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"Google+ is a Prime Example of Our Complete Failure to Understand Platforms"
October 12, 2011 10:26 AM   Subscribe

"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." "Last night, high-profile Google engineer Steve Yegge mistakenly posted a long rant about working at Amazon and Google’s own issues with creating platforms on Google+...The most interesting part to me, though, is Yegge’s blunt assessment of what he perceives to be Google’s inability to understand platforms and how this could endanger the company in the long run." It's quite long, but there's some interesting insight - all the more because it wasn't initially intended to be made public. (via SiliconFilter/via G+)

"You know how people are always saying Google is arrogant? I’m a Googler, so I get as irritated as you do when people say that. We’re not arrogant, by and large. We’re, like, 99% Arrogance-Free. I did start this post — if you’ll reach back into distant memory — by describing Google as “doing everything right”. We do mean well, and for the most part when people say we’re arrogant it’s because we didn’t hire them, or they’re unhappy with our policies, or something along those lines. They’re inferring arrogance because it makes them feel better.

But when we take the stance that we know how to design the perfect product for everyone, and believe you me, I hear that a lot, then we’re being fools. You can attribute it to arrogance, or naivete, or whatever — it doesn’t matter in the end, because it’s foolishness. There IS no perfect product for everyone.

And so we wind up with a browser that doesn’t let you set the default font size. Talk about an affront to Accessibility. I mean, as I get older I’m actually going blind. For real. I’ve been nearsighted all my life, and once you hit 40 years old you stop being able to see things up close. So font selection becomes this life-or-death thing: it can lock you out of the product completely. But the Chrome team is flat-out arrogant here: they want to build a zero-configuration product, and they’re quite brazen about it, and Fuck You if you’re blind or deaf or whatever. Hit Ctrl-+ on every single page visit for the rest of your life.

It’s not just them. It’s everyone. The problem is that we’re a Product Company through and through. We built a successful product with broad appeal — our search, that is — and that wild success has biased us."
posted by flex (174 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
We’re, like, 99% Arrogance-Free

Now I'm convinced!
posted by chavenet at 10:31 AM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


To be fair, developers are quite good at long rants on any arbitrarily chosen subject. I'm not sure he's right. Facebook was already exploding in popularity way before it had an API and third-party apps.
posted by memebake at 10:33 AM on October 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work. So Facebook is different for everyone. Some people spend all their time on Mafia Wars. Some spend all their time on Farmville.

I seem to spend all of my time trying to reset the privacy options and turn off "helpful" features. So much so that I have almost stopped posting. Yeesh. They've put the "work" in social network, that's for sure.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:33 AM on October 12, 2011 [29 favorites]


'platformize' is a terrible word.
posted by everichon at 10:34 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hope he does not get fired.
posted by artlung at 10:37 AM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


The most interesting part for me was how awful it apparently is to work for Amazon. More about that topic over here in the comments at Hacker News.
posted by smcameron at 10:37 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


For those not familiar with him, Yegge's written a few things.

This isn't a particularly new thing for him.
posted by underflow at 10:39 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


%s/Google+/Windows 8 Metro UI/g

Same difference.
posted by xigxag at 10:39 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I find it wonderfully amusing that he meant to share it with only a few people, and that failed. This is why everyone at Google should be using Google+ internally: Because those failures in UI design will leap out much earlier.

That said, this is the best rant on software development I've read in a long time. Thank you.
posted by straw at 10:40 AM on October 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


These are the kind of developers I love to manage. Dangerous lunatics capable of destroying your whole business with a misplaced rant.
posted by humanfont at 10:41 AM on October 12, 2011 [25 favorites]


I seem to spend all of my time trying to reset the privacy options and turn off "helpful" features.

Seriously? What percentage of your time on facebook is spent doing that?
posted by holdkris99 at 10:41 AM on October 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


'platformize' is a terrible word.

That's how you terriblize a word.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 10:41 AM on October 12, 2011 [62 favorites]



The most interesting part for me was how awful it apparently is to work for Amazon.


Yes, in fact it sort of seems as if the SiliconFilter angle is a deliberate attempt to say "hey look over there at how crappy Google+ is" instead of wow the lead-in on Amazon is a real roast.
posted by chavenet at 10:42 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


If only we could use gamification to develop better neologisms and portmanteaus.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:45 AM on October 12, 2011 [13 favorites]


The last Facebook upgrade apparently made it so unappealing that my friends went from 300+ new posts per day to about 20. (I have about 100 friends). Effectively everyone I know bar 4 people stopped using Facebook overnight.
posted by fshgrl at 10:45 AM on October 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


I dunno, he may have a point about Google+. I prefer it to Facebook, no question. It's very intuitive and I love that I can break people into groups so easily, which I never figured out how to do on Facebook (never could be bothered). The thing is, after a brief interest in Google+ for a couple of weeks when I first signed up, I discovered it's not just Facebook I don't really like but social networking in general. I'll still log in every now and then, but maybe it's just not my thing.

The last Facebook upgrade apparently made it so unappealing that my friends went from 300+ new posts per day to about 20. (I have about 100 friends)

My wife is a heavy user and huge fan of Facebook, and last weekend I actually heard her groan in frustration with it. That's not good.
posted by Hoopo at 10:47 AM on October 12, 2011


We do mean well, and for the most part when people say we’re arrogant it’s because we didn’t hire them, or they’re unhappy with our policies, or something along those lines. They’re inferring arrogance because it makes them feel better.

This, right here. This. This statement is the definition of arrogance.
posted by gurple at 10:48 AM on October 12, 2011 [33 favorites]


Google Apps users cannot use Google+. You have to choose one or the other. I'd say his criticisms ring pretty true.
posted by 256 at 10:50 AM on October 12, 2011


FWIW I hear some of those things about Amazon from time to time too.
posted by Artw at 10:50 AM on October 12, 2011


I sort of think he's right about Google and wrong about Facebook. The games and quizzes and stuff suck for most users. There's definitely a segment of people who are there for Farmville above all else, but most people (that I know) seem to mess with apps for a few minutes and then go back to using Facebook as a way of communicating with their friends or stalking their friends' friends or being baffled by the weekly random changes to the fundamental way the UI works. Google+ needs to be more like a platform than Facebook is, because otherwise it's an also-ran feature clone — external developers are where it might find its own killer app.
posted by RogerB at 10:50 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


One thing you can say about Google+ is that it has given Facebook some ideas for new features. Tellingly, people are complaining about most of them. But then people always complain when Facebook changes anything. A couple of my Facebook friends said they were going to Google+ as a result. They posted once or twice and then it was back to Facebook.
posted by tommasz at 10:50 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, in fact it sort of seems as if the SiliconFilter angle is a deliberate attempt to say "hey look over there at how crappy Google+ is" instead of wow the lead-in on Amazon is a real roast.

Huh? If anything Siliconfilter overstates the rostage by calling the post "mainly" about how horrible it is to work for Bezos, when he spends most of the time talking about what their internal policies are (not how much it sucks to follow them) and why Google needs to do something similar.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:50 AM on October 12, 2011


GenjiandProust: "Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work. So Facebook is different for everyone. Some people spend all their time on Mafia Wars. Some spend all their time on Farmville.

I seem to spend all of my time trying to reset the privacy options and turn off "helpful" features. So much so that I have almost stopped posting. Yeesh. They've put the "work" in social network, that's for sure.
"

Yeah. I'm having a tough time calling the Facebook API a good example of an open platform that's benefited consumers. If anything, it's virtually destroyed Facebook's reputation as a good steward of its users' data (and, despite the widespread paranoia, they actually did a pretty good job of this during their first few years). Some of their more recent work and improvements have been a step in the right direction (and two steps in the wrong direction, but that's another topic).

However, by and large, I don't think that the Facebook platform has been particularly good for anyone other than spammers (and I'm not talking about legitimate businesses looking to market their products, ie. Facebook Pages).

On the other hand, Google+ seems to be more of an initative to tie some of Google's more established products closer together, and enhance their social/collaboration features. Picasa *finally* feels like a Google product instead of a poorly-integrated acquisition, and GMail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs have all been playing a bit more nicely with each other.

I think that there are more interesting things that they can do with Circles (ie. share a doc with a circle), but there's nothing indicating that Google won't eventually move in that direction.

Fortunately, Google have *not* forced users to buy into their entire ecosystem of apps, or force users to enter the apps through a common portal. However, if you use Google's whole suite of products, some of the new (but subtle) integration features are kind of nice, even if the Google+ "social network" is kind of underwhelming itself.

Also, they forced Facebook to considerably clean up its act and implement some much-needed privacy features. If nothing else, that's a good thing.
posted by schmod at 10:51 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I REALLY want G+ to work, as FB is a privacy nightmare, but I find that getting others in my social and professional circles to adopt G+ is largely futile so far, and even I am finding the many G+ many limitations off-putting. Facebook is like a party where the host reserves the right to loudly repeat your quiet conversations and to pull some of your clothes off at any time. But G+ is like a cocktail party where they serve only a single kind of drink and the single flavor of cheese cubes are drying out quickly on that table over there.
posted by twsf at 10:51 AM on October 12, 2011 [31 favorites]


Yegge is like the master of the longform post/rant. He has deleted this, but not retracted it. Google keeps taking cracks at it, but I don't think they have gotten it yet. If they had done g+ on top of wave without 30 pounds of JavaScript that might have done it.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:51 AM on October 12, 2011


tommasz: "A couple of my Facebook friends said they were going to Google+ as a result. They posted once or twice and then it was back to Facebook."

Quitting Facebook is the new Moving to Canada.
posted by schmod at 10:52 AM on October 12, 2011 [60 favorites]


When you're a fast-follower like Google+, you have to do it so good that there's no argument. "Oh yes, this. I will use this now. Period."

And it must be there at launch.

Other fast-followers:

* iPod, iPhone, etc. (better than other phones, better than a Rio Diamond mp3 player, etc)
* Facebook (better than MySpace)
* Google search (better than Lycos, AltaVista, Yahoo, etc).

Google+ didn't launch better than Facebook. They couldn't make the "I will use this now" argument. That's how you lose.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:53 AM on October 12, 2011 [20 favorites]


I REALLY want G+ to work, as FB is a privacy nightmare, but I find that getting others in my social and professional circles to adopt G+ is largely futile so far, and even I am finding the many G+ many limitations off-putting.

Did you notice the part about Accessibility, and its evil Arch-Nemisis Security, in the full posting?

He points out that the Playstation Network did well, despite basically being completely insecure. Good luck with that if you're business has SOX, or worse, HIPAA involved. He has the typical developer's attitude to security, which is "not my problem."

But the real important thing is the stuff about Amazon going all in with SoA, and what that *really* meant. Any developer -- or admin, or IT manager, or support person, or most esp. CIO -- who doesn't read that part is making a huge mistake.
posted by eriko at 10:56 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


We’re, like, 99% Arrogance-Free

I do find that description, and then his description of the issues he has with Chrome and the attitude of the Chrome team, to be completely at odds.
posted by eriko at 10:58 AM on October 12, 2011


Only if you assume an arrogant person would recognize his arrogance.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:59 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


7) Thank you; have a nice day!

