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Google Engineer Publishes, Then Deletes Opinionated Google+ Rant

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Google engineer Steve Yegge posted a from-the-heart, no holds barred, balls to the wall indictment of Google’s failings in planning, launching, and developing the Google+ social media platform. Unfortunately, it was late at night. He’s not really an experienced G+ user. He accidentally posted it publicly to Google+, instead of internally to his network of fellow Googlers. Oops.

I feel for Yegge. I won’t put this in the same class as Weinergate, but he certainly seems contrite and possibly even embarrassed, judging by the retraction he published shortly after. Although he deleted the original post, it had already been shared and +1’d hundreds of times.

The post begins with a few tame suggestions for Google in areas Amazon, where Yegge worked for six years, excels. Google could use a better publish-subscribe system, he says, and Amazon’s library-shelf system is far superior. But it’s all downhill from there – well, for Google. For the rest of us, it’s an amazing look into how IT and architecture work at two of the leading tech companies.

Despite Yegge’s assertion in the apology post that he is “someone who's nowhere near the center of the action,” and has very little insight into how things work outside of his little corner of the company. Yet he offers some interesting opinions on service oriented architecture (SOA) and how Google may be setting themselves up to hit a wall, as their products don’t effectively communicate with each other.

He describes the bumps Amazon hit along the way, the lessons they learned, as they moved internally to a SOA and became more service-oriented for all new designs. SOA-driven design enables platforms, and this is the crux of his Google gripe.

After a brief segue into security vs. accessibility, he drops the bomb: Google doesn’t understand platforms. He wrote:

“I was kind of hoping that competitive pressure from Microsoft and Amazon and more recently Facebook would make us wake up collectively and start doing universal services. Not in some sort of ad-hoc, half-assed way, but in more or less the same way Amazon did it: all at once, for real, no cheating, and treating it as our top priority from now on.”

A platform-less product will always lose out to an equivalent platform-ized product, he says. Yet most Googlers are focused on building products and this is a major flaw.

He calls out everyone from the top down; Larry and Sergey right on down to the lowest on the totem pole. These aren't the ramblings of some low-level minion who doesn’t get what’s going on around him. Yegge truly gets it, and he let them have it with both barrels.

Among his condemnations of Google+:

  • It’s a “pathetic afterthought.” 
  • There was no API at launch and now there is only one API call. 
  • Google doesn’t eat their own dogfood. Microsoft does, he says. 
  • Platforms are about long-term thinking; Google+ was a knee-jerk reaction based on Google’s belief that Facebook had built a product, not a platform. 
  • Google is trying too often to predict what people want and deliver it to them, as opposed to creating interfaces and workflows people could get on board with.

“I apologize to those (many) of you for whom all this stuff I'm saying is incredibly obvious, because yeah. It's incredibly frigging obvious. Except we're not doing it. We don't get Platforms, and we don't get Accessibility. The two are basically the same thing, because platforms solve accessibility. A platform is accessibility,” he wrote.

So who is doing it right? Microsoft, for one. Amazon. Apple. Facebook – and this worries Yegge. In fact, compared to what the aforementioned companies offer, he calls the Google developers site something “your fifth-grade nephew might mock up if he were doing an assignment to demonstrate what a big powerful platform company might be building if all they had, resource-wise, was one fifth grader.”

Yegge’s rant wasn’t limited to Google, though; he railed hard on his former employer, Amazon, and especially founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, whom he referred to as a micromanager “Dread Pirate” who “definitely does not give a shit about your day.” In fact, the entire premise of the post was that Amazon does everything wrong, and Google does everything right.

After pouring out his soul on SOAs and Google+, though, he says Google needs a massive cultural change. This is one thing they don’t do right, and it’s a great, big thing. They don’t do internal service-oriented platforms, nor external. Launching quickly and hoping to transform products into platforms later isn’t working. Nobody “gets it.”

I hope they get it now. Seriously, Yegge makes a ton of sense. There’s obviously a level of frustration there, when you have employees with brains, experience, and a big-picture outlook taking to social media to vent, even if it was meant to be internal.

Even in his apology post, Yegge tries to downplay what he initially posted, when he really should just 100 percent own it. For someone who claims to be so out of touch from the big picture and how things work outside his corner of the Googleplex, he gets it.

It sucks for Yegge that it went public, but maybe Google can take something out of it. They’d better; the stakes are big, and Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon get it.


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