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Googler: "We don't understand platforms"

Google's strategy for Google App Engine and its social network Google+ is flawed, according to an engineer at the company.Steve Yegge, a Google software engineer posted a rant on his page on the Google+ social network on Tuesday night that slammed the company for its approach to developing platforms.
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

Google's strategy for Google App Engine and its social network Google+ is flawed, according to an engineer at the company.

Steve Yegge, a Google software engineer posted a rant on his page on the Google+ social network on Tuesday night that slammed the company for its approach to developing platforms.

"[Google] don't understand platforms. We don't 'get' platforms," Yegge 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. But no. No, it's like our tenth or eleventh priority. Or fifteenth, I don't know. It's pretty low."

Yegge has since removed the post, explaining that it was meant for private consumption by other Googlers and not for the public. He stressed it is an opinion piece and not an official view of the company. The post has been republished elsewhere on the web.

The gist of Yegge's argument is that Google doesn't have an ingrained knowledge of service-orientated architectures (SOE) and doesn't consume enough of its own services to identify flaws in products such as Google App Engine and Google+.

"Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product," Yegge wrote. "But that's not why they are successful. Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work."

By contrast, Google has attempted to buy-in services, such as games for Google+, rather than foster an environment where developers automatically gravitate to the platform, he said.

Google App Engine pales in comparison to Amazon Web Services

Google's cloud product for developers — Google App Engine — is not, in Yegge’s opinion, anywhere near as complete as Amazon's Amazon Web Services.

"Amazon gets it. Amazon's AWS... is incredible. Just go look at it. Click around. It's embarrassing. We don't have any of that stuff," he wrote. "After you've marveled at the platform offerings of Microsoft and Amazon, and Facebook I guess... head over to developers.google.com and browse a little. Pretty big difference, eh?"

Part of the problem could be that Google as an organisation doesn't expose much of its inner intelligence to developers, which is why Google App Engine is a platform-as-a-service, rather than an infrastructure-as-a-service, he said.

"I know for a fact that the [developer relations] team has had to FIGHT to get even this much available externally," he wrote.

Amazon's service-orientated strategy

In terms of cloud, the elephant looming in the background of Yegge's essay is his former employer, Amazon. Yegge believes that because Amazon has been working on service-orientated architectures internally since early last decade, it has had a profound effect on its current crop of public services, such as AWS and the Amazon.com retail site.

Near the start of the previous decade Amazon's chief executive, Jeff Bezos, issued a memo to Amazon employees calling for them to change the way they built and exposed IT services so that they transitioned to a service-orientated architecture, Yegge wrote.

Bezos ordered Amazon's engineers to expose all internal IT services' data and functionality to one another via services. While this caused problems initially, it has allowed Amazon to build better platforms as its own developers have gained a deep level of familiarity with service-oriented architectures.

This approach contrasts with Google's, Yegge says.

"It will take a dramatic cultural change in order for us to start catching up. We don't do internal service-oriented platforms, and we just as equally don't do external ones. This means that the "not getting it" is endemic across the company: the [product managers] don't get it, the engineers don't get it, the product teams don't get it, nobody gets it," he wrote. "We can't keep launching products and pretending we'll turn them into magical beautiful extensible platforms later. We've tried that and it's not working."

However, there are bright spots: the Google Maps, Docs and Gmail teams have all commited to moving their services to SOA, Yegge said. However, he said it is hard for them to get funding and compard them to a "fluffy rabbit" versus Microsoft's "T-Rex" when it comes to the documents platform.

Google is a product company, Yegge says, and needs to move to a platform company, as Amazon has done.

"I'm not saying it's too late for us, but the longer we wait, the closer we get to being Too Late," he said.

ZDNet UK contacted Google for a comment on Yegge’s opinion but had not received a response at the time of writing.

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