Google's shift to closed APIs continues despite CalDAV reversal

In a quest to make money from all its services, Google is favoring its own APIs over standard ones

As part of one of its regular "spring cleanings" of services and features, Google announced back in March that it would end support for the use of the CalDAV protocol in its calendaring services on Sept. 16. The outcry was swift and loud, and since then Google has reversed its decision and decided to keep CalDAV around. But Google's long-term tilt away from open APIs and towards proprietary ones remains unchanged, and that may relegate CalDav support to second-class status in Google's services.

One of the ostensible reasons for Google ending support for CalDAV was to encourage developers to transition to the Google Calendar API, now in its third revision. The Calendar API sports features that CalDAV does not, although most of those features are predictably Google-centric. For example, the Calendar API includes tight integration with Google+-specific features like Events.

Google's last major abandonment of an open API came in the form of retiring Google Reader (slated to be shut down on July 1). "While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined," Google claimed, and Reader itself had not been updated in years. Almost immediately a host of competing products -- such as Feedly -- sprang up to pick up the slack. (Google also provided an extension via Google Takeout for people to export their feed data.)

In Reader's case, Google abandoned support for an open standard that might well have been rendered irrelevant by changes in user behavior. Fewer people use RSS feeds from sites than they do, say, friends' share lists from social networks. That said, the RSS and Atom standards are still quite serviceable. What's changed is how Google has decided to service people's reading habits: By giving them one less tool that directly supports an open standard.

CalDAV isn't as easy for Google to get rid of because Google makes money from the developers that use it -- such developers also tend to connect to Google services that Google can monetize. Google would of course prefer developers use its Calendar API so it could monetize those apps even more (through more data gathering across services like Google+ and Google Now), but it likely calculated it would alienate developers too quickly by dropping CalDAV as originally planned. Still, Google will likely keep revisiting its support for CalDAV based on those economic calculations.

It may have another reason to dump CalDAV at some point: its rivalry with Apple. CalDAV and its underlying IETF iCalendar data-repository standard were developed by a consortium where Apple has prominent involvement, whereas Google Calendar API uses the more neutral JSON repository.

Open APIs have the advantage of leveling the playing field between competitors and giving users broader choices. But they also constrain vendors' options, both technical and monetary.

In the case of calendaring, Google is using proprietary APIs to gain a competitive edge, with some support of external standards through export of data via Google Takeout. Expect Google to continue to side with proprietary rather than open standards in its ongoing quest to make money from more than just search.

This story, "Google's shift to closed APIs continues despite CalDAV reversal," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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