One of the most valuable resources for a social network looking to attract new users is a robust market of apps that extend the platform’s functionality and increase engagement. So when the redesign for Google+ broke a number of apps and extensions built for the search giant’s social network, developers cried foul, asking why Google hadn’t given them fair warning.
“Change is good, but you know what is even better? Relationship with your third party developer community who technically spend hundreds of hours building on top of this platform for free. Where the hell is the transition period?,” asked Mohamed Mansour, an Ottowa based developer who created custom tools to help users share from Google+ across other social networks and see all the Google+ hangouts happening in their network. “My extensions and apps were downloaded way over two millions times from the last 10 months. Look at my GitHub page, I loved this platform so much that I spent my personal and free time evangelizing for it to make the experience better and more enjoyable. Why didn’t you reach out to the developers and tell them major change is coming? Didn’t we support this platform enough to know things will break? Now hundreds of thousands of machines who are visiting Google+ have a broken experience, many errors will be shown, many popups will be alerted, our thousands of hours of hard work down the drain.”
Google’s response is that it hasn’t officially released an API to allow developers on the platform, so it can’t be expected to support this work. DeWitt Clinton, a software engineer at Google, responded on Hacker News. “All of us sincerely appreciate developers building on the Google+ platform, and we’re excited to continue to develop and support our official API over at https://developers.google.com/+. Please do join us over there, and let us know what you’d like us to add or improve. That said, we obviously can’t support applications built on undocumented, unofficial and internal surfaces, including those based on reverse-engineering or scraping the Google+ user interface. Since we believe that’s the case here, we’ve reached out to the author and hope to clear the situation up quickly.”
Does it make sense for Google to slow down the development of their social network to protect the work being done by third-party developers working off an unofficial API? That depends on how important you think they are to users and to the growth of Google+. Letting third party developers sandbox changes to Google+ would also mean trusting them not to leak details to the press. It seems like Google has decided to go it alone until there is an official API in place. Time will tell if those burned bridges come back to haunt them.