Ha, ha! You 150-odd ex-Amazon folks here will of course realize immediately that #7 was a little joke I threw in, because Bezos most definitely does not give a shit about your day.
Heh.
posted by delmoi at 10:59 AM on October 12, 2011


I kind of got the feeling that Facebook's success owed to two factors: The first was having an established userbase of college students before membership was open to everyone; and the second was the overwhelming degree to which its only serious competition, Myspace, became a totally unusable, browser-murdering mess.

And who knows. Facebook's new redesign is pretty awful. It's not the kind of bad which made Myspace such a shitshow but it's certainly not good. I really can't see it driving people to G+ in massive numbers but really, who knows.

That's the thing about social networking sites - there really only seems to be room for one. You spend a few years on one site and there needs to be a really seriously amazing reason to move all your contacts from one to another. So far I haven't seen G+ offer that kind of reason. I feel the way about it the way I feel about changing music formats - sometimes a change is so groundbreaking that it's more or less necessary to make the move, but until the moments when those changes come along, I really don't want to have to buy Sergeant Pepper again.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:00 AM on October 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


A key thing that Yegge seems to be missing is the business model. For Apple, it makes sense to have iOS as a platform, because they make money from selling the hardware and from iTunes. For Microsoft, they sell the developer tools like Visual Studio and web servers. For Facebook, all the apps other developers make still run on Facebook's site.

For Google, I don't see a clear win here. Google makes the vast majority of their money from advertisement. If Yegge means that Google should allow APIs that let others create their own apps on top of Google, then Google risks losing that revenue stream. The only way I see this working for Google is if they allow extensions to their existing services but does so within Google's ecosystem (sort of similar to how Salesforce extensions and Facebook apps work).
posted by jasonhong at 11:04 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work.

Sort of, but need better phrasing. Facebook is successful because

1. Everyone is already on it, and

2. Whenever anyone creates anything that would could threaten them leaving Facebook, facebook steals it to maintain 1.

See: Flickr, chat/IM, eVite. The best non-FB thing Google+ has going for it, in fact the ONLY thing I've used in a practical sense from Google+, has been the Huddle function, and I guarantee you this will exist on Facebook by next quarter. And I say all of this as someone who LOATHES Facebook, which I can't leave because, 1.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:05 AM on October 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


However, by and large, I don't think that the Facebook platform has been particularly good for anyone other than spammers.

This is a gross mischaracterization. Facebook has taken over what was once quite controversial - single sign in and user management - for many online companies. Zynga's valuation as a gaming company in the hundreds of millions of dollars is directly due to Facebook. And goddamn if many, many people don't have lots of fun playing some games with Facebook. Facebook may be easy to hate, but they have built an impressive and robust platform on which businesses have been built. You may want to call them all spammers, but that's a willfully missing the point of all the things Facebook has done right to make themselves a verb. The platform we all love to hate, sure, but it's ubiquitous and mostly easy, and for many people has taken over email because email sucks so much.

Yegge's rant is honest, and directed toward Google. That's where all the frankness for Amazon comes from. A spoonful of venom at your rivals helps the truth medicine go down. Yegge is brilliant. People focusing on individual things (99% arrogance free, Mafia Wars, etc) in this article are missing the point. He's saying, internally at Google, that Google is a company that has lost the plot on what it takes to be a global provider of ubiquitous online services. This is a call to arms for Googlers to not get shortsighted about how their lunch money keeps getting stolen on a number of different fronts. I mean, how crazy *is it* that it was Amazon that came up with Amazon Web Services and not Google?

Yegge's telling bibles full of truth. Ignore the individual aspects that bug the shit out of you and you will have a start rendering of state of the art in what "platforms" mean and how Google is missing that boat.
posted by artlung at 11:07 AM on October 12, 2011 [23 favorites]


I've wondered why Amazon's site is as jumbled as it is, and I'm one of the people who helped make it.

I had assumed they were exploiting the same sort of deliberate confusion that casinos use to keep people from wandering out.
posted by zippy at 11:09 AM on October 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


I often log in to Google, but only to use a few specific products: Calendar, Reader, and (to a much lesser degree) Google+. I use other Google products (such as Search and Maps and YouTube), but I have no desire to be logged in while using any of them.

Up until recently, I didn't often bother logging out of Reader (or whatever) if I wanted to do a search; I was always vaguely bothered that I was searching while logged in, but I didn't do anything about it. But as of a week ago or so, I went to YouTube, and was greeted by something like "Good news! We're now automatically logging you in to YouTube based on your Google account!", which I did not view as "good news" at all.

I understand that they can have a good guess that I am me even if I'm not logged in (from my IP address, browser identification, cookies, and so forth), but it still bothers me. So, ever since the "good news", I've been wondering: Are there any simple ways (such as browser extensions) that will provide Google enough information to know that I'm logged in when I go to Calendar, Reader, or Google+, without providing enough to know that I'm logged in when I go to other Google services? All without actually logging me out of Calendar and so forth?
posted by Flunkie at 11:17 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


This rant seems at odds with the last Google post. If that article was correct, then it seems like Yegge is simply mistaken about the goals of the company he's working for.
posted by heatvision at 11:17 AM on October 12, 2011


Facebook fulfilled several useful niches:

1. Being able to have impersonal updates instead of spamming emails of pictures and kittens
2. Being able to stalk friends of friends
3. Being able to advertise oneself/go for social status/"Hey look at me!" while also controlling WHO can look at you.

G+ hasn't done anything extra, and with the real names policy plus the ability for anyone to share circles ("Here are all my favorite Gay People in the Closet in Homophobic States Circle! You should friend them!") has made #3 not so good. Most of my friends aren't worried if an advertiser knows what they listen to or buy, they're worried about violent ex's, abusive family members, etc.

Second, G+ seems like it's mostly seeded it's initial user base with it's own people and the biases that come up from that sort of circles. Right now G+ recommends me to friend hundreds of people, which 95% are white males. Given that my current G+ circles are 60% female and 50% POC it seems like a weird disparity as a result of who gets invited and why.
posted by yeloson at 11:18 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are there any simple ways (such as browser extensions) that will provide Google enough information to know that I'm logged in when I go to Calendar, Reader, or Google+, without providing enough to know that I'm logged in when I go to other Google services? All without actually logging me out of Calendar and so forth?

If you're using Firefox, there's the Multifox extension. Or you can always just run multiple browsers: I have both Chrome and Safari set up on my home machine, so I can do all my real web browsing from one while logging in to Google+ on the other.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:22 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google Apps users cannot use Google+. You have to choose one or the other. I'd say his criticisms ring pretty true.
They can, but the problem is that google's braindead policies made people afraid to use both of them at the same time, for fear of getting banned from google services because of G+ and then losing access to their docs. Really stupid policy.
A key thing that Yegge seems to be missing is the business model. For Apple, it makes sense to have iOS as a platform, because they make money from selling the hardware and from iTunes. For Microsoft, they sell the developer tools like Visual Studio and web servers. For Facebook, all the apps other developers make still run on Facebook's site.
Where is the bussiness model in Amazon being a platform? I mean there's even less a bussiness model there. There's no walmart API, no target API, other online book stores don't have an API.

But the thing is, because of their platform-based nature they've been able to do things like allow other retailers to hook into their system and thereby massively increase the number of items you can buy on Amazon.com.

The crazy thing, though, is Amazon web services, particularly EC2. I mean, where did that come from? It essentially has nothing to do with their other business, except sharing hardware, but because of their internal use of APIs for everything they've become one of the largest hosting providers out there (I would imagine)

So who knows what google could have done if they had a ton of APIs out there for people to use early on.
posted by delmoi at 11:23 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you're using Firefox, there's the Multifox extension. Or you can always just run multiple browsers: I have both Chrome and Safari set up on my home machine, so I can do all my real web browsing from one while logging in to Google+ on the other.
Yup, I downloaded chrome mostly just to check it out, but one reason I do use it at all is so I never have to log on to facebook in my main browser (still firefox, for the addons but also I think it's cool that it's made by a non-profit corporation and truly open source).
posted by delmoi at 11:28 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Only if you assume an arrogant person would recognize his arrogance.

I dunno, maybe I'm giving him too much leeway, but I used to read his stuff religiously when he was still at Amazon and I think he's got a lot of useful stuff to say. Also, any good programmer should be a little bit arrogant-- if not arrogant, at least elitist about the quality of his own work (while still hewing to the Beginner's Mind theory and not being a douche-bag in meetings with non-nerd coworkers, which is why there are so few good programmers, I suppose). Also:

"But I’ll argue that Accessibility is actually more important than Security because dialing Accessibility to zero means you have no product at all, whereas dialing Security to zero can still get you a reasonably successful product such as the Playstation Network."

While eriko's criticism is valid, it's still a funny line-- I don't think he's arrogant so much as unable to resist the good line, even when it involves twisting a knife.
posted by yerfatma at 11:32 AM on October 12, 2011


If you flip his statement around, he's making the argument that Facebook is successful because they have a great platform? That doesn't begin to make sense. Platforms are always a chicken-and-egg problem. Amazon has a great platform because they had the world's busiest website, the core competencies to support their platform, and a pretty good brand name behind them. Microsoft has good platforms because they've build good (or good enough) products behind them as well- Windows, etc. Apple has platforms because the iPod, iPhone and iPad got enough market share to be able to attract developers. Facebook had a great network. Who the hell would have used Facebook for the first five years if they had touted what a great platform they have?

I agree that platforms are essential stepping stones if you want to get bigger, and move into unexplored territory, but thinking about platforms when you don't even have a good product is completely putting the cart before the horse.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:37 AM on October 12, 2011


But as of a week ago or so, I went to YouTube, and was greeted by something like "Good news! We're now automatically logging you in to YouTube based on your Google account!", which I did not view as "good news" at all.

I'm glad you confirmed that this is what was happening (thought I was going crazy yesterday), and I'm glad I'm not the only one who is driven nuts by this.
posted by inigo2 at 11:39 AM on October 12, 2011


thinking about platforms when you don't even have a good product is completely putting the cart before the horse.

Google's problem is that they're trying to compete with a guy who already has a horse and a cart. If you start with the horse and expect the cart to come in due time, you're going to get run out of business by Cartbook.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:43 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really buy the assertion that Facebook's success has anything to do with their API or add-on apps/games. They were able to do that stuff after and because they were successful.

Their success -- and I think this will go down in history as the one bit of cunning that Zuckerberg had -- was due to the way the service was rolled out originally. Google's problem with G+, and with Buzz and several of their other failed prior attempts, are mostly attributable to lack of the same thing: not being able to get a critical mass of users to build up a network effect that a competitor can't match.

Facebook rolled itself out gradually to colleges and universities, in a way that made it somewhat exclusive. It became socially pervasive in those communities long before it was made available to the general public. I'm not sure if that rollout will ever be repeated by anyone else (they also had a huge first-mover advantage), but if you want to see the secret of their success it was back there.

Google keeps rolling out their products internally, to Google employees, before opening them up via invites and then to the public at large. This ensures that the first people in the systems will be geeks, and friends of geeks, and that sets the tone for the community when you're building social software. There's nothing wrong with it, but it makes it hard to compete with Facebook, which started life as a way for college students to get laid.

