Google engineer on Google+ platform: ‘Pathetic afterthought’

Some people seek fame. Some have it thrust upon them. And some find it by merely posting something publicly on Google+, when they meant to post it privately.

This morning, Google engineer Steve Yegge is undoubtedly more famous– and not only at Google– than he was yesterday.

My virginal reading of Silicon Filter, you see, tells me that Yegge posted something to his Google+ feed, something that was just very slightly critical of Google+.

He meant it to be an internal post, reserved for those in his intimate circle. Instead, it went out to the world. And when Google puts things out to the world, they tend never to return to sender.

Indeed, after a post in which, among other things, Yegge described Google+ as “a knee-jerk reaction” and the Google+ platform as “a pathetic afterthought”, he withdrew the post from public eyes and posted an explanation. Yes, on Google+.

He wrote: “But as it was midnight and I am not what you might call an experienced Google+ user, by the time I figured out how to actually post something I had somehow switched accounts.”

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

Some might immediately leap to, well, knee-jerk criticism that goes like this: “This Google engineer was criticizing Google+ and then he proves that he hasn’t got a clue how to use Google+. Ha. Ha. Ha.”

If that is your choice, please carry on. It is understandable, human even.

Others, though, might wish to focus on the nuances and revelations in Yegge’s passion piece. What should one make of Yegge’s feelings that “Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product”?

Yegge went on to explain that “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.” Whereas Google+ had no API at launch.

Much of Yegge’s long, long post was a criticism of Amazon (where he spent six years). However, his comments about Google surely ring bells of truth.

Google, he believes, simply doesn’t understand platforms at all. Because “most of the teams think they’re building products.”

For this he blames, no, you’ll never guess: “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.”

At this point, you might imagine that Yegge will be headed for the high jump at the office today, should he dare to go in. Yet isn’t it lovely that he felt the confidence to utter words like these, even internally? Especially internally.

How many company employees would write internal memos saying that, say, Steve Ballmer doesn’t get something? Or how many would have dared to offer such comments toward Steve Jobs? (By the way, in his original post, Yegge bemoaned the fact that Google had no Steve Jobs.)

Yegge explained today (at 3:03 a.m.) that Google’s PR people are entirely on his side.

“I contacted our internal PR folks and asked what to do, and they were also nice and supportive. But they didn’t want me to think that they were even hinting at censoring me — they went out of their way to help me understand that we’re an opinionated company, and not one of the kinds of companies that censors their employees,” he wrote on Google+.

Perhaps the most searing revelation of all, though, comes in Yegge’s post this morning. The tone is still one of unabashed honesty.

“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.”

Well, perhaps. Or perhaps Yegge’s vantage point is an extremely good one from which to observe some of the shortcomings of this peculiarly bright, but peculiarly myopic, left-brained company.

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