doesn’t distinguish between types of applications. In terms of where the traction goes, we’ll follow what people find. I think the Hangouts API is going to allow people to build a whole new category of applications. You can have synchronous gameplay action. Something that hasn’t been done yet, but I want someone to build a deck of cards. If you and I are sitting here and we had a deck of cards and 10 minutes to kill, that’s it, you don’t need anything else. [As a developer] assume you have a couple people hanging out around an object. People are pretty good at entertaining themselves.
Justin: Video is something that hasn’t been adopted on Facebook. What’s the trend that’s going to drive adoption of using Hangouts?
David: The trend is now you can. Then you couldn’t; now you can. It was a hassle for developers and users. I think we have Hangouts that have crossed that line. You now have the ability to say, “Hey what can I build with cheap, easy video?” The point is to build something for people to do together.