Apps

Google I/O: Am I missing something?

Justin James thinks Google I/O was a tempest in a teapot. According to him, since Google has so little to do with developers, the entire conference doesn't deserve as much attention as it's getting. Is he being too harsh?

 

There's been a ton of coverage about this week's Google I/O developer conference. But after sifting through piles of reports, zillions of from the scene accounts, and so on, I find only one thing compelling and that is how Google leverages HTML 5. All of the coverage I've read focuses primarily on Wave (which looks to integrate a bunch of Google properties that no one -- except Gmail -- uses) and Android (a phone that few people have actually purchased, has all sorts of nontechnical problems such as how some apps are restricted because they violate the carrier contract but there is no way to restrict them on a per carrier basis, and so on).

In terms of HTML 5, Google is a major driver behind the standards effort. The HTML 5 editor, Ian Hickson, is a Google employee, and a good amount of the input he receives is from Google folks working on Chrome and Web applications. (I interviewed Ian back in August 2008 about HTML 5.) It often feels like Google has been doing what Microsoft has been condemned for (i.e., building its own extensions to HTML), but by having direct access to the standards process, Google gets to have the HTML 5 draft reflect these ideas to provide the company with a "cover story" to its proprietary extensions. There is nothing really wrong with this since it is all going into the standard, yet it annoys me that so much of the HTML 5 standard is being driven by Google's wants and needs; as a result, much of the HTML 5 spec feels like a Flash or Silverlight competitor. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the HTML Working Group.)

I'm also somewhat baffled about how Google is providing information about I/O. Google's "coverage" of the conference on its Code Blog has basically zero information in a usable form -- it's just a lot of pictures of bean bags and the map marker on the street. In every report I've read, the fact that Google gave away 4,000 free phones has been the most talked about item. Sorry, but if you can't get a bunch of developers to talk about anything other than the goodie bag, you didn't have a development conference.

I think the reason why I don't see much here is because there isn't much here. Google is not a player in the development field. Google has great market share in search, and Google has respectable market share in Web mail, but neither is developer related. Google has gotten a lot of traction with developers with Google Maps, but let's get real... mapping is a small fraction of the functionality of many Web sites, and the functionality focus of a few niche sites (e.g., Zillow).

In other words, the vast majority of developers may consider integrating a very small portion of a Web application's functionality with Google, but outside of that, Google isn't a player. Where is Google's platform? Where is Google's framework? Where are Google's research papers? Where is Google's toolkit? Of the few things Google offers, it seems like few people use them, and in reality, most of those things aren't general development tools but ways to integrate Google properties into Web apps.

Maybe I am being too harsh on Google. Maybe I'm overlooking something really major. Please let me know if I am. I'm trying to be really open-minded about this, but from where I sit, Google does not have the traction in the development space to justify this type of event.

If you'd like more on Google I/O, check out these resources:

J.Ja

Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a working arrangement with Microsoft to write an article for MSDN Magazine. He also has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides.

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About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

11 comments
masinter
masinter

Normal standards processes are supposed to help counter bias, but it's not happening here. http://masinter.blogspot.com/2009/05/structural-bias-standards-and-elsewhere.html

Justin James
Justin James

Thanks Larry for the link Larry! I thought it was very good post. I know that there is a lot of bias in the HTML 5 standards process. In some regards, it isn't the worst thing in the world. While my personal feelings are to keep HTML 5 as a "pure document standard" and let technologies like Flash and Silverlight battle over the RIA space, I can appreciate that I am the minority. And I can also appreciate that Google's work that is reflected throughout much of the HTML 5 spec (Web workers is a great example) is not offensive. At the same time, I have seen a lot of objections to things in the spec that seem quite valid (I am hardly an expert in most of the topics, so I am in no position to judge), and on many of those topics, Ian is holding firm, which would indicate a possible bias. Again, I am not knowledgable enough about a lot of the stuff to say for sure, and once the whole "design principles document debate" broke out, I started tuning out, since it did not feel relevant to my interests. J.Ja

CKBlack007
CKBlack007

I think you are missing the Google Web Toolkit which Wave was built upon. Each session that I attended mentioned how each of their products, if they had not had already, would go the way of the toolkit. It is interesting to me that Google pushes the apps much more than pushing the platform.

Justin James
Justin James

That's an interesting perspective. I'm not going to sit through hours of video watching the presentations that they posted, and all of the third-party coverage has (so far) ignored the underlying technology. Even with Wave, the coverage I've read discussed Wave itself as a platform for development, but not the stuff it was built on. I think that it is unfortunate that Google seems to think that they do not need to enunciate their message in the slightest, because they are really used to counting on the hype cycle to do the job for them, but the hype cycle often misses the less flasy details. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

Have I overlooked something obvious? Or is Google just not a strong enough force in development to justify having its own developer conference? J.Ja

bojanbabic
bojanbabic

Well, how about missing point? Which conference is useful these days, except new contacts ? What will you do with 4K developers? Create hype and let 'em spread the word. How about timing of conference? It overlaps with D7 conference and moderates hype that would bing.com otherwise bring... They are cunning Bojan Babic bojanbabic.blogspot.com

Justin James
Justin James

That's one way of looking at it; it certainly worked in that regard. But Google doesn't need to have a conference to get hype. They just need to make an annoucement. When GWT was announced a while back, huge numbers of "typing heads" style analysts were wetting their pants over how it would be the way everyone builds apps, and yet few people use GWT. Or a few years ago, when the same analysts were going nuts over "mashups", and to this day, probably 90% of "mashups" are of the Zillow variety, and only a fraction of them are actually useful. So yeah, I think maybe this way a play for hype, but I also don't think they needed hype, and I don't think that hype has ever really helped Google make inroads amongst developers. J.Ja

pr.arun
pr.arun

Hi Justin, What about GWT ? The Google Webtoolkit was one neat product that let Java developers code for the client side without needing to learn Javascript. Now, I have not developed any full scale applications with GWT, meaning I am not certain whether eventually it entails knowing many of the innards of Javascript but I felt it was one dev tool that let a Java programmer code with AJAX. What do you think about that ?

Justin James
Justin James

Yeah, after I wrote that, I remembered GWT. I think that it says volumes that I didn't remember it. I seem to recall GWT working about the way you describe it. When it released all of the analysts (who I usually don't listen to, because they don't actually write code) went gaga over it, but I think on Planet Earth, few developers felt comfortable with the idea. I know people using various Microsoft frameworks. I know people using Yahoo! frameworks, and I certainly don't consider them a developer-oriented company. As far as these things go, the bulk of the attention seems to be going to the open source frameworks like Sciptaculous, MooTools, and jQuery. Maybe there is a huge core of developers using GWT, and either their paths never cross mine, or they just never mention it. I'm certainly not discounting that possibility. But, even if GWT has secret legions of developers, I don't think that would justify a developer's conference. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

Most developers seem very comfortable with the "divison of labor" between the various JavaScript frameworks and whatever they are using on the backend. I just haven't seen GWT displacing that, there is limited appeal for what GWT does, it seems. J.Ja

pr.arun
pr.arun

Hi Justin, MooTools, jQuery and Scriptaculous are Javascript frameworks. The very appeal for considering GWT was that you could write your code in Java and it takes care of generating the Javascript part. I may be digressing from the main discussion here but does this mean that for client side UI development, you cannot do away with Javascript ? I mean, for a developer who has an immediate need to code a full scale Web application, with only the knowledge of Java, is that not feasible yet? Assuming that I can zero in on some ORM tool for the model side, I really thought that GWT was one solution for a Java developer to do a full scale Web Application.