Commentary

Can Google Succeed As A Platform Company?

YeggeGoogle announced a range of storage, cloud, and App Engine services this week that should help it compete with Amazon Web services and Microsoft. The offerings focus on supporting enterprise customers on platforms, such as those that require a server host, or retailers and global advertising agencies that want space to store video clips. But a Googler's post on Google+ questions whether the Mountain View, Calif. company can succeed in supporting platforms.

Building out service means that companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft need to allow third-party developers to build on top of core platforms. Some of Google's engineers fully understand Amazon's and Microsoft's business model. Take Google Engineer Steve Yegge, for example. He's been at Google for about six years, but spent just as many at Amazon, and he understands the importance of moving from a product to a platform company. He says Amazon gets it. Microsoft gets it. Facebook gets it. Google does not.

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"A platform is accessibility," Yegge wrote in a Google+ post on Wednesday. He went on a rant detailing his work experience at Amazon prior to joining Google. The post explains why Google does not understand platforms, calling Google+ "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 didn't intend for his rant to post on Google+ as public, but it did.

The fact that Facebook gets it "really worries me," he wrote. "That's what got me off my lazy butt to write this thing."

The challenge Google faces means turning the product company into a platform company. Yegge tells us it "will take a dramatic cultural change in order for us to start catching up. We don't do internal service-oriented platforms, and we just as equally don't do external ones."

Yegge took the post down, but several full versions continue to float through Google+. Parts describe the platform haphazardly introducing a games section, and how it's important to enable third-party developers to design and build out services.

Googlers not getting it becomes endemic across the company. Even if only some get it, "it doesn't matter one bit unless we're treating it as an all-hands-on-deck emergency," he writes. "We can't keep launching products and pretending we'll turn them into magical beautiful extensible platforms later. We've tried that and it's not working." 

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