Google’s YouTube Power

For the second time in two days, Google has shown up on my “hmm, what’s going on there?” radar. Today I want to put search behind me and look at how Google is alleged to have leveraged its video content position by changing the terms of service for YouTube’s APIs (application programming interfaces) to stop a site from potentially competing with YouTube itself.

The events are laid out at Totlol, and Totlol’s founder/developer tells a story that fits into what those who are concerned about Google’s market power worry about. Here’s a quick glimpse:

Every start-up has a story. This is the story of Totlol. Because I did everything myself, it is also the story of almost two years of my life. It’s the story of a flourishing service into which I put tons of work. It’s the story of site for which I had high hopes. It’s the story of how things unfolded when it has fallen into a trap set up by Google.

What?

A trap? Set up by Google?

Yep. It works in the following manner:

Google releases a public API. They watch what third-party developers do with the API and modify the Terms of Service (ToS) for that API in a way that prevents breakthrough potential. Google may then move to offer a similar service based on their platform rather than the API.

Unbelievable?

I thought so too. Until I experienced it first hand.

YouTube responded, noting that ToS updates take awhile, but if Google has done what is claimed, it raises some difficult questions. Allowing (encouraging?) people to develop applications that interact with APIs and then “changing the rules” through ToS changes to essentially make sure they can’t monetize their developments seems unfair, at the least, and also raises questions about changes in ToS that upset reasonable business expectations. After after reading the story a couple of times at different places, I have some questions:

  • How many other developers use the YouTube APIs (ie, how many others are affected by the changes Totlol complains about)?
  • Are the changes in line with those that govern publicly develop-able APIs (such as Twitter or Facebook)?
  • Are there reasonable ways around using the APIs while still maintaining the idea behind the application (early in the Totlol story, the site’s founder describes trying to start his site using a standalone, non-integrated site)?

Given that ToS change all the time, is it wise to rely on any ToS in building integrated applications and sites? If not, then why make the APIs public (ie, why not require distinct, firm agreements for all developers)? This last bit confuses me more than a little. I’m interested in hearing from others who might be able to explain a bit more (especially from the technical side) what’s going on here, and (from the business side) just how important the changes that Google made are.

You can read more at TechCrunch (which seems to say, live by the api/die by the api), Zennie Abraham, a YouTube partner (where Zennie makes the interesting point that what makes Totlol different from many other partners is that Totlol wasn’t providing new content, but was hoping to make money by organizing existing content — that is, he was not providing original content . . . that means he has something in common in his axe to grind with Frank Raff from yesterday’s discussions on Google’s search results),and newteevee, which puts the point more squarely as Totlol being a closer competitor to YouTube’s own business model than other API users.

Via Philipp Lensson at Google Blogoscoped (based on a post on the GB forum by RiyAndroid).