The Google+ Rant
Reflecting on the viral blog post on its ten-year anniversary.
The Facebook Papers are providing interesting, important, and not altogether surprising revelations about the inner workings and thoughts of the teams at Facebook. And the entire story has had me thinking about another unintentional release of internal content that happened to Google almost exactly 10 years ago this month, that of Steve Yegge and his posting on Google+, which has become known as the Google Plus Rant.
In October of 2011, a Google engineer named Steve Yegge posted a 3,700-word essay to his fellow Google employees about that compares and contrasts the product directions of his former employer, Amazon, with his current experience at Google. The essay covered a lot of territory in that amount of works, including areas of hiring, management, platforms, prioritizations, and some frank criticisms on tech culture at these companies. But it was posted internally, as a thought piece for fellow Googlers.
At least, Yegge meant to post it internally. What happened instead is that he accidentally posted it to his over 2,000 Google+ followers — many outside of Google's walled garden.
In many ways, what was even more interesting at the time was that Yegge was "allowed" to keep his viral rant up on Google+, and he even goes into a little more background with his follow-up post.
A Tech Nerd Cult Classic
The story at the time barely registered as a blip on the mainstream media radar, though it was notable for being so forthright in its tone.
But it reverberated with the broader technology industry as it exposed the inner dimensions and distinctions among two large organizations battling it out in similar landscapes, Google and Amazon, when (as now), the inner-workings of these companies were as veiled in secrecy as upcoming Apple product announcements.
The rant was so interesting because it's refreshingly well-written. It does an excellent job of providing context for the environments that he describes, and of the human management decisions and the people behind those decisions in the first place.
For example, we get to hear about Amazon's flawed hiring practices, the obsessive micro-management of Jeff Bezos, perks of employment, and some tech hot takes on things like versioning libraries and databases. But when you read it, you'll realize that it's a lot of shade throw. all over the place too. It can read more like a show bible for Succession or The Thick of It, than a LinkedIn tech opinion post.
He has special criticisms for Google, in peeling back the necessity to understand platforms and managing them in the first place — going out of his way to highlight the success of Facebook's plan of building "an entire constellation of products by letting other people to do the work.”.
One Word: Platforms
After discussing his experiences at Amazon to a now-Google team, Yegge's central point is about the value of Amazon's approach when it comes to platforms and systems — one that should be adopted by Google.
Essentially, Yegge gives a brief synopsis of the internal decision-making that eventually led to Amazon Web Services, or AWS, which runs a large chunk of the entire Internet. The effort began with an internal mandate that all teams had to develop interoperable systems to communicate with one another. And then communication through those systems would be mandatory and enforced. In other words, they had to eat their own dog food for these internal systems and made sure they worked.
It gets a little technical here, but the key takeaway is that everything was forced to be built from the ground up to be as universal and interoperable as possible. While this surely caused much consternation for many teams, it also had the benefit of forcing all systems to be much more secure, scalable, and efficient. And it also provided the building blocks for building a company that does $46B in a single year.
The Ever-Presence of the Rant
Over the last decade, I've worked on a number of technology teams and companies working to transform their own digital products and services. I keep coming back to this rant as a blueprint of sorts on the value of understanding how your technology fits together. For example, "the Golden Rule of Platforms, "Eat Your Own Dogfood", can be rephrased as "Start with a Platform, and Then Use it for Everything." You can't just bolt it on later."
There are many organizations, who while not blessed with the resources at Amazon's disposal, could benefit from the high-level strategy and process inherent in the rant.
I still consider this a must-read for anyone working in the tech sector, particularly if you're working on platforms, systems, and company strategy.
It's actually amazing how ten years on, so much of this continues to be as immediately relevant today.
The feather in the cap, of course, is the fact that Google+ was officially shut down in 2019. The original rant is hosted on GitHub and the Wayback Machine now.
As for Yegge, he's no longer at Google, having left in 2019 to focus on developing video games. It's a fitting coda, you could say.