“Google is like a crack dealer,” one frustrated startup founder told me recently. “They give you something that gets you hooked, but you end up strung out. You’re so dependent on somebody that you can’t do anything about it.”
He was talking about a now-familiar bait-and-switch that Google keeps running on web businesses. First, the search giant offers a little traffic boost to sites that organize data in certain useful ways. Then it turns the game on its head and — without any notice — starts using that structured data to inform its own services. Finally, with a disturbing inevitability, it launches its own competing product that steps in and replace yours.
By the time it starts happening, you’re already in… and there’s no way back.
“What’s happened in the past has made us wary of them,” said the founder, who asked to remain anonymous.
“I can’t imagine Apple or Facebook behaving like this. I mean, why build for Google?”
Those comments are not unusual. In fact, they come as just the latest in a series of growing frustrations and irritations that seem to be building among the developer community. Initiatives like Google+ and Search Plus Your World want to turn Google’s substantial reach inside out and become a serious platform, yet the company treats third party developers with little respect.
The result is that it gets very little love back.
Last year our own Barb Darrow highlighted problems with Google App Engine and its cloud services in a piece called “Why Google gets no respect from developers”.
Google’s cloud, as massive as it is, is seen as something of a roach motel for applications: you can check them in, but not necessarily check them out should you opt for another deployment choice. Developers say once they write for GAE, the application is locked in.
That’s difficult to stomach from a company that has built its vast mobile business — among others — on the idea that closed is bad and open is good. Faced with privacy concerns, the company is happy to trumpet data portability for users (though quite where they can take their liberated data is unclear), while at the same time developers and information are effectively locked in.