I'm blogging from the 2013 edition of the Google I/O conference in San Francisco today. It's been a busy day that included a three-hour keynote, six hours of booth duty, several technical sessions, and mad gifts to each attendee.
Google I/O is to software developers as Burning Man is to free spirits. Like its twin sister, Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), it is four days of pep rally, serious questions and answers, press releases, demos, knowledge transfer, and catching up with old and new friends. It's also hard to get in to. Google I/O tickets sold out in a single day. But somehow we got tickets and we're here with a handful of HuffPost web, mobile, and video developers.
At this year's Google I/O we're demonstrating work we've done to integrate Google+ Sign-in with our website and mobile apps. At last you have the option to log on to HuffPost on any device with your Google+ account and to tightly control how articles are shared through your circles. We've also implemented "deep linking" and Google+ based recommendations in our HuffPost Android app. With deep linking search results on your Android phone's browser are linked to pages inside our HuffPost App. This allows you to bypass our mobile website. With Google+ based recommendations, after you log on to HuffPost with your Google+ account, you get a list of articles based on content your Google+ friends have +1'ed.
We also talked to Google I/O attendees about our experiences using Google Hangouts for guests on HuffPost Live. We are really pushing the Google Hangouts envelope with our 12 hours of live video streaming that almost constantly includes guests via Hangouts. We use Hangouts because it's easy and convenient for our virtual guests and it's a very reliable and high quality video conferencing system for our video producers.
Today's three-hour keynote session was a bit overlong. It was a mix of new product announcements, strategic direction discussions, and demo after demo after demo. Google is doing many things and it's been hard for me to see the rhyme or reason in their various initiatives. But that has changed. It's becoming clearer how all the parts of Google's empire fit together from search, to ads, to web browsers, to mobile phones and tablets, to cloud computing, to maps, to voice controlled software. Apple and Microsoft pioneered this strategy of creating a tightly integrated "private garden" of services, software, and hardware. Google is clearly going in the same direction, but with an "open garden" based on web standards and cloud computing.
One of the most interesting announcements and demos at Google I/O, which reinforces this "open garden," is a redesign of Google+ with mobile friendly content linked together through automated hashtags. Twitter made hashtags famous. Twitter users add hashtags, like #IO13 for Google I/O 2013, to their tweets manually. In the new Google+ design hashtags are created automatically by Google's powerful cloud of "machine learning algorithms." Google recognizes subject matter related to a topic, automatically apply a hashtag, and gives users the ability to browse more public posts with that same tag. With this one feature Google is knitting together its social, cloud, mobile, and artificial intelligence strategies.
Another clearly strategic move on Google's part was to give every attendee a Chromebook Pixel. The big give-away is one of the most anticipated traditions of Google I/O. Many attendees were hoping for a Google Glass, the glasses-like computer you wear wrapped around your head. Google Glass is a device straight out of science fiction and still a few years away from commercial viability (it's too expensive and too ugly right now for a general audience). So why did Google shy away from something really groundbreaking and give what is essentially a fancy notebook computer without a hard drive or the ability to run applications locally to every developer passionate enough to attend Google I/O this year?
After absorbing the keynote and attending a few technical sessions, I believe Google really wants us to stop developing desktop applications and figure out how to do everything on the server or in the cloud. There are several good reasons why consumers will benefit from this web-only paradigm: better security, easy access, no problems with out-of-date software. But there are several drawbacks for consumers: Privacy concerns, the need for reliable high speed internet access, and some tasks that just can't be done by web client technology -- any task that requires sophisticated tools. You can write a blog post in the cloud but you can't write a novel just yet.
By giving away Pixels Google is trying to motivate developers to solve the hard problems, the problems that right now are only solved by application software. One of my favorite applications is Apple's GarageBand. It would be really tough to turn that into a web-based app that runs in a browser and still get all the drag and drop features, fine control over music quality, and snappy user interface. Tough but not impossible. Maybe one of this year's Google I/O attendees will solve this problem and give the world an alternative to Apple's music construction kit that runs on any computer with web browser.
The Chromebook Pixel itself is a nifty machine with a few flaws. The display screen is amazing and touch sensitive. But the keyboard and track pad feel cheap and toy-like. Setting up the Pixel is a breeze but using it is limited by your internet connection. I wrote this blog post on the Pixel in my hotel room where the wireless Internet service drops in and out like a yo-yo. So the Pixel's word processor freezes up every now and then and interrupts my "flow."
There is much more to report from Google I/O but tomorrow is another long day of information overload and like all good HuffPosters I'm going to get a good night sleep so I'm rested, relaxed, and ready to tackle the Google "world of tomorrow" in the morning.
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