Google Plus: Is an API a good or bad idea?

A couple of weeks later and Google+ is still going strong.  Sure it is still in the early adopter phase, and the recent release of the iOS app should drive more iPhone owners to give it a try.  The one missing piece is the API, if you want to post to Google+ the only way to do it is manually.  Yes there are browser extensions popping up allowing cross posting between other social networks primarily Twitter, and Facebook, but there is no way to cross post from an application (Tweetdecks support of Twitter and Facebook for example)

I have previously stated that I don’t think Google+ can pull people away from the networks they use today until cross posting is possible making it easier to transition from one to the other.  What about auto-postings using services like or Twitterfeed that many (including myself) use to automate tweets from blogs.  What about other services like Posterous, Tumblr, etc.. that people use today to automatically post content to Facebook, Twitter and other networks.  An API for Google+ would enable people to post to Google+ the same as they do to Twitter and Facebook.

Over the last couple of days I think I changed my mind though, part of me now believes the worst thing Google+ can do is open up an API and the floodgates to all kinds of automated postings.  Maybe just maybe we would be better served only seeing the items that each person deems worthy to actually take the time and post.  So far in my experience posts on Google+ are getting more response then tweets or Facebook posts.  I attribute part of this to it still be in the shiny new toy people are kicking the tires on, partially to the smaller circles people have as they are still building their network on Google+, but part of it has to be the lack of automatic postings.  Every post you read on Google+ was manually added by a real person (yet another difference on Google+).

I am still not convinced about the Circles sharing model, and I am sure that Facebook, Twitter,and others will respond with their own design changes adding features that can be found in Google+, but I am starting to think the API might do more harm than good to Google+.  What do you think?

8 Responses to Google Plus: Is an API a good or bad idea?
  1. Ben Langhinrichs
    July 21, 2011 | 8:43 am

    If an API were solely used to add additional posts to Google+, I’d agree with you, but Google+ simply will not succeed without an API. It is already a huge mistake to have released it without one. The reasons are twofold.

    The first is that there is no way to integrate Google+ into other applications such as authentication, reputation management (e.g., Klout), searching, knowledge management and collaboration. It is the classic closed system model which is woefully outdated. How many times have we bemoaned the fact that integration with Lotus Notes is not built into many system the way integration with Outlook is?

    The second is that without an API, there is no way to extend Google+. Proprietary systems love to act as if they can do everything, but you wouldn’t have products like Tweetdeck which can serve a subset of the market with different features. For example, what if a group of people wants different filtering than Google+ supplies? They can appeal to Google (somewhat like appealing to IBM to prioritize better MIME rendering) and wait, or they can build there own extensions and products and get what they want now. Lotus Notes shipped with a robust API from the beginning, and it has enabled extensions and replacements and add-ons that have made the product work through rapid evolutions. IBM never could have kept up, or been able to juggle different competing needs, without a vibrant developer ecosystem. Google+ is like Notes in that it is both a solution and a platform. A platform without the ability for anybody but the platform provider to build apps/extensions/integrations is doomed. It is that simple.

  2. Luis Benitez
    July 21, 2011 | 9:14 am

    I’m with Ben… but also understand your point Mitch. Right now, I have no use for G+ but would love to cross post. There’ve been some instances where I found something good and actually took the time to launch the browser and go to G+ to share it, but it took too much work. If I had a x-poster or native desktop tool I may use it more, and for that they’ll have to provide an API.

    The ecosystem that Twitter has built by providing an API is simply amazing. Sure some tools may not have much value as others (e.g. determining the date you joined Twitter or the date of your 100th tweet). But there’s a large # of tools out there that do provide amazing value to Twitter.

    One difference between Twitter and Google is that Twitter didn’t have the manpower to develop all the tools they needed to make Twitter useful. Google has the manpower (and the cash) to take this on if they really wanted to. Maybe that’s why they took developers off Google Labs??

    We’ll see 🙂

  3. Tim Tripcony
    July 21, 2011 | 9:25 am

    An API would make the platform more democratic. And, as with all democracies, the “citizens” decide whether they will put it to good use. Facebook, while still useful, has become a true community, fraught with much stupid that would not be there without the API. In that way, it suffers from the same problems shared by most Domino implementations: apps that make the entire platform look crappy… but conversely, the apps that don’t suck could not exist without developers being given the freedom to create apps that might suck. So yes, in my opinion, an API is always a good idea… what developers choose to do with it, however, is what makes it a mixed blessing.

  4. Mitch Cohen
    July 21, 2011 | 9:42 am

    To clarify – I probably used the term API a little to broadly, I am specifically referring to auto posts, I agree with Ben as well that Google+ or any other system won’t be very useful as a complete isolated island. I do think though that a social network with posts only made by actual people could be a really good thing

  5. Sjaak Ursinus
    July 21, 2011 | 9:56 am

    I am with you guys … an API less google+ die’s before it is even really born. That they already have more than 10mil of adopters doens’t mean it is succesfull. If we still talk about google+ in 2015 well then we can talk about a success. So the only logical en reasonable to say is “Time will tell” 🙂

    PS I don’t like Google+ atm. I like the idea of circles but tbh this will be copied in no time by twitter and facebook I guess.

  6. Stephan H Wissel
    July 21, 2011 | 10:29 am

    The API is already there. The Android and iOS apps use them, as well as any Ajax call. It is a question when it will be documented

  7. Ben Langhinrichs
    July 21, 2011 | 11:37 am

    Stephan makes a good point. With any API available, even undocumented, integrations will occur. It just won’t be enough for many vendors until there is a public API that Google will stand behind. The risk of putting in development time that could be lost (like depending on undocumented functions in Lotus APIs) will deter some and not others. That isn’t because of the names or parameters on the API, but the risk that a class of interaction will be taken away that was the linchpin for a product/tool.

  8. Frank Jania
    July 21, 2011 | 11:56 am

    I’m more hopeful about an API specifically b/c of the circles sharing model. I have no idea if it’s in the roadmap, but being able to show (“Friends” – “People/Bots/Companies who post too much”) would be super handy.