Eventually I think someone will eat Facebook's lunch, but they'll do it the way that FB beat Myspace: by being more appealing to a key, trendsetting audience and reducing the competition to a digital ghetto where no respectable person wants to be seen.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:44 AM on October 12, 2011 [13 favorites]


I could make fun of the juicy bits, but for any developer out there here's the important part:
“The Golden Rule of Platforms, “Eat Your Own Dogfood”, can be rephrased as “Start with a Platform, and Then Use it for Everything.”
posted by furtive at 11:45 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you're using Firefox, there's the Multifox extension.
Thanks Mars Saxman. I'll check it out.
posted by Flunkie at 11:47 AM on October 12, 2011


I don't really buy the assertion that Facebook's success has anything to do with their API or add-on apps/games. They were able to do that stuff after and because they were successful.

Facebook could have been an also ran like every previously successful social networking site.

They continued to do things to keep people on the site once they had already added every friend and relative. That's something the other sites did not do, or did not do well.

Having an API made it easier for Facebook to continue to not bore its users, and boredom = death, even for a successful site.
posted by zippy at 11:48 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google does have platforms - but they're small, for example Google App Engine is pretty cool. But the problem is it locks you into a set of assumptions about how you would build your app, and does not have default natural tie ins, so it's out in space and disconnected. Whereas Amazon EC2 is all about enabling much more robust creation of services because at every layer Amazon is trying to abstract things out in such a way to empower you to use computing resources however you want. Google App Engine is essentially a very-robust hosting platform. EC2 would allow you to build your own Google App Engine if you were so inclined.
posted by artlung at 11:51 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everybody in IT needs to read his rant. Spot on, not just for Google, but for everybody.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:52 AM on October 12, 2011


I don't know whether everything he says is true or not, but that rant on platforms was a really well written rant. The guy could be teaching rhetoric.

(And add me to the list of people who were curious about trying out Google+, but at the first whiff of the risk of being locked out of my Gmail based on an issue of "account = identity" I ran far, far away.)
posted by benito.strauss at 11:53 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't really buy the assertion that Facebook's success has anything to do with their API or add-on apps/games. They were able to do that stuff after and because they were successful.

Right. Having a success gets you in the door.

Windows was a success. Microsoft's APIs, expressed in MSDN to allow developers to create nearly anything using Microsoft tools = platform.
Photoshop was a success. Allowing 3rd parties to develop plugins makes it a platform decades old.
Amazon was a success. Choosing a SOA and then turning that into a platform is separate.
Facebook was a success. Allowing apps, SSO, etc makes it a platform.
Salesforce was a success. Salesforce APIs and extensibility makes it a platform.
On the flipside:
Borders and B&N are also bookstores that sold online. No platform. Borders dying/died. B&N struggling.
MySpace was an incredible success. They have sort of made some platformy things available, including Google's. No platform, and no lock in, and MySpace is hemhorraging.
posted by artlung at 11:57 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


But G+ is like a cocktail party where they serve only a single kind of drink and the single flavor of cheese cubes are drying out quickly on that table over there.

The trick, I've found, is to eat as much of the cheese as possible, as quickly as possible.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:58 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Google+ vs Facebook is just the immediate case; he's describing a more fundamental issue: Google's well-established problems in developing any product not directly related to the core search product. I've had the chance to use various Google products in my job, and it disturbs me the way that the quality of their stuff declines in inverse proportion to how much it costs.
- Search - free -- still undisputedly the best.
- Apps - free version -- great.
- Apps - paid version -- almost as good as free, but the more users you move to Apps, the more likely it is that you will have significant problems. See: City of Los Angeles
- Nexus phones -- don't own one, but the market says meh.
- Chromebooks -- they sent my team at work a few of these gratis for us to check out & offer feedback, but as the launch is well behind us and I work in a very un-edgy environment anyhow, I can only think that they are already regarded, within Google, as a lost cause and are being dumped on whoever will take them. The one I've used is rather nice in some aspects, but feels like a delayed reaction to the netbook trend, and an inadequate one at that. Slow and heavy for what is really just a boxed-up browser. If I'd actually paid for one I would have sent it back by now, and it's only been a week.
- Google Search Appliances -- expensive, unreliable pieces of shit. Rebranded Dells with no shell access, just a web interface, which you can't get to when they go down with corrupted file systems, which 3 of them did for us within a 30-day window. You can fsck them from single-user mode but it hasn't recovered one yet. I think that of the 5 we bought, none are the original boxes, and some have been replaced twice. Some datacenter-standard hardware features like redundant power supplies and OOB management cards, which come stock in the equivalent Dell machines, are actually removed for some reason. All this and a flaky OS that requires a 50-step process to upgrade (and no skipping versions). If they were just black boxes that did their indexing and never broke I'd say they were great, but at this point, among my peers they are seen as an object lesson in how little attention Google pays to their side projects, even when those side projects cost you ~$50K per license.

The upshot, for me, is that Google is still a giant mass of money and talent walking around looking for something to do, but with no real need for and no commitment to anything except the core business. If they get bored with a project they throw it away (Wave). They are becoming, in a way, the web's dilettante, its biggest me-tooer. If they keep doing this they will eventually teach consumers that it's foolish to pay them directly for anything.
posted by $0up at 11:59 AM on October 12, 2011 [48 favorites]


Somebody let me know if Mr. Yegge gets promoted or fired as a result of this because either way, I need to rebalance my portfolio.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:00 PM on October 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Holy shit $0up. Awesome insight.
posted by artlung at 12:01 PM on October 12, 2011


Developer claims building features for developers is key to product success. No surprises here.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:01 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


He used way too many words to characterize Google's problem, which is trivially stated as "we make products we want to make". Basically, it's a story just like Linux's, on the web... with all that entails: stunning brilliance, mind-numbing stupidity, apathetic customer service and arrogantly tone-deaf design principles. What Google needs is the same thing every basement hacker needs: a hard-nosed customer-focused visionary leader. Anything less is just further masturbation.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:03 PM on October 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Google keeps rolling out their products internally, to Google employees, before opening them up via invites and then to the public at large. This ensures that the first people in the systems will be geeks, and friends of geeks, and that sets the tone for the community when you're building social software. There's nothing wrong with it, but it makes it hard to compete with Facebook, which started life as a way for college students to get laid.


This is exactly right. This is how Facebook did it.

I'm one of the first Facebook users. In fact, I'm one of the first 10k users on Facebook, or TheFacebook at Harvard as it was known back then. People were joining, those who were able to join, because they HAD to. If you look back at news articles about that early period, you'll see that Facebook created a lot of social anxiety. College students complained that they didn't particularly wanted to be on Facebook, but...everybody was there. Thats where discussions were happening about their social circle. And to not be on there was to be a pariah.

This social anxiety - that you have to be on Facebook even though you hate it - was the early Facebook culture. And it continues to be the Facebook culture today. It quickly expanded beyond colleges because parents and relatives realized it was the only way to stay in touch with the college students in the family. And then, other member of the extended family realized that if they wanted to stay on top of what was going on...well, they had to join this thing too.

It is popular because it is the party everyone is at. And so you can't afford not to attend. But you hate it, every minute of it. Facebook has always been this way from the very start.
posted by vacapinta at 12:06 PM on October 12, 2011 [44 favorites]


Developer claims building features for developers is key to product success. No surprises here.

That bit about accessibility and "nobody's mom can use the goddamn website" directly contradicts you.

Accessibility and usability get you in the door. Platforms allow you to survive into the future.
posted by artlung at 12:08 PM on October 12, 2011


It is popular because it is the party everyone is at. And so you can't afford not to attend. But you hate it, every minute of it. Facebook has always been this way from the very start.

I like Facebook.
posted by The Tensor at 12:14 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not, me, I have nothing but seething contempt for Facebook.

Let me go update my status...
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:17 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google+ is failing because everyone is already on Facebook.

It doesn't matter if G+ has a few features that might be better than Facebook when viewed in isolation. If you're savvy enough to even be aware of those features and even considering using G+, you're probably already on Facebook and have a lot more Facebook friends than G+ friends (with the exception of people who have truly sworn off Facebook yet are eager to join a very similar social networking website -- and let's face it, there's just no way that's a huge number of people).

Wikipedia on the "network effect":
In economics and business, a network effect (also called network externality or demand-side economies of scale) is the effect that one user of a good or service has on the value of that product to other people. When network effect is present, the value of a product or service is dependent on the number of others using it.

The classic example is the telephone. The more people own telephones, the more valuable the telephone is to each owner. This creates a positive externality because a user may purchase a telephone without intending to create value for other users, but does so in any case. Online social networks work in the same way, with sites like Twitter and Facebook being more useful the more users join. . . .

Over time, positive network effects can create a bandwagon effect as the network becomes more valuable and more people join, in a positive feedback loop.
As Judge Richard Posner has explained (paid subscription to The New Republic required):
Although almost no one actually wants 500 million online “friends” (well, maybe some advertisers do), the bigger the social network, the more valuable it is to the members. Those Harvard kids had friends at other schools, parents, siblings still in high school, prospective employers, and therefore valued the expansion of Facebook to other colleges and then to high schools and then to everyone. Facebook had to be only a little better than other online social networks to leave them trailing in the dust. For the bigger it grew, the more valuable its service became relative to that of the competing networks. And because joining Facebook is free, the cost of switching to it from another online social network is negligible, especially because the time cost of learning to use Facebook and to move one’s social-network files is minimized by Facebook’s user-friendly design.

Zuckerberg was well aware of network effects. His objective, says [author David] Kirkpatrick, “was to overwhelm all other social networks wherever they are—to win their users and become the de facto standard. In his view it was either that or disappear.”
posted by John Cohen at 12:18 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Developer claims building features for developers is key to product success. No surprises here.

SOA is actually not a developer feature, I would call it an achitect feature or something. With the services I maintain, devs on other teams would be much happier if they could just write their own stored procedures or tinker with our DFS themselves. They hate having my services as a gatekeeper. And it certainly didn't benefit me to write the services in the first place.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:20 PM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you flip his statement around, he's making the argument that Facebook is successful because they have a great platform? That doesn't begin to make sense.Facebook had a great network.

I don't really buy the assertion that Facebook's success has anything to do with their API or add-on apps/games. They were able to do that stuff after and because they were successful.

I agree to some extent (particularly since Facebook was the single worst API experience ever for me) but I'd rephrase it somewhat. Facebook's product success came first. Their network *is* the killer feature of their platform/API. They could require murdered kittens or a literal pound of flesh from would-be devs and they'd probably still get takers, because the value of taping into an existing social network that tracks a lot of the existing real-world social network is so high (and building your own would be pretty hard). So, they get lots of devs adding value to their product by adding/integrating features. But that's not all. By presenting this path of lowish resistance for anybody who wants to build something that can benefit from the network, FB essentially discourages anybody from building their own competing network. They've essentially created a landscape where they not only benefit from whatever ideas third parties throw against the wall, they're actually co-opting potential competition at the birth stage -- which means fewer niche social networks looking to grow out to the general population.

Their platform may not be the reason for their initial success, but it's a big double win that took their product to a new place. And if Google wants Google+ to compete, they'll have to do it too.

