I’m not sure of the reasoning behind it, but it appears that Google may have made some behind the scenes changes to Gmail that disrupted the scipts and extensions I rely on to get the most out of my account. One of the Apache devs noted here that his Greasemonkey enabled persistent searches were no longer functioning, and in the same timeframe I’ve lost my delete key. It’s not just Greasemonkey scripts, however, as my Gmail Notifier extension for Firefox has apparently been disabled as well. While it’s Google’s perogative to make changes to the service as necessary for maintenance or other reasons, I’m hoping this is not a deliberate play at preventing would-be participants from enhancing the value of Google’s service. It’s remarkable how much less useful Gmail is to me when I have to log in to see if I have mail, or can’t easily delete the many frivolous emails I receive each day (yes, I’m aware that I can use a POP client for this, but I’d rather not).
Service providers must of course balance the demands of those wishing to extend their platforms with their ability to sustain additional load, licensing and contractual restrictions on the content or platform itself, etc. But as Alex Bosworth has previously noted, the incentive for developers to make your offering more valuable, more relevant, and more usable is dramatically affected by what you do – or don’t do – to facilitate their continued participation.
To Google’s credit, even in situations where the T’s and C’s are violated, they’re not sending in the goon squad. The requested takedown notice for gMerge was written by a human, not a lawyer, and comes across as distinctly non-threatening.
But if – and I do emphasize the if – Google’s actively thwarting Greasemonkey type extensions to Gmail and otherwise, I think it’s either a mistake or they need to be transparent about why they have to do so (scale?). Even if they’re not, and this is nothing more than an application upgrade that breaks enhancements – hardly an unheard of occurence – I think they could more actively and explicitly encourage participation both with more permissive T’s and C’s as well as clearer guidelines about what can and can’t be done. Developers are ready and willing to make your products better, for free. You just have to let them.
Update: As one reader and a few posters to the GM listserv have noted, one thing that’s disrupted a variety of user scripts has been the fact that the domain to Gmail has changed from gmail.google.com to mail.google.com. While simply adding the domains into the GM interface had no effect on my Gmail, a reinstallation of a version of the script with updated domain returned my beloved Delete button. What do developers think of this change with Google’s service? Here’s one take from the GM list: “I noticed [the domain change] too. Why they can’t just leave it alone, I can’t understand.” To be a bit less harsh, while Google probably had good reasons for making the change, it would have been great to see them be proactive and notify people of the change via their blog or some other mechanism.