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:
- Photos: Inside Google I/O
- Photos: Google's freebie Ion phone for developers
- Photos: Google shows off Wave's potential
- Photos: Android 1.5 apps from Google I/O
- Video: Google CEO touts always-on computing
J.JaDisclosure 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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Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.