And if that market angle weren't enough, I think Stevey's also presenting an argument that an SOA focus also is an organizing principle for good development practices -- see his list of what Amazon engineers discovered along the way.
posted by weston at 12:21 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google+ is failing because everyone is already on Facebook.

As a though experiment, what if G+ only ever got 10% of FB's user numbers and yet still made more money?

As not-a-thought-experiment, check out what CPCs advertisers pay on Google vs Facebook sometime.
posted by GuyZero at 12:26 PM on October 12, 2011


"Google+ is a Prime Example of Our Complete Failure to Understand Platforms"

Can you use G+ pseudonymously yet?

That's the main reason I haven't been over there yet.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:30 PM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


That bit about accessibility and "nobody's mom can use the goddamn website" directly contradicts you.

Except that his big insight after observing that neither he nor any moms of the world can use the website: you can't build one product and have it be right for everyone. This plays directly into his "platforms" argument - the solution to unusable websites is to empower developers with a platform so that they can build different, better versions. Everything comes down to developer autonomy and power, as usual.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:31 PM on October 12, 2011


> It is popular because it is the party everyone is at. And so you can't afford not to attend. But you hate it, every minute of it.

There are a lot of us who have not yet been sucked in.

I don't know if it was the original rant in the front page post or the comment on the hacker news thread subsequently linked to, but I agreed with the comments about how Amazon's website is too cluttered for people to use easy. I appreciate how just about anything is there to buy, but I don't *shop* there and I get to the product page of what I already know exists by doing a google search. The time before the last time they did a major site overhaul they lost my wish list, credit card # &c and I was on the phone to tech support in India for like an hour to restore it.

Do people really use AWS?
posted by bukvich at 12:32 PM on October 12, 2011


Effectively everyone I know bar 4 people stopped using Facebook overnight.

A feature, not a bug.
posted by spitbull at 12:42 PM on October 12, 2011


Google+ is failing because everyone is already on Facebook.

Just like Facebook failed because of MySpace?
posted by yerfatma at 12:44 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Where is the bussiness model in Amazon being a platform? I mean there's even less a bussiness model there. There's no walmart API, no target API, other online book stores don't have an API.

The business model comes from (a) people paying for using their web services (see below), and (b) possible new ways of selling books and other goods, essentially spreading Amazon's reach beyond just their web site and into other web sites.

Bezos and others at Amazon realized that they already had all of this excess computing power and storage, and so it would be better to amortize costs and have others pay to use it.

The fact that Target and others don't have APIs isn't a good argument, it just speaks to the vision that Amazon had in getting there first.


Do people really use AWS?
NetFlix and Reddit are two of the bigger users of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Also, a lot of startup companies (mine included) make heavy use of AWS, because it frees us from having to purchase computers, store them somewhere, maintain them, and update the software. It also makes it easy to expand the computing services needed, without having to purchase more hardware. I'd be willing to bet that a large and non-trivial number of iPhone and Android app developers make use of AWS.
posted by jasonhong at 12:45 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I use (well we subcontract to a vendor who uses) AWS. The subcontractor is a startup staffed mostly by ex-amazon peeps, they are fun to get on conference calls when AWS is down, they tell awesome Amazon stories.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:02 PM on October 12, 2011


Last night, high-profile Google engineer Steve Yegge mistakenly posted

After reading his rant, I strongly doubt that Yegge made an error when posting it to the wild. I think it was more of a "can't get traction internally, so fine then, let's get other people talking about this stuff, so that TPTB will finally start taking it seriously" maneuver.
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:10 PM on October 12, 2011


This is a brilliant piece of rhetoric. Even down to the 'oops, slipped' manner of its dissemination.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:11 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fascinating thread. Thanks!
posted by saulgoodman at 1:12 PM on October 12, 2011


Just to throw a bit more fuel on the fire. Here is a recent post about the issues surrounding Google Wave.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:22 PM on October 12, 2011


Google+ is failing because everyone is already on Facebook.

I think that I was on Facebook for something like two years before I had more than a handful of friends on there.
posted by octothorpe at 1:34 PM on October 12, 2011


pride goeth before the fall...

As soon as someone figures out just how much or little search is actually worth, the wolves of Wall Street are going to look at the market capitalization of Google and the string of failed attempts at strategic growth and smell money to be made.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:37 PM on October 12, 2011


As soon as someone figures out just how much or little search is actually worth

The market has already determined how much search is worth. Feel free to consult GOOG's 10-K. Quarterly earnings call is tomorrow, here, 1:30 PT (GMT -0700).
posted by GuyZero at 1:44 PM on October 12, 2011


what's this faceblock you guys are talking about?
posted by canned polar bear at 1:45 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Good news! We're now automatically logging you in to YouTube based on your Google account!"

Yes, that totally pissed me off. If I want my services linked, I will do that myself, thank you very much. My Googe account is under my real name and used pretty much just for business purposes. But Google keeps inviting me to link up my "madamjujujive" accounts on non-Google places like Flickr and Twitter. They are increasingly in my face when I try to search. I've been avoiding G+ so that I wouldn't have to have everything linked, but apparently Google knows best. Talk about arrogance and lack of customer focus.

Right now, I am using Chrome strictly for Gmail and I use Firefox for all other browsing. I'm also using duckduckgo more and more often.

Google is the best search engine - I don't know why I just can't use that without them trying to foist all this other crap on me.
posted by madamjujujive at 1:49 PM on October 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


> Google+ is failing because everyone is already on Facebook.

It's not like you have to choose just one. Tila Tequila is on MySpace and Facebook and Linkedin.
posted by jfuller at 1:59 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


"As soon as someone figures out just how much or little search is actually worth"

Search has been king for a long time, but the "how people find stuff" issue is constantly changing. It's always going to be valuable, the question is - can search be the basis of profitability for Google indefinitely. Google is wondering that too - they bought Zagat, right. Like, what are they doing buying a company known mostly for making physical book guidebooks to restaurants? I have to think they see user behavior of people using Yelp, Foursquare, Gowalla apps on their phones to find things and wondering if, in a more segmented search space, are they still a player worth billions, or do all these niche services take visible chunks out of their hide.

One of the stranger, well maybe not that strange, was that the Google Tranlate API went to an all-pay model. You can no longer use those services free. If I remember right, this happened rather suddenly and impacted many folks who made little Android and iPhone apps that did some translation.

Here's what it says on their page:
Important: Google Translate API v2 is now available as a paid service. The courtesy limit for existing Translate API v2 projects created prior to August 24, 2011 will be reduced to zero on December 1, 2011. In addition, the number of requests your application can make per day will be limited. Google Translate API v1 will be shut off completely on the same date (December 1, 2011); it was officially deprecated on May 26, 2011. These changes are being made due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse. For website translations, we encourage you to use the Google Website Translator gadget.
So what that means to me is that Google had an immensely popular API, and could not, for the life of them, figure out how to make it actually work for developers in terms of a) scaling it, b) monetizing it and b) securing it. That kind of failure is what Yegge is talking about.
posted by artlung at 2:01 PM on October 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Kadin2048: "Facebook rolled itself out gradually to colleges and universities, in a way that made it somewhat exclusive. It became socially pervasive in those communities long before it was made available to the general public."

And that's really what helped. You take people who've moved far far away from their high school clique, and are forming very tight cliques among dorm rooms and greek orgnaizations. Five thousand people switching social media isn't a huge incentive to switch yourself, unless your entire clique is in there. By gating to specific schools at a time, Facebook focused on finding a set of very small tight cliques to ... infect. I haven't studied epidemiology, but I'm sure there's some way to equate the two mathematically.
posted by pwnguin at 2:07 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of Google+'s problems was with starting with geeks and not allowing pseudonymous accounts. College students in what they think is a closed system are fine with their names being out (though they learned the problems with that when Facebook went public and suddenly prospective employers were finding out about their drunken weekends); in my experience, an awful lot of geeks are not only comfortable with pseudonyms, we often know people more through those pseudonyms than not.

The fact that "name commonly known by" actually means "you better have a legal ID with your exact name to share every time someone challenges your account, which may be continuous until the end of time even if you've shown ID already, especially if your name deviates in any way from the John Smith format or happens to be the same as someone famous, even if you are that famous person" bit was just the icing on the cake.

I'd be on Google+ in a heartbeat if it let me use the internet the way I've always used the internet. Since it doesn't, and since loss of Google+ accounts has been associated with loss of other things I value, I wouldn't touch it with someone else's ten food pole.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:35 PM on October 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


I missed Stevey's Blog Rants, and I'm glad this leaked out. It was a really interesting read.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 2:45 PM on October 12, 2011


> Quitting Facebook is the new Moving to Canada.

Says you. I pulled the plug on Facebook a year ago. Drives my wife nuts.
posted by davelog at 2:47 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was late to the Facebook bandwagon and kind of liked it for a while and enjoyed reading people's updates and posting some myself, but aside from not liking its penchant for constantly changing its privacy settings and how it attempted to organize my friends' importance for me, I really stopped liking how it affected my relationships with the people I'm friends with on it. Not so much my close friends who I already knew well, but a lot of the acquaintances it put me back in touch with. Previously fond memories of these people got soured pretty quickly. I don't so much blame them for that - they are who they are, and I'm sure there are things about me they find equally distasteful - but it reduced the value of social networking websites to me pretty quickly. For some reason MySpace didn't have the same effect, maybe because it wasn't really designed to have people just post whatever crap they were thinking at any given time.

The stream-of-consciousness nature of the Facebook news feed makes a lot of people come across as nuts. That has made me wary of joining any other site that aims to replace Facebook, and it has also made me not want to post on Facebook anymore. I miss the filter that more people used to have. So while my distaste for Facebook has made me not want to use it for much of anything anymore, that is why Google+ hasn't caught on for me. I would rather have something like MySpace back to what it was before it become full of garbage and spam and virus-containing banner ads.
posted by wondermouse at 2:59 PM on October 12, 2011


I think the main problem with G+ is that it simply doesn't offer the average Facebook user a compelling reason to switch AWAY from Facebook, or even to simply start sharing everything they post on Facebook also on G+ (who needs 2 duplicated social networks?) This isn't necessarily a fault of G+; they're just late to the party and everyone's already hooked up.

The pseudonymity thing is a red herring -- yes it would be great if people could use whatever name they wanted, but no, that's not the prime reason G+ is stumbling -- there's hundreds of millions of people on facebook using their 'real names' and still not switching to G+.

I know about 30 people who scrounged around for an invite early on in the beta test (incl myself), signed up, and then quickly stopped using the service. They use facebook for sharing things, and twitter for following professional folks in their field.
posted by modernnomad at 3:00 PM on October 12, 2011


Um...from where I'm sitting Google+ is most certainly not failing. It grew from 0 to 50 million users in 3 months! Sure there was an inevitable retreat in active use once people had checked it out, but I'm on there every day (can't stand Facebook) and there's a growing and very enthusiastic crowd using it for all sorts of things. Hangouts on their own are pretty amazing.

It's not Facebook AT ALL! Not the same dynamic or maybe even demographic. In fact what it is is more Metafilter than 4Chan if you know what I mean. There are some great circles starting to be shared around (check out underwater photographers if you love beautiful images) and the new search function is absolutely superb (think Twitter search but with gorgeous embedded media to really bring the news stream to life).

