Google+ Doomed by Lack of Platform Prowess?

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-10-13

Another Chicken Little has surfaced to cry the sky is falling on Google+, or at least talk about how much the social network blatantly mimics Facebook and that's why it won't succeed.

Normally, this is grain-of-salt fodder from tech pundits like myself. But this rant comes from Steve Yegge, a 6-year-plus Google veteran who accidentally posted his pent-up frustration publicly on Google+. Trouble is, it was intended only for his fellow coders.

I hadn't heard of Yegge until today, but now that the entire Google-watching tech world is aware of his 4,500-plus screed about why Google doesn't get platforms: It gets products. Therefore, Google+ feels like one big Facebook clone that lacks the incumbent's vision to build something that can be flexible and organically scale from within while also incorporating third-party Web services.

Lest you're too tired of the Google+-as-Facebook-clone schtick, Yegge throws some kerosene on this meme. I won't reproduce the whole, well-articulated rant -- see it on SiliconFilter -- but I will talk about why it may or may not matter in the long run.

Here are the juicy bits:

Google+ is a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms from the very highest levels of executive leadership (hi Larry, Sergey, Eric, Vic, howdy howdy) down to the very lowest leaf workers (hey yo). We all don't get it. The Golden Rule of platforms is that you Eat Your Own Dogfood. The Google+ platform is a pathetic afterthought. We had no API at all at launch, and last I checked, we had one measly API call. One of the team members marched in and told me about it when they launched, and I asked: "So is it the Stalker API?" She got all glum and said "Yeah." I mean, I was joking, but no... the only API call we offer is to get someone's stream. So I guess the joke was on me.

I can address this quick enough. Consumers, who comprise the bulk of Google+ users, don't care about APIs. But developers do. Facebook didn't open up its platform APIs until the summer of 2007.

Google will open up more APIs when it's ready, and you'll see a fresh flood of development beyond the hundreds of little features Google+ engineers are launching daily themselves. It will include social apps, more games beyond Google+ Games, etc. Again, this will be more Facebook aping, but it's necessary mimicry.

After commending Microsoft for its platform prowess via Dogfoofing, Yegge returned to undressing Google:

Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product. 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.

In other words, Google tried to clone the attention management magic Facebook captured. But that isn't nearly enough to bring the glut of 800 million Facebook users over to Google+.

OK, but that means Google+ needs to slingshot Facebook using other means. Something unique and different. Think Different, as the late Steve Jobs would say.

If you think I'm going to suggest autonomous (or serendipitous) search as a solution again, you're right.

Yegge said Google doesn't get platforms. Maybe yes, maybe no. He works there as a software engineer. I don't and am not. But isn't search something of a proprietary platform atop which other Google Web services can intertwine and flow?

Google Search is part of Google+ now, has in fact been augmented to include real-time search and hastags on Google+. Search is the unifying theme across Google Web services. It lives in YouTube. Gmail, Google Apps, etc.

Google can use the consumer data from search to reach out to users on the fly from existing and relevant signals consumers leave. Rather than letting users do searches all of the time, perhaps Google can start reaching out to them.

Because, honestly, independent of all of the geeky things Yegge complained about, Google will run out of of Facebook features to cover.

And then what? Google will have to come up with something special to vault ahead. Or else it's just a cheap imitation whose flame will flicker out and join MySpace's dying embers.

To be fair, Google+ Product Management head Bradley Horowitz told AllThingsDigital the existing Google+ some of us know and enjoy is merely the "very basic foundation," a fraction of what Google+ will be.

Count me as being along for the ride. Google+ Hangouts, real-time search and integration with Google's other applications are nice, but I don't think we've seen anything yet.

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