Google I/O: Developer Love or What?

The popularity of the Google platform for developers was clearly evident on the morning of May 28 when Google held its Google I/O developer confrence at the Moscone West convention center in San Francisco. The opening keynote was to start at 9:30 a.m. I arrived a little after 9 a.m. having stayed at the hotel literally right next to the venue. I figured I'd have plenty of time to spare. Instead as soon as I turned the corner of the building and peered inside the convention center's vast first level, I could not believe my eyes. Both myself and the gentleman who walked alongside me to the event groaned when we saw the entire first floor packed with humanity. It was unbelievable. You would have thought Google was giving away free $100 gas cards or something. There were serpentine lines that I couldn't begin to figure out.

All I knew was that as a member of the press I was not expecting to wait in any mega lines. Turns out the line for press and speakers was at least 50 people deep and not moving very quickly. But it pays to have a familiar face, I suppose. An angel from Google's PR team spotted me in the back of the line and quietly went about getting my badge printed and snuck me through. By then it was nearly 9:30 a.m. and at least 1,000 people were still not registered.

That's when Google made a smart decision to not only hold off the start of the keynote, but also make an announcement that folks could gain access to the keynote even if they didn't have a conference badge on. Because at the rate things were going there were still going to be people in line until 10 a.m. or later.

In an interview, Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering at Google, who also gave the opening keynote, said this was the first time Google has ever charged people to attend a Google developer event. He said the company initially expected 1,500 people to attend. In the end it was more like 3,000, he said. Contrast that to last year when the Google developer event was free and there were no lines at all, said folks who attended the Google Developer Day in San Jose on May 31, 2007. This year Google charged a fee.

In addition, friends of mine who arrived early said about 150 people queued up way early to gain access to the conference, but the convention center's doors did not open until 8 a.m. And I must admit that when I arrived at 9 a.m. the scene at Moscone West was unlike any I'd ever seen there--and I've been to many a show at that place. You could hardly walk without bumping into or having to squeeze past somebody. It was an absolute madhouse.

Three thousand people might be small for some companies and their developer base, but the fervor and excitement amongst the folks in line was almost palpable. As a reporter I was listening in on nearly every conversation within earshot, and talk of Googl'e focus on openness seemed to dominate the chatter.

And despite the keynote being more than 90 minutes, many people either stood or sat on the floor to take in what Gundotra and a host of others had to say.

But that should be no surprise given that Google gives back. Indeed, Google loves developers. "You're the audience we're most excited about talking to," Gundotra said. The feeling was evidently mutual, because very few people seemed to be unnerved by the mob scene.