In my opinion Google+ is awesome and it's getting better every day. That said, this rant is also superb, and if it makes TPTB more focused on building a magical Google platform in general then it's a wondrous thing indeed.
posted by Duug at 3:02 PM on October 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've been reading In the Plex by Kevin Levy, and it gives great insight into how heavily Google leaned on machine learning in making their search. Essentially every time you clicked on a link in a Google search and didn't come back, you were voting on that link as being the most useful. Long story short, Google has been tracking you from day one, and has been using that data to make themselves better. Each new product Google makes is tied to better tracking you and using that data to anticipate your needs. Long story short, there's no point getting upset about Google automatically logging you into Youtube since they knew it was you anyway.

$0up made a good point about Google's products, but I see another way those products all trend. Each one gets further away from the lightning-in-a-bottle that makes Google so successful. How much did user data and machine learning algorithms factor into the building of the Chromebook? Why can't the Chrome web browser used heuristics to anticipate that you prefer a larger font size? Every wildly successful thing Google does, Search, Adwords, Gmail, etc. all use machine learning extensively, be it to deliver exactly what you're looking for or anticipate that you don't want to see E-mails about enlarging your penis.

I see Google+ being their way of trying to tap into the socal data that Facebook is swimming in, which may be a good idea, since this social data could prove as great a revolution as PageRank was for Google back in the late 90's. Still, as many said before me, Google+ seems a lot of too little too late, and has a long way to go before it can be a serious contender. I'd love to see Google put its machine learning behind suggesting people and topics I'd be interested in, which I suspect is part of their plan, but they're not going to take over the social network universe until they can convince even the most casual computer user to make the switch.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:12 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading Yegge's post was the first time I'd been on Google+ in months.
posted by bright cold day at 3:12 PM on October 12, 2011


There is a follow up from Yegge about how the post was overly widely posted.

Yegge's post

HN discussion of second post

Google's internal PR response seems pretty decent too.
posted by sien at 3:32 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I worked for Amazon as an engineer at around the same time that Yegge was there, and I went to Google slightly before he did, where I worked as a user experience designer on Gmail for many years.

He's absolutely right about the experience of working for Amazon at that time. It was a miserable place, micro-managed by a brilliant control freak who didn't trust his employees to do much of anything. I've heard that things have improved, but I suspect that is only because they were losing a lot of employees to better companies. Amazon (mostly due to Jeff) doesn't really understand what it means to value employees as anything other than units of productivity.

My first two years at Google offered an incredibly stark contrast. The model was to hire the best people we could, support them as much as possible, then get out of their way. In my opinion, that changed pretty dramatically in 2007 - 2008 as the company grew to 10,000+ employees and we started to recycle previously-rejected resumes. Even if the bar stayed fairly high when compared with other companies, the organization couldn't keep up with the rapid pace of hiring. When I started, there were at most 1 or 2 "managers" between me and Larry or Sergey. When I left in 2009, I didn't bother to count, but that chain was much, much longer. This isn't terribly surprising, given that Google was the fastest growing company in history at that point. Google started to become Microsoft, and I presume that process continues to this day.

Steve makes good points about Google's inability to understand platforms. I pitched a social platform for the web to Google execs in 2006, but got shot down by an engineering director who couldn't understand the idea (and enjoyed exercising his authority in an environment where such things did not often happen). I gave up and watched it become the catastrophically-mismanaged "OpenSocial" effort, which nobody really remembers or ever cared about.

That said, platforms are not really the key to product success in the consumer internet marketplace. Platforms are, in my opinion, mostly useful as a monopoly play. The reality is that no platform succeeds without a best-of-breed example application/user experience built on top. This is necessary to serve as an example for the legions of garage developers that Bezos likes to talk about. More importantly, though, that best-of-breed application is what drives the development of the platform. In the same way that you can't build a successful product without understanding your customers, you cannot build a successful platform without understanding the needs of your engineers. The only way to achieve that understanding is to engage those engineers in the construction of something useful that has market fit and significant user adoption.

Google is building developer tools and platforms internally, and some of them are pretty amazing. If you build large-scale web applications, the Closure JavaScript framework (used to build Gmail) is an incredibly powerful tool. The documentation is non-existent, and Google doesn't seem to see any value in getting developers at large to use it, but it's available. As mentioned up-thread, the Google App Engine stuff is also pretty good, and it shocks me that Google hasn't devoted more resources to that effort.
posted by drklahn at 3:47 PM on October 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


I like G+, and use it every day. I don't care if the rest of the world uses it or not.
posted by empath at 4:05 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


As for his wondering how Facebook "platformized," it's really simple. In that sense Facebook was restoring the kind of functionality for third party add-ons that most BBS software had by 1985.
posted by localroger at 4:09 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google keeps rolling out their products internally, to Google employees, before opening them up via invites and then to the public at large. This ensures that the first people in the systems will be geeks, and friends of geeks, and that sets the tone for the community when you're building social software. There's nothing wrong with it, but it makes it hard to compete with Facebook, which started life as a way for college students to get laid.
This reminds me of another great rant, from JWZ, on why the "Groupware" fad from previous decades perpetually failed. This was published the very same month that thefacebook.com launched and before anyone had really heard of it:
So I said, narrow the focus. Your "use case" should be, there's a 22 year old college student living in the dorms. How will this software get him laid?

That got me a look like I had just sprouted a third head, but bear with me, because I think that it's not only crude but insightful. "How will this software get my users laid" should be on the minds of anyone writing social software (and these days, almost all software is social software).
...
If you want to do something that's going to change the world, build software that people want to use instead of software that managers want to buy.
This is the perpetual dog and dogfood problem: who decides what all those cubicle workers are going to get served today? Also, if jwz tells you to address a use case, it's probably pretty ripe time to address that use case.
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:33 PM on October 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Er, sorry, this was published a year after thefacebook.com launched, when many people would have heard of it, but the conversation would have taken place earlier.
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:36 PM on October 12, 2011


The interesting thing about Google engineers is how isolated they appear from business reality. They work for an advertising company. The purpose of each and everything they produce is to attract eyeballs.

But you'll never once hear one say it. They'll talk about how this app is good for people and how another is ultra cool, but they'll never come right out and say "and this one will attract a lot of eyeballs and keep my paycheck coming."

One gets the feeling that a lot of them don't see the connection between the two, or that the idea that they work for an advertising company is so abhorrent that it remains the truth-that-must-not-be-named.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:55 PM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Kind of late to the party, but I pretty much agreed with a lot of what he said. I think one thing that is missing from the discussion is that Amazon's core activities are easily supported by a Service Oriented Architecture (cloud, databases, management and service layers, front end). Bezos was right to implement this with a stick. The other criticisms (cruft on the Amazon pages etc.) is a red herring. One wonders how much the original Amazon-with-books was for Bezos just part of his proof-of-concept for what he really wanted to do (large scale cloud highly relational databases). You can put anything in those (books, groceries, reddit) and it would still work.

He's also right on Accessibility I think. In Amazon's case this is findability, and it runs on good quailty metadata. much of it provided canned by the people who actually sell stuff on Amazon (I'm guessing). Amazon has the basic indexing done for it.

Google on the other hand - what is the platform there? There are some core successes - search, g-mail, g-maps, g-analytics - that are linked to the real core success - advertising. But how do you integrate that into a platform? Unlike Amazon, the Accessibility/findability will have to run on metadata supplied by the actual users. In the case of the Web, users provide it with HREFs (therefore Page Rank). But this is a unique bibliometric from of metadata. Also, users also supply metadata in their emails and clickthroughs, but this still has to be mined.

Bezos enforced platform interoperability; Google is trying to grow a garden and hope it comes together. Many of the projects are half-assed follow-throughs from G-Labs and the 20% of your time scheme.

The other thing I didn't see discussed, was to what extent Google kills projects when they don't show ROI in terms of the ad business. I'm sure that they do it, and that someone somewhere is making these decisions.

Thus, their API/platform should not be social media-based - their API/platform should ad/keyword based. Quite honestly I'm not surprised that Google doesn't have social media APIs if it doesn't see the ROI on them.

There's also a bunch of stuff in their on how communities are grown and not manufactured, but I'm assuming that everyone sees that already.

[On preview, what Tell Me No Lies also said]
posted by carter at 5:16 PM on October 12, 2011


in their/in there ...
posted by carter at 5:29 PM on October 12, 2011


I like Google+ Don't know if it will replace facebook anytime soon (though I think one more terrible update like the recent one could push it over the edge for a lot of people), but I think it's cleaner, more intuitive, and frankly more useful for me. I just wish more of my friends were on it. It is growing though.
posted by smoke at 5:59 PM on October 12, 2011


If only we could use gamification to develop better neologisms and portmanteaus.

Wait, isn't that what we do here?
posted by contraption at 6:19 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can you use G+ pseudonymously yet?

You know, they seem pretty intent on fighting this possibility.

I signed up for a G+ account, tried it out. Tested the waters, not much happening. I shared a couple of pictures from my Picassa account with a couple of other people in my circles. Whatever. I've never made my album publicly accessible, and I never intentionally requested anything be defaulted to that possibility, to my knowledge. I always keep it private.

So, a few weeks later, I did a Google search on my name. Ends up that the pictures I shared, in what I thought was a private way internally, turned up on the first page of the public Google search. With my picture next to it that I had associated with my G+ account. The pictures that were shared weren't any big deal, but it was a bit of a shock to see them show up. I try to keep my online life private and not easily searchable, as much as is possible.

I thought that perhaps Google was simply giving me this search result information because I was currently signed in, sort of my own private result of the things that I had shared with someone. Nah, tried it on another computer, and also while not signed in, same result. For some reason, Google defaulted my images to be publicly searchable when I shared them, and somehow I missed this in the process.

So I went in and changed the sharing option for the two pictures to private, and it came off the public search, but still shows up in the search when I'm signed in saying that I chose to share these pictures, even though the option was changed WEEKS ago.

I realized at that point that I have a hard time trusting Google to use my social information well, so I delted the acount. Someone might say, well, perhaps it was explicated in the instructions and you missed it. Well, perhaps, but even if this is the case, I realized that now I'm a bit paranoid that I have to be excessively aware of my sharing preferences so I don't mess up at some point and make who knows what details of my life part of the public record. Maybe Steve Yegge is a little bit more paranoid about this now, too. You can say people just need to double and tripple check what they are doing, but the integration for Google is getting so sophisticated across a wide range of services that it's kinda hard to keep track of what's going on, and what you are allowing Google to do with your personal information.

There's some sort of integration being endorsed by Google that has very blurry lines. Perhaps it's the details being ironed out as they grow, perhaps there's user error/need for more education on my part, but I realized at the end of the day, I don't trust Google to help me manage those details well in the middle of a pretty intense integration effort, such that I won't accidentally screw myself over. It feels to me like they are not being as clear as they need to be about how things are working, to what extent they are integrated, and to what ends they are promoting your personal information. It feels careless to me, to be honest, or that they simply might not care about this kind of thing until people make noise. I'll still use their services, but not anything related to social media.

