Google will host this week its most important conference yet for external developers, whose applications and mashups the company considers key to its success.
In addition to its almost 100 in-depth technical sessions, the event, called Google I/O, also holds great symbolic importance: It's Google's strongest statement to date of its deep, long-term commitment to external developers.
As a result, Google is taking on the challenge of meeting these programmers' heightened expectations about the company's developer technology, support, training and terms of service.
While Google's first overtures to developers years ago were made in an ad-hoc, informal manner, its relationship with them is now more serious, as Google APIs (application programming interfaces) are now used in commercial Web sites and in applications that support workplace processes, not just in cool amateur mashups.
Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering for developer products at Google, acknowledged that with this first edition of I/O, Google makes it clear that it is in it for the long haul in working for and with external programmers.
"All the activity you've seen in the past year is indicative of how serious Google is about developers and our level of commitment," he said. "This is the beginning of a very long-term commitment we have."
So far, developers seem generally satisfied with Google's programs, although there is no shortage of wish lists, requests, suggestions and comments among them. One company deeply interested in Google's developer programs is Bungee Labs, which foresees that Google APIs will generate a lot of the application traffic on its Bungee Connect hosted development and hosting platform, now available in beta mode.
While happy so far with the developer programs, Bungee Labs nonetheless would like to see Google strengthen its tool and API documentation, as well as improve its direct communication efforts. In addition, Google would do well to extend its line of APIs that provide access to the data Google services hold, said Brad Hintze, product marketing director at Bungee Labs.
The documentation available is "pretty good, but they could use a little more," Hintze said in a phone interview.
Likewise, the breadth of Google APIs is "really good and they keep adding to them, so on that front they're doing a terrific job," but Bungee Labs would like data APIs for services such as Gmail, so that they could be tied to business applications and CRM (customer relationship management) systems, he said.
These so-called "Gdata" APIs are the really powerful ones for commercial, workplace applications, and the more that become available, the better, he said. This sentiment is echoed by Nick Moline, Web programmer at legal information Web site Justia.com. "I'd like to see Google open up more RESTful [Representational State Transfer] APIs to their core data sets," he said in an e-mail interview.
In addition, Bungee Labs would like to see more Google staffers available to deal with queries from developers. "The one-on-one engagement with Google has been somewhat sporadic as far as being able to get a hold of an evangelist or a real person," Hintze said.
On that front, Google has benefited from having what he calls a "very active" community of developers who help each other out in discussion groups and online forums.
Hintze, whose company competes to a degree with Google's new App Engine service, recognizes that Google's developer programs are maturing. "They are trying to innovate very quickly and introduce new APIs, and, over time, they [the APIs] really do get robust. But the side effect of trying to get them out there quickly is that not everything is in place as they make that introduction," he said. "Frankly, Google is transitioning into a focus like this as well, so the organization does need to get used to delivering and engaging one on one."
The importance of Google I/O to Bungee Labs is clear: Hintze will be there to boost the company's business relationship with Google, while two of its developers are attending to get further acquainted with the API and tools nuts and bolts.
Of course, Google is also looking out for its own interests, convinced that the more it can do to enhance the Web as an application platform, the more it stands to gain as a for-profit company.
"Google benefits economically from the Web moving forward. As the Web platform gets richer and you can build more interesting applications, that drives more users to the Internet, and that leads to more [Google] searches," Gundotra said.
Almost 3,000 developers will converge at San Francisco's Moscone Center for Google I/O, a significant number considering this is the first time Google has charged for a developer event. "We're thrilled with the response," Gundotra said, adding that the company initially expected no more than 2,000 attendees.