For a company that prides itself on openness, Google+ sure is closed. Sure, you can read your stream from anywhere, but Google went through extraordinary efforts (as we shall see in a moment) to keep users from posting to Google+ from outside their approved app ecosystem. I’ve cracked that nut (for now, at least) using a very roundabout method. Here’s how I did it.
Note: This doesn’t work anymore. I have a different solution now using NextScripts.
Google’s Walled Garden
Google+ is wide open and very closed at the same time. Google supports a number of mechanisms for “data liberation”, and should be commended for this. But Google tightly controls interaction and updates to the service, perhaps fearing that opening up further would erode the already-tenuous userbase.
So Google has carefully guarded the ability to post status updates to Google+. Currently, only a few supported applications are allowed to interact with the service: The official clients for Android, iPhone, and iPad as well as the web app and SMS. In each case, interaction is complete, and users will receive comments and posts from others, not just pushing data into the service.
But I want to be able to automatically push status updates into Google+.
It’s not that I don’t want to use Google+. Far from it! I actually enjoy interacting on the service, and have many friends who remain committed to it. All I want to do is automatically push shared links and status updates to Google+ from Buffer, as I currently do for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
I use Buffer to space out my status updates so I don’t annoy my followers and friends with a flood of links or thoughts at random times during the day. Then, when I want to interact on these services, I login and tweet or “like” just as I always would. I’m not using Buffer to automate my social media interactions or spam these services, just to reduce the drudgery and impact of routine updates.
A Long, Winding Road to Google+
For the last year or so, I assumed that Google would open up an API to allow third-party clients to access Google+. After all, third-party clients are common and popular for services like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and just about every other social network. But Google has steadfastly refused to allow this, so I spent some time puzzling over how to automate posting, even in a more roundabout fashion.
My (functional, currently) method is indeed a winding road:
- I decided that anything I would post to LinkedIn is probably the same sort of content I would like to see on Google+. Therefore, LinkedIn is my source of status updates, whether they come from Buffer, the web, or IFTTT.
- An IFTTT “recipe” watches my LinkedIn account for new status updates shared by me and emails them to my GMail account.
- A rule in Apple Mail for OS X (left running on my desktop) looks for these special emails and redirects them to a special email address for my Google Voice account.
- This address bridges these emails to my Google+ account as SMS.
- Google+ then posts the status update and sends a confirmation.
This ridiculously complicated path actually does work fairly well, at least so far. The weakest link is probably the Apple Mail rule, though my iMac has been quite stable over the last few years.
I would have preferred to do the mail redirect using a Gmail filter, but Google will not allow this, even automatically reacting the email forwarding verification code from Google+ when I tried to set this up. I guess they have considered this general concept and have worked to disable it.
Here’s how I set this all up, working backward from Google+:
- Set up the GMail-to-Google+ bridge with your Google Voice account according to these instructions. Save the special “from” address you get from Google+ since you’ll need that later.
- Create an IFTTT recipe to automatically send your status updates to your GMail account via email. Since the subject is it ignored by Google+, come up with a special “key subject” to trigger the Apple Mail rule we will use next. Configure IFTTT to put the entire status text in the body, and add “+public” or any other Google+ SMS commands you like.
- In Apple Mail’s preferences window, create a rule for messages from “[email protected]” with your key subject, and tell it to redirect those messages to the special Google+ email address you retrieved in step 1.
Obviously, it would be fairly straightforward to modify this process for any e-mailed material. I used IFTTT since it gives me the ability to use a wide variety of content sources.
Why Is It So Hard to Post to Google+?
One might wonder why Google went to such extraordinary extremes to turn off external posting. I believe I have the answer, though of course I can’t be sure.
Google desperately wants their social network to succeed. Success is measured by engagement, and engagement is measured by users actually interacting on the site. I believe that Google fears that automated posting from third-party clients will reduce interaction on the site.
Google’s worst nightmare is for Plus to become the “ghost town” pundits say it already is. In this case, a “ghost” is defined as automated posting of status updates without any actual interaction. See, once users started posting to Google+ from outside, they wouldn’t actually see what else was going on in the network.
Google obviously does not want users posting to Google+ in this way or they would have provided a more straightforward mechanism and not actively blocked mail forwarding verification. But I don’t think that Google will go out of their way to shut down this “loophole”. After all, it’s quite difficult to achieve and unlikely to be used by many users. So I think it is safe to assume that this will work, at least for a while.
Although I can understand why Google does not allow third-party clients (let alone an API) to post status updates to Google+, I believe they are misguided. Every other social network allows this, and Google will eventually have to decide whether they’re going to allow Google+ to thrive on it’s own or continue to try artificially to pump up interaction by limiting users to certain clients. Restricting API access seems arbitrary to me, and makes the company look especially paranoid.
I wish Google would open Plus wide with an API that allows the entire Internet in. This kind of openness is what we expect from Google, and would especially be welcomed in light of FaceBook’s continuing (and Twitter’s recent) moves to restrict access. If users tire of FaceBook and Twitter, Google+ could feel a second wind, but only if they open the doors wide enough to let everyone in!