If someone were to say I'm misunderstanding what I think I'm interpreting above, me having a hard time tracking what the heck is going on in a clear way that makes my privacy feel protected is still sufficient enough for me to walk away. I need to know what's going on with my stuff, and Google doesn't leave me with the feeling like they are sharp enough socially to be helping me with that, or to be applying accurately the information that I give them. So, I'll do what feels like the smart thing and not give them the opportunity.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:25 PM on October 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Facebook rolled itself out gradually to colleges and universities, in a way that made it somewhat exclusive. It became socially pervasive in those communities long before it was made available to the general public.

Good point. Google has tried that and done well by it. That's how GMail was rolled out, by invite only at the beginning in their case, and it has become very successful.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:51 PM on October 12, 2011


One wonders how much the original Amazon-with-books was for Bezos just part of his proof-of-concept for what he really wanted to do

You don't have to wonder. Bezos flat out said as much, back when Amazon was just another dot-com, notable primarily for its astounding burn rate.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:01 PM on October 12, 2011


It is popular because it is the party everyone is at. And so you can't afford not to attend. But you hate it, every minute of it. Facebook has always been this way from the very start.

I am ambivalent at this point. I don't love it but don't really hate it either. I like it for the fact that it makes keeping track of family events and especially birthdays much easier, and also that I am not obligated to call people who have a birthday (close friends and immediate family excepted, of course). That's the kind of thing I have a very hard time keeping track of, and it's usually late at night when I realize it's too late to call ... I like it for keeping tabs of music and artists. But it's just meh as a platform IMO and does tend to attract the viral spam apps. So I tend to log in every few days or less, send b-day greetings, answer requests, etc., log out within an hour or less.

OTOH, I do know people who love, love, love it, and those who hate, hate, hate it. I don't have the desire to devote that much attention and energy to a social networking site anymore. I used to when I was younger, but I've seen 'em come and go. It is what it is.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:03 PM on October 12, 2011


One of the stranger, well maybe not that strange, was that the Google Tranlate API went to an all-pay model. You can no longer use those services free. If I remember right, this happened rather suddenly and impacted many folks who made little Android and iPhone apps that did some translation.

[snip]

So what that means to me is that Google had an immensely popular API, and could not, for the life of them, figure out how to make it actually work for developers in terms of a) scaling it, b) monetizing it and b) securing it. That kind of failure is what Yegge is talking about.
posted by artlung at 2:01 PM on October 12 [4 favorites +] [!]


I can't find the thread on metafilter on it (I'm sure there was one) but it was explained that it was due to the translate API being overused. If I'm not mistaken in how it works, it trawls the web looking for examples of translations and uses that to improve its accuracy - however when increasing numbers of people use it, the "example" translations it picks up in the wild will mostly have been generated by itself.

It's one of of those applications that work with decreasing efficiency the more people use it, another one being a hypothetical traffic map, it will work great for you if you're one of the 1% of people who use it since you have information about a car smash and can use an alternate route to avoid it, however if 90% of people are using it everyone will be clogging up the alternate route.

It's exactly the sort of thing you'd put a price on.
posted by xdvesper at 7:06 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apps - paid version -- almost as good as free, but the more users you move to Apps, the more likely it is that you will have significant problems. See: City of Los Angeles

I worked with the CoLA transition. The "significant problems" basically fell into a few categories, none of which really had anything to do with Apps.

1. Users and managers were completely unprepared for the transition. The OCIO didn't really have buy-in from the users, there hadn't been any training, very little information was passed on to the users. No one had identified use-cases in their current platform, GroupWise, to figure out if people would have to do things differently in Apps. (If I'd heard "read receipts" one more damn time ...)

2. CoLA doesn't really have centralized IT management - each department does its own thing. So, the police department felt free to drag its heels even though the city couldn't afford to continue paying the folks managing GroupWise - they'd been reduced to a skeleton crew before the transition even began.

3. A lot of the city's offices have poor support and network connectivity, to say the least.

In any event, most of the problems I see with migration to Apps have very little to do with the technology or the product, and a lot to do with how the migration is managed. I've worked with a few large deployments - 30k users or more - and they go well enough if they're managed properly.

Google Search Appliances -- expensive, unreliable pieces of shit. Rebranded Dells with no shell access, just a web interface, which you can't get to when they go down with corrupted file systems, which 3 of them did for us within a 30-day window. You can fsck them from single-user mode but it hasn't recovered one yet. I think that of the 5 we bought, none are the original boxes, and some have been replaced twice. Some datacenter-standard hardware features like redundant power supplies and OOB management cards, which come stock in the equivalent Dell machines, are actually removed for some reason. All this and a flaky OS that requires a 50-step process to upgrade (and no skipping versions).

A lot of this was valid a few years ago, but not so much any more. The current hardware model, GB-7007, is pretty reliable - my company sells tons of GSA licenses, and we probably see around one or two hardware failures per hundred, over a three-year span (the current maximum license period). The GB-1001s were much less reliable, I'll give you that.

The GB-7007 does have redundant power and OOB management card included. And the upgrade process, while a bit tedious, isn't nearly so bad as you make it out to be:

1. Upgrade the system version.
2. Reboot the appliance.
3. Upgrade the software version.
4. Test the new index.
5. Commit or revert.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:33 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's how GMail was rolled out, by invite only at the beginning in their case, and it has become very successful.

That and GMail had something no other mail service had - storage. Hotmail and Yahoo had what 20 meg limits or some shit, but you could buy more. Gmail launched with 2 gigs. Free! And an interface that wasn't slow as shit and spam filters that actually worked.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:49 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Launched with 1 gig, I think.
posted by kenko at 7:59 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure I have Google +. The only people on it are MeFites who are morally opposed to Facebook.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:27 PM on October 12, 2011


It is popular because it is the party everyone is at. And so you can't afford not to attend. But you hate it, every minute of it. Facebook has always been this way from the very start.

Not me. I love it.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:30 PM on October 12, 2011


I like Google+ a lot as a combination of the good parts of Facebook and Twitter, and most of my friends are on it...which is why the flaws bug me so much. I also have no confidence that Google management will correct those problems.

Spacemanstix, I think you ran into the problem that Google's upper management doesn't believe in user privacy, partially as a response to spam, partially as a response to the China fiasco. Oh sure you can keep your financial data safe, but other than that? Google users have no need for privacy, and no real right to it.
posted by happyroach at 8:46 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can someone check my Google+ for me? I haven't in like, a month or so.
posted by bardic at 9:16 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Can you use G+ pseudonymously yet? That's the main reason I haven't been over there yet.
I understand this argument in that people don't always want to be searchable, don't always want companies in their private lives, etc.
However, on a "the future is coming" sort of geek level, I kind of don't understand. Or perhaps I don't think it's completely realistic?

It's very easy, and even personally preferable, for me to do most everything in an....integrated internet fashion. For example, my life is rather well established on Google. I have Gmail, have been using Google Calendars more, have a plethora of Google Docs, wish Google+ was more popular (I agree that the number of people on a social network makes the network valuable to individuals), see a Google phone in my future, and am excited about internet/Google built cars.
Just the other day, I helped a coworker by realizing that, while we didn't have enough Adobe product to create PDFs, we did have the ability to create PDFs through Google.
It actually makes me disappointed when more of my networks aren't cooperating with each other, and I sometimes wish that I could do all of my Google things while being able to be notified of other network or forum activity through my Chrome browser.

My point is though, I understand anonymity and actually practice it on a number of sites. However, I don't believe it's complete anonymity that we need in a social platform, but the ability to hide specific activities from possibly mass amounts of people. I want the ability to be friends with my mother and let her see most of my updates, but let maybe 3 friends have the ability to see the fact that I am, for example, in FetLife.
In fact, I would like one social network to help me treat my life as completely separate and non-publicized circles wherein they couldn't see each others' posts to my "wall", where one circle knows my real name, and another knows a forum name, and a third knows a different handle. Why can't I yet be DisreputableDog to a friended group of Mefites and my real name to those I allow to see it? If someone wants to share an explicit sexual video or a secret new way of baking a cake with me + several others, they should be able to do that without a single whiff of sweat or chocolate leaking over to my other networks.

I do think that, after all, while you can stay off of social network sites, keep your name out of the phone book, and otherwise keep yourself secret as much as possible, it's not exactly the most helpful social practice. It is for some, but not for a large group of people, particularly college students or the otherwise employed who would like to be able to share their drunken exploits without ruining a professional career because their network decided to one day completely rebuild their security and then set it to "default public". If Google+ could provide everyone with that kind of secure networking, I'm pretty sure people would ditch Facebook almost immediately.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:44 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's how GMail was rolled out, by invite only at the beginning in their case, and it has become very successful.

That and GMail had something no other mail service had - storage. Hotmail and Yahoo had what 20 meg limits or some shit, but you could buy more. Gmail launched with 2 gigs. Free! And an interface that wasn't slow as shit and spam filters that actually worked.


The feeling of exclusivity was an accident of the invitation model. It was originally employed as a scaling strategy, because nobody had ever tried to launch a service with such a large amount of free storage, and there was serious concern internally that it wouldn't scale. Gmail was also the first serious ajax app, before the term was even coined, and the team had to invent a lot of new stuff to scale it to millions of users.

In the long run, the invitation model actually became a hindrance, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is launching a new product unless they've though through the implications very, very carefully. Users believed that you had to have an invitation to open an account for years after Gmail moved to open signups, and became a limiting factor for growth. It's especially problematic for products that depend on network effects, which is the case for the majority of consumer internet offerings these days.

Launching with a gig of storage ended up being a big deal for the industry. We didn't have any users, so it was relatively inexpensive for us to offer that level of storage when our competitors were charging for 20MB. Hotmail and Yahoo both had 100M users or more at the time, and it took a long time for them to figure out how to build the infrastructure required to provide a couple of orders of magnitude of additional storage.

Similarly, the Google chat service was really about forcing the industry to provide interoperability between networks. About two weeks after we launched Gmail chat/Google Talk, which offered federation via XMPP, Yahoo and Microsoft announced that they were building interoperability between Y! and MSN messenger. AOL approached Google and offered interoperability with AIM. Our product director walked into the Gmail Chat team room and announced something along the lines of, "Great job, guys. Your next project should be a car that goes 200mph, gets 100mpg, and can fly. It doesn't really matter how much it costs, because everyone else will have to do it."
posted by drklahn at 10:00 PM on October 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


My point is though, I understand anonymity and actually practice it on a number of sites. However, I don't believe it's complete anonymity that we need in a social platform, but the ability to hide specific activities from possibly mass amounts of people.

I am largely not anonymous. I have a few throw-away alts and rarely used names if I need anonymity, but it's not a big goal of mine.

I'm pseudonymous. Offline, the people I want to know know my online name, but my clients can't google me and find things out about me, and my boss can't google me and find things out about me, and I have a separate, offline-name based email account I rarely check for times when I need to contact people solely with that identity.

My offline identity pretty much doesn't exist online as me (there are others with the same name who has a huge presence). Deoridhe has a large, extensive, and established presence, and the only one is me. This has a huge advantage, and loads of people have found me through this means who wouldn't have a clue who I was if I went by my legal identity.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:33 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gmail is different. You could email people with Yahoo or Hotmail addresses and show off your gmail address. Can't do that with G+, if I could post on peoples Facebook wall "ha ha look at me I'm on g+" I probaby would.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:32 AM on October 13, 2011


Nice rant. Heavy jwz influence. I like it.
posted by flabdablet at 2:27 AM on October 13, 2011


In the long run, the invitation model actually became a hindrance, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is launching a new product unless they've though through the implications very, very carefully. Users believed that you had to have an invitation to open an account for years after Gmail moved to open signups, and became a limiting factor for growth.

