This morning, Google announced it’s giving web and mobile app developers access to Google+ login buttons — and a panoply of special features along with them — to use for app signups and identity authentication.
The question is, will developers in a saturated world of Twitter and Facebook login buttons be willing to hop onboard with yet another system?
Googlers David Glazer and Seth Sternberg spoke with us at length yesterday; both work on Google+’s developer-focused products. They told us the Google+ buttons put the focus on simplicity, eliminate social spam, and try to give users a seamless experience between desktop and mobile. So far, the buttons can be used by web, Android, and iOS developers.
For developers, the mobile/web seamlessness provides one of the biggest incentives for using the system. If you’ve got an Android app and a user is browsing around your desktop website after a Google+ login or signup, she will be prompted to download the Android app. Then, she can opt to get an over-the-air install of the app without ever touching her phone.
“A lot of times, [people] are using a web application that they love, and they don’t even realize it has an Android app,” Sternberg said. “It’s just not obvious. So we’ve made it easy to get an app onto your phone with one tap.”
As for iOS users, Glazer said they’ll be sent to Apple’s App Store from a download prompt; unfortunately, Apple doesn’t allow that particular kind of automatic over-the-air download.
Google+ and social benefits
Aside from that killer OTA Android feature, why else would devs want to adopt yet another login/signup button, we asked?
After all, a lot of social graphs are duplicative across various social websites, so connecting an app’s content with a user’s online friends isn’t a unique function to Google+. Like Facebook’s Open Graph, Google+ signups let users see and edit what permissions an app has to interact with their profiles and networks. And like Facebook’s Open Graph, Google+ signups can lead to some really interesting interactive content.
But at least devs don’t have to get all Sophie’s Choice about it. “That’s not the thing we’re asking developers to choose, said Sternberg. “They can put Google+ signup next to Twitter or Facebook or their own authentication. … There are lots of great advantages for the developer and the user, but it’s not a one-or-the-other choice. … You could connect with both, or make it single sign-on.”
One advantage that Google+ has over Facebook, however, is that it’s encouraged its users to categorize their relationships and friend groups from the start. Facebook has friend-grouping features, but these came along rather late in the game, and not all users have risen to the challenge of organizing a few hundred folks by how well and from where they know them.
So Google+ has an advantage with its Circles, which means developers can use Google+ to offer truly selective sharing options. Selective sharing means items can go to certain Circles of friends, eliminating much of what Glazer and Sternberg call “social spam.”
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And it’s not just Circles that get rid of unwanted social noise. Remember, Google has many opportunities to reach users, and not always when they’re in a social mood. The company could use Google+ app data to surface that app’s content when you’re doing web search or looking at YouTube videos (e.g., showing you songs your friends recommend when you’re browsing the web looking for new music).
Take Google+ launch partner Flixter. Glazer said, “One of the things that Flixster did; they realized this isn’t just about G+ sign-in, it’s about connecting their users to Google. .. So as part of their integration, they also connected to users’ calendars, so when people say they want to go to a movie, it shows up on their calendar and the people they’re going with. … They also took a look at the reviews people write of movies. And if I’m looking for a film and want to know what people I know say about it, that’s when it’s going to be relevant. Right place, right time.”
Those last four words seem to be something of a mantra with the Google+ team and reflect a big part of its attitude toward helping users share. After all, Google has a unique opportunity to reach more people at different times in their online lives than does Facebook. And when notifications can pop up in a variety of Google properties — email, web search, YouTube — there are more opportunities to serve content without having it be intrusive or spammy. “We’re not announcing any form of integration for any other properties,” said Glazer. “For now, these activities will go on a user’s profile. But you can imagine over time that these activities will appear in the right places.”
And finally, there’s security. Google says it’s banking on consumers’ much higher perception of web security and privacy with the new Google+ button. As Glazer put it, “[Security] is a big one. A user who’s not thinking about any of this stuff, they want to continue not thinking about this stuff. They just want to feel safe.”
And after years of FUD (as well as legitimate concerns) around how Facebook treats user data, Google has the upper hand in many consumers’ minds.
Next steps for current Google-linked devs
Google has long seen Google+ as a sort of passport that will eventually link all a user’s Google-powered activities to a single identity. So it comes as no surprise that the company is gently nudging developers toward the new login/signup button and away from older Google authentications.
“The underlying technology shares a lot of elements, but we’re not going to change the behavior of existing apps,” said Sternberg. “But we are suggesting to devs that they would benefit from a bunch of new features if they switch over.”
Glazer said getting up and running on Google+ buttons is a bit of an undertaking — that is, getting it right can require some effort. This isn’t a “plug in two lines of code and then have a launch party” kind of deal.
“What we’ve seen is that most people can get a prototype up in a couple of hours and get it shippable within a couple weeks,” he said. “Then they spend more time doing interesting connections, using other information. But the basics is on the order of a couple weeks.”
Check out the documentation for more details.