How (and Why) Google Needs to Invest in Open Source

Google logo being unzipped

As more and more people start using the internet, and as websites get increasingly full featured Google continues to see growth in its userbase. Open Source CMS platforms (Drupal, WordPress, etc.) are increasingly the go-to technology for many companies with over 800,000 sites using Drupal or almost 60 million on WordPress. As big as these numbers are, they are a drop in a bucket compared to the 4+ million Google searches that occur each day. So why should Google care?

Not Just Google.com

Google's reach and penetration in the internet goes well beyond Google.com. Sites currently include everything from social sharing, to maps on contact pages, to analytics rely on services provided by Google. This is in large part because Google provides some really great services for free, but the decision tree for selecting these services is undergoing a subtle but inevitable shift.

Picking Services

When selecting services for inclusion in websites there are several factors:

  1. Awareness
  2. Service Offering
  3. Cost
  4. Legal restrictions
  5. Level of integration

When it comes to #2 (Service Offering) and #3 (Cost), Google generally knocks it out of the park. When it comes to Maps, for example, they basically wrote the book on mapping APIs and it's free! #4 (Legal Restrictions) generally are whatever the lawyers or business plan require. However, when it comes to #1 (Awareness) and #5 (Level of Integration), they are facing growing competition.

Specialized Databases

When I'm searching for trivia, business, etc. I use Google, however when I am building a website and I'm looking to add features I am going to search specific databases and/or review sites that talk about WordPress Plugins or Drupal Modules. These specialized databases allow me to do things like filter for compatibility with the specific version of the CMS I am using, look at usage and code commit history and generally make more informed opinions about the add ons. Additionally, networks and communities exist, which allows me to draw on collective experience of my peers, making the level of integration key.

Sure Features Are There, But Are They Integrated?

That brings me to the core of my argument for increased participation by Google. Ease of use and level of integration with a service can be as important as the features of the service. For example, Google Analytics may allow me to do financial funneling for products I post to my website, but if another service offers me that and I can toggle that service by clicking a checkbox, I'm likely to opt for the latter even if that means I need to pay a fee (think free social sharing with paid analytics integration). My time is valuable (and expensive), and an easy-to-integrate service will likely save my customers both time and money.

What Google Can Learn From MailChimp

A great study in success by investing in platform integration can be found in MailChimp. MailChimp offers a great newsletter service (we at Metal Toad subscribe to the paid service) AND they have great integration within Drupal and WordPress which is a supported by the company with a $1 Million Integration Fund. Not only does that build buzz and goodwill within developer communities, but it creates a higher-level of integration.

Google's Opportunities

Given the scope of Google's services the opportunity (or cost) is huge. Here's a quick list, that reads like the top bar in my GMail account:

  • Authentication - Google+
  • Ads
  • Maps
  • Shopping
  • Flights
  • Calendar
  • Drive
  • Contacts
  • YouTube
  • News

The opportunities and the means for integrations are there (the APIs exist), but it's time for Google to start investing money integration of their services with the rest of the internet, or face growing competition across numerous fronts in a world where being free just isn't enough.

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A good example of Google's API strategy getting beat is on A/B testing:

Google had a free version built into Webmaster Tools for years. It has some use, but was never easy or available enough for non-devs to use or implement.

Then a startup, Optimizely: www.optimizely.com, built something with fewer features and a *great* frontend. Now Optimizely is the goto for A/B testing ... even though they're a pay-service and Google's is still free.


I am not sure if it is really such a fail by Google that they are not implementing their API's themselves into modules for open source projects. They are already offering a lot of value for free.

There are tons of integration modules being developed by the community, often days or weeks after a new API comes out. Some are very specific use cases but some others are fairly general (e.g. we for example started one for Google Drive in Drupal. http://pronovix.com/blog/kdani/drupal-front-end-google-drive-ii )

It would of course be nice to have some dedicated development budget flowing into these modules to improve support and responsiveness on the issue queues...

I don't think they are seeing any major decreases in utilization right now, but they are going to be facing more and more competition by paid services within specific niches. If something works with my existing (or future) technology stack, I'm more inclined to use it. The first step is having a service and API, but there's a need to create the actual bridges. Putting that all on the open source communities is certainly a more cost effective way of approaching, but supporting the implementations directly makes would help them keep their current advantage, as well as helping to build good will.

About the Author

Joaquin Lippincott, President & Founder

Joaquin is a modern technology veteran. Throughout his career he has built successful digital strategies with a wide assortment of transformative technologies and platforms, helping clients identify a clear path for success.

Over the years he has worked with industry leaders such as DC Comics, the Emmys, Intel, Technicolor, Verizon Wireless, Habitat for Humanity, Limewire, the Linux Foundation, Sony Pictures Television, Mercy Corps, and Cisco as well as numerous small businesses, advertising agencies and internet start ups. With over 14 years of experience in his field he is still as passionate about technology as ever.

Joaquin is a graduate from UCLA with a degree in design and has also served on the AIGA Portland chapter board as President.

Twitter: @joaquinlippinco

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