Perhaps, but I can't recall another free email service which attracted so much attention at launch and had so many people begging for invites. I was working in IT at the time and ended up recommending it to quite a few people (as well as sending out a lot of invites both before and after the requirement). I never did that for Hotmail or other free email services, though previously I'd mention them in passing if someone asked.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:00 AM on October 13, 2011


I find that getting others in my social and professional circles to adopt G+ is largely futile so far

What they need to do is open up video hangouts for their mobile clients. As I said elsewhere, their current implementation I wouldn't even give the benefit of calling half-assed. If they open up streaming, live video to the world, it would be more revolutionary than Twitter. It would fucking change the world, and only Google has the power and bandwidth to make it happen.

More on-topic, Google needs to seriously work on their APIs. Take one example: I've got an Android phone. I'm always writing memos to myself so I don't forget things. So where's the Task-List app? You know, the one that automatically syncs with your Gmail tasks? I mean, they've got email to sync transparently. They've got photos syncing. They've got contacts syncing. What about the lowly task list app? Doesn't exist. THE FUCK!? You can sync all this other shit—which have like an order of magnitude more complexity—but you can't fucking take ten minutes and have one of your devs write a fucking task list app?

FINE. I code Java in my sleep... I'll fucking write it myself. Right? NOPE. There's no API for the task list in Gmail. I'll have to reverse engineer their fucking POST spec to figure it out, which (if you've ever looked at the Gmail JS mini-fied sourcecode) is like reading hieroglyphics backwards while on crack, and of course I'm sure they'll change it on a whim because, hey, it's not like there's some formal API that everyone in the world is using and relying on not changing. IDIOTS.

They did the same shit with Google Docs: no API, and thus no Android App for the longest time. I think it wasn't until Froyo that a native Google Docs app was finally released, and boy-howdy does it look like something a dog threw up. They expect to compete with Office with that pile of dogshit?

The problem is Google is filled with Very Smart People, and Very Smart People want to do Very Great Things, like write operating systems or invent computer languages. They all want to be this guy. They don't want to do lowly bullshit like spec out a fucking task list.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:58 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


The other thing, and this bugs the shit out of me: Facebook's API is open and well-documented. WHY THE FUCK CAN'T I HAVE G+ POST SIMULTANEOUSLY TO MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT!?

Now, I know they're probably thinking, "Well, what good would that do?" And I'll fucking tell you what good that would do: it would let people "try out" G+ while not ostracizing their FB friends or forcing them to write the same damned thing to two different places (which nobody will ever do). So instead you're either all in one camp or all in the other. Fucking stupid.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:02 AM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, they shut down Google Notebook to new users. That is an awesome web app, and I fear the day they finally take it away from existing users. If someone has something comparable, I'm all ears.
posted by inigo2 at 4:34 AM on October 13, 2011


xdvesper, you're exactly right:
I can't find the thread on metafilter on it (I'm sure there was one) but it was explained that it was due to the translate API being overused. If I'm not mistaken in how it works, it trawls the web looking for examples of translations and uses that to improve its accuracy - however when increasing numbers of people use it, the "example" translations it picks up in the wild will mostly have been generated by itself.

It's one of of those applications that work with decreasing efficiency the more people use it, another one being a hypothetical traffic map, it will work great for you if you're one of the 1% of people who use it since you have information about a car smash and can use an alternate route to avoid it, however if 90% of people are using it everyone will be clogging up the alternate route.

It's exactly the sort of thing you'd put a price on.
You're making my point for me. See, the Amazon Web Services tools are cheap to start, insanely cheap. Like, you can go use an instance of a Linux machine for like 20 cents or something to start, if you just want like an hour of development time. I myself have several GB of storage backed up to S3 for some larger webhosting files, and it used to be I paid about $0.15 a month for less than a GB. Now I'm up to like $1.20.

So Google Translate API - why don't they do a model like that? Charge you pennies if you use it very little, and charge more as you use it more.

No, instead they shut it down entirely, then have a minimum cost of $20/month per million characters of text. Also, "If you need to translate more than 50 M chars/month, please contact us (by email)." It's hard to tell - is $20/month a minimum or not? And if I get too popular, I might hit their limit and then I have to get someone on the phone? These are not really transparent usage fees. I can't tell what my costs will be on the low end and in my perfect dream of world domination I can't tell how Google will charge me.

Look at this reaction here: BREAKING NEWS! Google to shut down Translate API
Google decided to shut down its Translate as part of a spring cleaning effort which will shut down over a dozen other APIs as well.

What does this mean? Well all of those ‘free’ programs that hitchhiked on Google Translate are going to be history. What about SDL Trados Studio, which also provides access to Google Translate via the Translate API? Will that service be shut down too? It sounds like it will. But SDL offers two other MT options anyway (Language Weaver and SDL), so it’s not such a big deal for them.
And you're quite right, a translation API is absolutely something that has value. Google didn't plan for it to scale, to get popular, then they had to adjust. They figured they could give it away free and then sell ads on it. WRONG.
What does this signal to the software development community? People will think twice in future before developing a service or product around a Google API. Lots of startups and companies are going to get burned.
Moreover, the problem of the Translate tools Google has getting worse with overuse - well gosh, that seems like a Google failure too, huh? If I use Google Maps, and it's free, and I go submitting corrections to road names and place names, they sure better have mechanisms in place so that garbage doesn't get on those maps, right? Translation is no different. When Google has hundreds of thousands of people using their tools, they need to be ready for that, no?

And that's a painful truth for Google if they want to get into the platform game. Developers don't mine being charged for an API if it's fair. They *really* don't like it when terms of service change radically and unexpectedly.
posted by artlung at 6:01 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Civil_Disobedient:
Google Tasks API
posted by VoteBrian at 6:12 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't believe that Google is trawling the web for translation examples. From what I understand, they're using a carefully selected corpus -- largely UN texts.

And in any case, Google Translation works spectacularly well. It's leagues beyond any translation system that came before it.
posted by empath at 6:19 AM on October 13, 2011


People are allatime telling me to use Chrome and I've tried three times, but each time barely lasted more than 20 minutes. I find its interface irritating, and as he points out, there's nothing you can customize about it because I guess customization is so 2000s.

Google+ fails because there's no reason for it to exist. It doesn't do anything significantly better or different from Facebook, which everyone is already well entrenched on. Facebook's most recent tampering is horrendous, and I've seen a lot of people use it less because of this, but they're not fleeing to G+, they're discovering that maybe they don't need a social network after all. G+ is still covered with tumbleweeds.

Remember Buzz, when Google first tried to be Twitter? Again, nothing different, nothing better, just a similar thing with a Google logo slapped on it. No reason whatsoever why anyone who would want to use such a thing should change from Twitter, where they already had it, where everyone they knew already had it, and they were already set up.

Most people have a browser they like. If they like Facebook, they like Facebook. If they like Twitter, they like Twitter. You're not Apple, where people will jump on your thing simply because it has your logo on it.
posted by Legomancer at 6:39 AM on October 13, 2011


Most people have a browser they like.

I think I'm at the stage where I can't really tell the difference. I use one until it crashes bad/messes something up, then I switch to the next one. Been using Chrome for a while, but used Firefox for ages before that.
posted by carter at 6:43 AM on October 13, 2011


Google+ fails

I love how if they don't immediately destroy a competitor who had a 5 year head start on them and is one of the most successful tech companies in history, it's a failure.
posted by empath at 6:51 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I haven't run it through its paces -- too afraid it might mess up the per-site settings I've already established -- but under "Options --> Under the Hood" in Chrome I'm seeing settings for default font-size ("very small" through "very large") as well as default page-zoom (in percentages), and burrowing one level deeper into "Customize fonts..." I'm seeing a "minimum font size" setting ("tiny" through "huge"). Is this a recent addition that the Google employee just wasn't aware of?
posted by nobody at 6:58 AM on October 13, 2011


I love how if they don't immediately destroy a competitor who had a 5 year head start on them and is one of the most successful tech companies in history, it's a failure.

Is there any reason to believe this is going to change? Google Buzz is almost 2 years old, is that competing with Twitter yet?
posted by Legomancer at 7:15 AM on October 13, 2011


Google Tasks API

Thank you! I've clearly got to update my rants.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:46 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Platform is only one reason for Google+'s lukewarm adoption. I personally find its usability to be lacking.

For example, I've seen it stated here and elsewhere that Facebook's privacy settings are driving people to Google+. While those settings are complex, at least the model itself is straightforward. You can share or block certain content from certain people.

On the other hand, the simplicity of adding people to Google+ circles belies how confusing their model of sharing and blocking actually is.
posted by thomaspark at 7:51 AM on October 13, 2011




Google+ is failing because everyone is already on Facebook.

As a though experiment, what if G+ only ever got 10% of FB's user numbers and yet still made more money?


If that happened and continued indefinitely, sure, that could be great for G+.

But even a mere "10% of FB's user numbers" is a staggeringly enormous number. "10%" sounds small, but it's not small.

The network effect, as I explained, shows why G+ is unlikely to get to even 10% of what FB has, let alone overtake Facebook.

Of course, it's theoretically possible. It's even possible that G+ will overtake Facebook, and that a decade from now everyone will be using G+ and Facebook will be a joke the way Friendster is now. And then I would happily admit I was wrong in my prediction. Anything could happen, but the network effect explains why that result is unlikely to happen.
posted by John Cohen at 9:09 AM on October 13, 2011


Google+ is thought of as a facebook competitor, and I think that misunderstand of what g+ does is really hurting the service. Google+ is not facebook with privacy controls. It's twitter with privacy controls. As soon as I stopped trying to use it like facebook and started using it like twitter, I got a lot more out of it.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:13 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


... G+ is unlikely to get to even 10% of what FB has, let alone overtake Facebook.

Facebook claims they have 800M users.

Paul Allen (the founder of Ancestry.com) estimates that over 40M users.

If both numbers are true (and comparable), Google+ has, at three months after launch, 5% as many users as Facebook.
posted by zippy at 10:16 AM on October 13, 2011


... that Google+ has...
posted by zippy at 10:16 AM on October 13, 2011


Paul Allen (the founder of Ancestry.com) estimates that over 40M users.

If both numbers are true (and comparable), Google+ has, at three months after launch, 5% as many users as Facebook.


Your link doesn't work, and I assume you meant "Google+ has over 40M users." I'm skeptical of claims that a brand-new Google site has a number of users over 10% of the population of the United States, considering that Google has in the past done me the helpful favor of automatically creating Google Buzz and Google Bookmarks accounts for me and even automatically filling them in with content without asking me. (I'm skeptical of Facebook's claims too since not all accounts represent users and everyone has a motive to overstate their number of users. But I'm even more skeptical of Google's.)
posted by John Cohen at 10:47 AM on October 13, 2011


The problem is Google is filled with Very Smart People, and Very Smart People want to do Very Great Things, like write operating systems or invent computer languages. They all want to be this guy. They don't want to do lowly bullshit like spec out a fucking task list.

