Google conference aims to woo developers

Google will hold on Wednesday and Thursday its largest event of the year for external developers, a constituency that it views as critically important for the health of its business and online services.

About 3,500 developers will attend Google I/O at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, where speakers from Google and other companies will participate in more than 80 sessions and 100 technical demos.

However, the second annual edition of I/O still finds Google in a weaker position with developers than competitors like Facebook and Microsoft, said Ray Valdes, a Gartner analyst.

Google has been successful in attracting a wide range of developers to a few, very narrow-scope areas, like Google Maps, Valdes said.

There are thousands of small Web applications and Web pages with a Google map on them, but they represent a superficial commitment from developers, he said.

“Google needs to deepen that commitment and really get developers on board. I don’t think Google has achieved that in the way that Facebook has or the way that Microsoft historically has,” Valdes said in a phone interview.

“When you meet a developer in a social setting some will say ‘I’m an iPhone developer’ or ‘I’m a Facebook developer’ or ‘I’m a Microsoft .Net developer.’ It’s rare to hear a developer say ‘I’m a Google developer’ or ‘I’m an OpenSocial developer.’ Google needs to get to that level of engagement with developers,” Valdes added.

A key to achieving that next level is to have a more cohesive, integrated platform that lets developers reach a wide segment of end users and generate revenue from their applications. “It’s a matter of strengthening and broadening their platform offerings,” Valdes said.

Al Hilwa, an IDC analyst, said Google should prioritize its Android mobile platform, which currently holds a concrete promise for developers. “While Google has a variety of not-so-well-connected developer-related initiatives — Google Web Toolkit, Google Gears, Chrome, etc… — the one likely to get the most attention is Android,” he said via e-mail.

There is broad interest among developers regarding the commitment from device manufacturers and the availability of mobile phones based on Android. “Android has the most potential of the variety of smart-phone platforms coming out to compete with the iPhone, but Google needs to execute more decisively and aggressively to line-up device makers,” Hilwa added.

Attendees have high expectations for the event.

Rob Zanin, a systems analyst at WellStar Health System, will be attending I/O for the first time, after he and his team spent about 10 months developing software for the Google Search Appliance.

This Google product, a hardware box loaded with enterprise search software, is designed to let companies index and retrieve the data in their corporate systems, such as applications, document management tools, databases, Web servers, files and the like.

At WellStar, which operates five nonprofit hospitals in the Atlanta area, Zanin and his colleagues are developing RFID location-based services that will use Google’s Maps API, as well as an integrated patient census API that provides hospital administrators operating data straight to location-targeted search result pages.

“The number one thing that would help us as developers is more evangelism for healthcare; there are great opportunities out there, just not enough people popularizing them,” Zanin said via e-mail.

Zanin will speak on Wednesday afternoon during a session titled “Extending the Google Search Appliance to Crawl Valuable Data Behind the Firewall,” part of his prize for submitting a winning entry to a Google photo contest for Search Appliance devices in data centers. He also won an all-expenses paid trip to I/O.

“The Southeastern not-for-profit businesses move so slow in comparison to the world’s for-profit innovators, that we’re going to learn as much as we can and try to take some of the awesome knowledge back home,” Zanin said.

Howard Luxhoj, president and CEO of Transmap in Columbus, Ohio, will attend his second I/O to deepen his knowledge of map-related tools, APIs and best practices.

“Feedback from the Google staff is critical to improving our offerings. There is no other opportunity like Google I/O where our staff can intermingle with Google’s experts and share ideas and techniques,” he said via e-mail.

The 15-year-old company has used the Google Maps and Charts APIs since early 2008 to complement and enhance its services and products, focused on gathering data and generating reports on public assets, like roads, for public works and transportation professionals.

“Google Maps offers a convenient way to pass sophisticated location based information from our traditional applications to a Web based platform, enhancing our customers’ user experience,” Luxhoj said.

“We are looking at how our business model can benefit from commercializing Google based applications,” he added.

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