Sunlight at Google I/O


I spent most of this week in San Francisco for Google I/O. While Google I/O doesn’t have a whole lot to do with open government, we do enough Android development in the service of open government that it seemed worth my attendance.

In the end, Google I/O was a mixed bag, offering nice goodies and announcements, but at the cost of tightly crowded sessions and what felt like an embarrassment of riches.

The most interesting announcement at the event, for me, was the Android Open Accessory Development Kit, which is a kit and spec for making accessories for Android devices, built on the Arduino platform. Arduino is an open source set of hardware and software for making software control physical objects, and it’s inspired a lot of fun projects. There’s a huge ecosystem of code already built around Arduino, and for Google to choose an open, established platform for accessory development is a big deal. Google showed this off by having a life size(?) version of Labyrinth for people to play around with.

The expectation of Oprah-style gift giving works to Google I/O’s detriment. Google held up with pride the fact that they sold out tickets within an hour, but is that any surprise when people know that at a bare minimum, they can sell their prizes for what they paid to attend? It has a cultural impact on the conference: when the Chrome team first said we were all getting Chromebooks, everyone cheered and cheered; after following up with some more details, including that it would be available for us not that morning but in June, applause came sparsely and reluctantly.

More practically, getting into actual sessions on the Android track was often difficult to impossible. Lines would stretch down the hall and out into the exhibition plaza, looping around and around, as developers waited 30 minutes in line for sitting and standing space. Fully half the sessions I wanted to participate in, I resigned myself to watching them online when I got home. If interest had been distributed evenly throughout the tracks, it would probably have been fine, but the attendees were lopsided heavily towards Android developers.

The Android sessions I was able to attend were great, though. I’ve done a lot of Android work at Sunlight and at home, but Android development is a broad, deep thing, and there are many advanced features and best practices discussed that I didn’t know about. The Android team also held “office hours” for people to come in and ask questions, increasing the value of actually attending the conference.

Being given a tablet will, of course, make developing for a tablet easier, and more likely. The thing that would make such an endeavor most motivating, though, is to simply get lots of people to buy tablets, and whether that will happen for Android is still an open question. Seeding developers is only a small part of that, but that’s the only part Google I/O is responsible for, and at that it did well.

I’m glad I went to Google I/O, but I’ll be thinking much harder next year about whether to attend, or just stay home and watch the sessions when they get posted online.