This is hilariously true.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:52 AM on October 13, 2011


When sites like Google and Facebook quote user stats they never quote raw accounts (well, not usually) because everyone knows that's bullshit. Most sites will quote a 7-day or 30-day active user number.
posted by GuyZero at 11:04 AM on October 13, 2011


One of the stranger, well maybe not that strange, was that the Google Translate API went to an all-pay model. You can no longer use those services free.

I didnot notice this and find it shocking. This changes my hobbyist pursuits quite significantly.
posted by the cydonian at 11:04 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Umm, twitter has better privacy controls than facebook, yeolcoatl, namely aliases.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:04 PM on October 13, 2011


Hmm... Interesting point. Perhaps "distribution controls" would have been a better phrase for it.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:32 PM on October 13, 2011


My point however, was not so much about the nature of the distribution controls, but about the network topology. G+ encourages asymmetric information sharing, so the topology is much more like twitter than like facebook. Thought about that way G+ is really more like a twitter competitor than a facebook competitor. G+ is a place where you follow people who don't necessarily know you and aren't necessarily interested in adding you back.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:40 PM on October 13, 2011


More on Facebook's trade secrets claim to user's data.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:10 PM on October 13, 2011


Twitter >> G+
posted by Legomancer at 6:23 AM on October 14, 2011


MySpace was an incredible success. They have sort of made some platformy things available, including Google's. No platform, and no lock in, and MySpace is hemhorraging.

MySpace wasn't really a platform; it was a great big pile o'crap tied together with bits of string, which, because of the way it was implemented, allowed users to attach their own barnacles to it. There was life there, much in the way that a decaying corpse is teeming with microbial life.

Then, when Facebook spooked them, they tried shoehorning Google's OpenSocial Gadgets platform onto their platform. By all accounts, the integration was on a par with using a rubber band to attach a Walkman to a Nokia phone and calling it an iPhone killer. There were accounts floating around of the complexity of getting an app working on this platform, and it looked painful; levels of bureaucracy to negotiate to get various credentials, layers of cruft to step over. (Even looking at the URLs of any MySpace page, such as a personal homepage, was a foresight of the horrors lurking beneath the hood; a MySpace homepage URL was essentially a mass of opaque, numeric query-strings.)

The difference was that Facebook actually thoguht through and architected their platform. To get an application working on the Facebook platform is fairly straightforward, and each step is fairly logical: set up a developer account, create an app ID, get the secret key and, using that, start pinging the REST endpoints. MySpace was architecturally more like a shanty-town; there was no planning, and no overarching rationale for why things were the way they were, only an explanation for the steps by which they had bumbled to their present state. Which is why MySpace eventually died.

Facebook has a clean API (their APIs are, for the most part, meticulously elegant). However, it may have technical problems in future which, were Google to get the platform thing sorted, could exploit to steal a march on them. Facebook is built on PHP and MySQL, and as it grows larger, the cracks in scaling a system built on these technologies begins to show. Facebook have been quite good at pushing this to its limits (for one, developing a system named HipHop for compiling PHP to C++), but as they grow larger, it won't get any easier. Google, with their massively distributed technologies (BigTable, GFS and such) would be positioned to have an easier time of scaling such a service massively.
posted by acb at 7:22 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]



Steve makes good points about Google's inability to understand platforms. I pitched a social platform for the web to Google execs in 2006, but got shot down by an engineering director who couldn't understand the idea (and enjoyed exercising his authority in an environment where such things did not often happen). I gave up and watched it become the catastrophically-mismanaged "OpenSocial" effort, which nobody really remembers or ever cared about.


Going by the Google I/O talk and materials, OpenSocial looked quite neat, in the way it decoupled social applications from ownership of the underlying data. I.e., it looked like the sort of thing which, when plugged into a federated Diaspora-like platform, could have formed a post-Facebook social platform.

Mind you, the historical record is littered with elegant solutions which had one fatal flaw, or arrived at the wrong time, or were killed by politics or just neglected for lack of understanding.
posted by acb at 8:07 AM on October 14, 2011


Good thoughts acb! A few points: when I said "They have sort of made some platformy things available, including Google's" - which is what I meant by OpenSocial, which was underwhelming. As Diaspora remains. Terrific in theory, useless (for now, yes) in practice. There are some Open twitter clones in the same pathetic maddening category. As for MySpace, they have made efforts to reform, but they have not been successful. The world is passing them by.

Facebook has a clean API (their APIs are, for the most part, meticulously elegant).

That's not been my experience. In my experience they make changes at a rapid rate, deprecate things that are useful, and keep developers scrambling. If you built an app for them a year ago, without constantly iterating with them, your app will fail. That's not meticulously elegant, but it does force developers to pay close attention if they want to work in their sandbox. That's not to say they don't make cool stuff available, but developing for them at scale feels a lot like a first person shooter - sort of manic.

Google, with their massively distributed technologies (BigTable, GFS and such) would be positioned to have an easier time of scaling such a service massively.

And yet, as I pointed out upthread, they have failed to scale, monetize, and secure the Translate API.
posted by artlung at 8:30 AM on October 14, 2011


If only we could use gamification to develop better neologisms and portmanteaus.

Gamification sounds like a problem which affects the taste of meat.
posted by acb at 8:37 AM on October 14, 2011



The other thing, and this bugs the shit out of me: Facebook's API is open and well-documented. WHY THE FUCK CAN'T I HAVE G+ POST SIMULTANEOUSLY TO MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT!?


Mostly because Facebook have been zealous about keeping Google out of their walled garden.

And you're quite right, a translation API is absolutely something that has value. Google didn't plan for it to scale, to get popular, then they had to adjust. They figured they could give it away free and then sell ads on it. WRONG.

Wasn't one of the reasons they were shutting it down was that spammers were using it for bowdlerising their penis-pill pitches (by translating them to and from a few other languages) so that they'd slip through filters, and chewing up a lot of resources in doing so? (I imagine spam botnet trojans could have had code to hit Google's API and come up with a fresh translation for each batch of messages sent out, resulting in billions of API calls from all over the internet.)
posted by acb at 8:42 AM on October 14, 2011


acb, right. But isn't that a failure of planning?

By way of example: The MAPS API is very popular, but it has to be used in conjunction with authentication keys that I believe are still tied to a domain or to a person. AWS has multiple levels of verification and tied to individual Amazon users. These are reasonable safeguards. It seems a trivial matter to have a system that authenticates all transactions, and watches for abuses of the system, throttling usage and making notifications to the developers as appropriate. That's actually something Yegge addresses in his rant, he talks about a service oriented architecture: "- every single one of your peer teams suddenly becomes a potential DOS attacker. Nobody can make any real forward progress until very serious quotas and throttling are put in place in every single service."

I am sort of carping on the Translate example, but it's an example of a failure of the API, not because it costs money, but because how they handled it ended up burning developers AND themselves. I hope it was something they learned from as they roll out other APIs and services.
posted by artlung at 8:49 AM on October 14, 2011


And....Google Buzz is closing (along with other changes).
posted by inigo2 at 11:06 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google Wave isn't dead yet, I was blown away to discover yesterday.

And Google donated the code to Apache, so I guess it technically won't die anytime soon. It just won't be Google Wave after Google shuts down their servers.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:20 AM on October 14, 2011


And....Google Buzz is closing

Good; hopefully next Google will strip out the half-baked social stuff from Reader.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:58 AM on October 14, 2011


And....Google Buzz is closing (along with other changes).

Including shutting down Google Labs entirely? By the end of the day today?
posted by nobody at 12:10 PM on October 14, 2011


Google Labs closing down -- I wonder if that means a new and invigorated focus for Google?
posted by artlung at 12:16 PM on October 14, 2011


Including shutting down Google Labs entirely? By the end of the day today?

Foreshadowed in July, but without a date given for the closure -- the "oh by the way it's today" does seem very abrupt.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:22 PM on October 14, 2011


Youch.
posted by Artw at 1:02 PM on October 14, 2011


Google+ kicked me out because I didn't use my real name.

But facebook became comically impenetrable with the new revisions - and as someone said upthread, I'd say there is at least 50% less postings (and presumably that's some kind of metric of "usage").

So I stopped with G+ and dialed facebook back to very occasional checks. Not sure if that's what these companies are seeking.
posted by Rumple at 1:15 PM on October 14, 2011


schmod: "Quitting Facebook is the new Moving to Canada"

I haven't quit it but I've gone from multiple daily use to two or three times a week and make sure to log out of it every time. I hate going to other websites and seeing my profile picture down at the bottom because they use FB for commenting.
posted by octothorpe at 2:07 PM on October 14, 2011


Sigh. I was going to be all optimistic and go with "Google doesn't need to be the best at everything, it just needs to supply a complete ecosystem. As Netflix has just demonstrated, people place a large premium on getting everything from one place."

It would appear that is not Google's plan.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:34 PM on October 14, 2011


Meanwhile, I've been getting mails from the Diaspora folks asking very nicely for a handful of shekels...
posted by flabdablet at 10:56 PM on October 14, 2011


Google may be arrogant or stubborn or what have you but I rely on them day to day. I use docs for school projects, maps to find things and places, search for...well, search and their webmaster features. They may design poor products from time to time(Wave comes to mind) but since I am writing this from Chrome I have great appreciation for them. Even though Android is fragmented, slow, uses too much battery and looks like crap.
posted by SEOdegreeo at 12:16 PM on October 17, 2011


Steve Yegge posted a followup to this on Google+ this morning. It includes an "Amazon War Story".

"Last week I accidentally posted an internal rant about service platforms to my public Google+ account (i.e. this one). It somehow went viral, which is nothing short of stupefying given that it was a massive Wall of Text. The whole thing still feels surreal.

Amazingly, nothing bad happened to me at Google. Everyone just laughed at me a lot, all the way up to the top, for having committed what must be the great-granddaddy of all Reply-All screwups in tech history.

But they also listened, which is super cool. I probably shouldn’t talk much about it, but they’re already figuring out how to deal with some of the issues I raised. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though. When I claimed in my internal post that “Google does everything right”, I meant it. When they’re faced with any problem at all, whether it’s technical or organizational or cultural, they set out to solve it in a first-class way.

Anyway, whenever something goes viral, skeptics start wondering if it was faked or staged. My accident was neither. While I have no proof, I can offer you what I think is the most convincing evidence: for the last six and a half years, I have never once ragged on Amazon publicly..."

posted by flex at 8:05 AM on October 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks for posting that, flex! That was a great read.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:22 AM on October 21, 2011


Followup: I am glad he did not get fired.

Also, thanks flex!
posted by artlung at 10:40 AM on October 21, 2011


Wow, just dropped in to post the followup.

Yegge is kinda an institution, along the lines of JWZ and more recently Zed Shaw. Google would have been very dumb indeed to fire him on the spot, but who knows what will happen in the future.

Brin said I stopped reading after the first 1,000 pages. Bad sign.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:12 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ad Hominem, re "I stopped reading after the first 1,000 pages.", I took that to mean that Brin's a Twitter user.
posted by straw at 7:44 AM on October 23, 2011


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