Steve Yegge’s Platform Rant

Do love it when Steve Yegge posts something to the world (even when he really <cough> doesn’t mean to):

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. But that’s not why they are successful. Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work. So Facebook is different for everyone. Some people spend all their time on Mafia Wars. Some spend all their time on Farmville. There are hundreds or maybe thousands of different high-quality time sinks available, so there’s something there for everyone.

Our Google+ team took a look at the aftermarket and said: “Gosh, it looks like we need some games. Let’s go contract someone to, um, write some games for us.” Do you begin to see how incredibly wrong that thinking is now? The problem is that we are trying to predict what people want and deliver it for them.

He generally has a tone that really rubs the wrong way. Which is especially annoying because he also does a good job of making me think about something that i’d previously not considered, or hadn’t seen as important.

The whole product / platform distinction is, i think, pretty obvious. However, it’s not a view that i’d previously had of the all mighty G-sha. Perhaps having a platform at the level that Yegge is talking about means giving up too much control for Google. It’s funny to me that he rags on Bezos for being a control freak over having a platform, when the only solution that i can think of that is more control-freakish is having a product with a super minimal API!

My own take on why G+ will end up being another social failure for Google is related to that last paragraph. The idea that it is enough to be reactive, but implement it incrementally better, to be a success. Facebook, by way of  example, wasn’t a success because they had better html than Myspace, it was a success because it had a simple hook: reconnect with old school / college friends! Having a better implementation, a more flexible infrastructure, smarter engineers, is just not enough. Without that hook, if you just offer more of the same, only better, the network effects alone will be enough to kick you to the curb.

Rather rashly, back in july / august, i might have said that G+ will be dead / irrelevant in six months. In reality it’s likely to take longer than that, but i stand by the basic idea that it’ll be an also ran. Something will come along and unseat Facebook eventually, but it’s going to take more than a functional clone.

Meanwhile, over at G+, the innovation never ends – today they’ve rolled out hashtags…


Please realize, though, that even now, after six years, I know astoundingly little about Google. It’s a huge company and they do tons of stuff, and I work off in a little corner of the company (both technically and geographically) that gives me very little insight into anything else going on there. So my opinions, even though they may seem well-formed and accurate, really are just a bunch of opinions from someone who’s nowhere near the center of the action — so I wouldn’t read too much into anything I said.

Which is rather amusing. Maybe he just needs to find a new job.


2 thoughts on “Steve Yegge’s Platform Rant

  1. “Something will come along and unseat Facebook eventually, but it’s going to take more than a functional clone.”

    Fucksake. You haven’t even tried it. You haven’t the faintest idea. Your opinion was rash three months ago and it’s still suffering from the same absurdity today.

    If it were a functional clone of Facebook then why was it that Facebook panicked and rushed out a bunch of features to imitate G+. The usage styles of G+ users are strikingly different than on Facebook, and also dissimilar to Twitter.

    As to Yegge’s rant, he’s got it all backwards. The API has always arrived later. His opinion very much sounds like disgruntled bleating from someone ignorant and disconnected from the action, much like your own.

    The API will be fleshed over time. There should be nothing controversial about that, and no reason for surprise.

    • You do get upset about all this…

      My guess is that the hook for G+ is actually here:

      “It’s still incredibly early days for Google+ because our goal is actually far bigger than the individual feature launches themselves,” Page said. “Our ultimate ambition is to transform the overall Google experience, making it beautifully simple, almost automagical, because we understand what you want and can deliver it instantly.”

      While everyone is excited about the features, the bigger goal is starting to come into view. Which is to say that G+ is about giving search additional data, from a social graph, from analysing what a stream, classification in circles, etc.

      Circles, btw, are a work of genius! By having the users classify all their friends, the mining of the data becomes much simpler. If a bunch of people put you in circles, and there is pretty good agreement between the circles, you can be pretty sure that you have the person in the right bucket. And, best of all, the data is coming from people who should have an accurate view – your friends.

      Anyway, that seems like the hook: come to G+ and we’ll give you a better search experience. An interesting one for sure. Will it be enough to pull in the punters, or do they already think search is ‘good enough’?

Wise words...

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