Google developer tools include social networking

The launch of a new sandbox for creating gadgets for iGoogle – Google Inc.’s personalized homepage – lets developers build applications that more fully immerse the user, and include social features, a company executive said.

The sandbox’s support for OpenSocial platform, APIs used for building social applications, could mean activities from iGoogle gadgets can be posted to activity streams on OpenSocial supporting networks, for instance.

Jessica Ewing, product manager with iGoogle, used the example of a Pac Man gadget that could access a user’s friends list and display those friends’ scores, and said that with such social gadgets, the company is “trying to be a great home page by weaving in that social layer.”

From ComputerWorld Canada

The good, the bad, and Google Apps

By offering these social extensions, said Ewing, Google is “not changing what we’re doing in any core way”, rather the functionality is optional for the user.

Besides that added social layer, the sandbox offers developers a canvas view to build larger versions of gadgets for a more complete user interaction.

Although iGoogle is a consumer technology, employees could still access the gadgets for personal use at work – a fact that shouldn’t concern IT administrators because “the gadgets are built on top of public data” and not enterprise data, said Rishi Chandra, product manager for Google Apps.

But Chandra said Google sees “huge value” in eventually extending that consumer technology to the enterprise so businesses can reap the benefits from team collaboration. The enterprise version of these gadgets would also provide the IT administrator more access controls to manage how and if users connect with colleagues, customers or friends.

Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst for software with Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada, said although the security risk to the enterprise is minimal, open sourcing code nonetheless heightens risk. “The more developers you bring into the fold to build for the iGoogle page… Google has to ensure security of users.”

But Google’s move to provide the enhanced developer features “potentially creates more innovative services to users,” said Restivo, adding that currently the personalized homepage functions more as a news delivery and information exchange engine.

“There are a lot more possibilities for iGoogle if you open it up to developers,” he said, adding Google, like any company, is probably trying to expand its developer base which is an “indication of your heft in the industry.”

And given Google’s strong brand name, the company will garner ample attention from developers upon open sourcing its APIs, he said. “It’s a quick route to market.”

Following Google’s launch of the sandbox, developer Philipp Lenssen wrote on Google Blogoscoped, “the new iGoogle sandbox right now feels more like a flaky alpha experiment for brave-of-heart developers rather than something useful. There are broken links in tutorials, character encoding issues, JavaScript bugs and more.”

And in response to the gadgets’ added social layer, Lenssen wrote: “While other social services start with the network – profiles, defining friendships and so on – and then put applications on top, Google seems to go the other route by stacking the social network on top of their existing apps.”

The trend of collaboration and social computing technologies seeping into the enterprise was the topic of a recent report by Forrester Research Inc. entitled Embrace the Risks and Rewards of Technology Populism. The term, Technology Populism, coined by Forrester is when individual users, not IT organizations, are “fueling the next wave of IT adoption.”

Technology Populism, the report said, is fuelled in part by information workers seeing the benefits of services like iGoogle, Wikipedia and among others, and by companies that are “exploiting new ways to use these networks for purposes as diverse as generating sales leads, recruiting talent, and testing and improving products.”

The report recommended that information and knowledge managers balance opportunities reaped from Web 2.0 enterprise tools and the “security and privacy and poor control of intellectual property.”

However, the report noted that “while popular opinion paints IT as a gatekeeper blocking adoption of these new disruptive technologies, Forrester’s research indicates quite the opposite.”

Google posted a video demo on the Google Gadgets API Blog showing a developer navigating through the sandbox to build a basic gadget.

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