Internal rants can sometimes shed interesting light on the stresses inside big companies. One such leaked out on Wednesday from Google engineer Steve Yegge after he bungled his privacy settings on Google+ (oops).
With due allowance for the tone of a missive not intended for public consumption, the basic question he raises is an important one: has Google put its future at risk by failing to become a true platform company, rather than just the provider of a series of widely used products?
Yegge’s case is built on a contrast with Amazon, his previous employer. Nearly a decade ago, he says, Jeff Bezos became worried about Amazon’s shrinking profit margins and ordered all his engineering groups to treat their projects as services: they should be built with a common set of APIs to make them accessible to other Amazon developers, who would in future be able to assemble new products out of these various component parts.
Eventually, these same services would also be exposed to third parties, turning Amazon into what it is fast becoming: a wider platform for both ecommerce and cloud computing.
Google, with the overwhelming success of its search service, has never experienced the margin pressure that forced Bezos to act. The result, says Yegge, is that all its engineering groups are built around stand-alone products and have little interest in contributing to a wider Google platform.
With Facebook and Apple making successful platform plays of their own, not to mention old rival Microsoft, that could leave Google exposed in the long term. After all, search was one of those amazing successes that few companies ever manage to repeat (as Yegge says, Steve Jobs stood alone in his ability to pull off a series of big product breakthroughs).
The analysis is not complete. It doesn’t reflect, for instance, the work Google has done with Android and Chrome to build open platforms. The large audience of developers drawn to the annual Google IO event is testament to its growing significance as a platform company.
But, coming in the week that Facebook extended its social platform into the mobile world, it is an important reminder that most of Google’s products are still designed, first and foremost, as “closed” services.
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