Mike Isaac

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With New Sign-In Feature, Google Plus Makes Its Developer Pitch

It’s common knowledge: A platform is only as good as the developers who populate it. It’s why Facebook and Twitter have snaked their reaches across the Web.

Now, nearly a year and a half after launch, Google Plus is taking major steps to better integrate its platform with developers across the rest of the Web.

The company opened up the “sign in with Google Plus” feature on Tuesday, a fairly simple authentication method that allows Plus users to connect with integrated third-party applications by entering their email address and password information. That method of authentication is already ubiquitous for the big guys like Facebook and Twitter; Google Plus wants to be an option as well.

Sort of late to the party, no? Why, now, would users be compelled to sign in using their Google Plus ID?

The pitch there is fairly straightforward: First, Google Plus product manager Seth Sternberg tells me, it’s a simplicity and security thing. Folks who use Gmail and Google Plus know their password well, and trust that authenticating through Google will get them where they need to go easily and securely enough. (I guess that’s fair, though I can’t say I have trouble remembering my Twitter or Facebook credentials.)

Second, and perhaps more importantly, Google Plus sign-in allows users to target how apps are sharing to friends in a more granular way. From the permissions page upon sign-in, you’re able to specify which circles you want a particular app to share to, while excluding the folks you think won’t care about that particular app activity. So for example, if you connect Plus with the Fitbit app, you may only want to share your exercise activity with a select group of particularly athletic friends. Google Plus sign-in lets you do that.

Unpack this feature. In theory, half of it appeals to the privacy-minded users who want strict control over what they share and to whom. But the other half of the appeal is perhaps the more important group at launch: Developers.

“When you’re building platform products, you really have two customers — developers and users,” Sternberg said. “And you need to make sure you’re doing a great job for both of them.”

If all goes to plan and users share their app activity with particular relevant groups, Sternberg said this is great for app developers who want to reach directed audiences more likely to be interested in their apps.

In other words, think of it as a user-guided form of ad targeting for app developers.

“If the right people see it, and I know they’re seeing it, it gives developers a better targeting system for delivering their apps,” Sternberg said. And if users don’t have the application in question, trying to sign in with Google Plus will send them out to the Google Play app store to download the app (sorry, iOS users, that’s Android only for now).

“It’s extra work, but it’s definitely worth it,” Kristin George, director of product at launch partner TuneIn, told me. “This increases the amount of discovery channels that we can have.”

Which is really Google’s best value proposition for third parties. It’s the same charge Facebook has trumpeted for the past year, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself leading a call to arms for the developer community at nearly every speaking opportunity. Twitter too, although to something of a lesser degree.

The issue as I see it, however, is that a lot of Google’s value proposition depends on very specific use cases from users that, frankly, I’m not convinced is something they’re itching for. My gut is that the masses on the whole don’t pay full attention to their sharing, blasting out updates and activity to all at once, and the granular approach is more of a power user thing.

But Google Plus users could prove me wrong. That would be great for participating developers, and of course good for Google, which wants to grow its platform and the activity inside, however slowly but surely.

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— Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”