Google Doesn't Get Platforms. What Doesn't Your Company Get?
In an all-too-keen instance of corporate irony, a Google employee this week sent what was meant to be an internal “memo” to his coworkers – right on up to Larry and Sergey – through Google+, and made the post 100% public by mistake. Whoops! At least when you accidentally “reply all,” your message is confined to the people in the original email list, right?
The engineer, Steve Yegge, has since deleted the post, but Danny Sullivan reproduces most if not all of the memo in a post on Search Engine Land. (The whole thing is interesting and I encourage you to read it.) The message, framed as a “family intervention,” is intended as a wake-up call for the powers that be at Google, alerting them that they’re missing something big: namely, they don’t get platforms:
That one last thing that Google doesn’t do well is Platforms. We don’t understand platforms. We don’t “get” platforms. Some of you do, but you are the minority. This has become painfully clear to me over the past six years.
Yegge says “one last thing that Google doesn’t do well” because on the whole, he thinks Google is doing things right – for example, treating employees well and fostering the kind of open environment where an engineer can send a critical memo to the whole company world and not get fired. However, he believes that this blind spot around platformism could severely hamper Google’s success as a company, if they don’t address it and quickly:
The problem we face is pretty huge, because 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. This means that the “not getting it” is endemic across the company: the PMs don’t get it, the engineers don’t get it, the product teams don’t get it, nobody gets it. Even if individuals do, even if YOU do, it doesn’t matter one bit unless we’re treating it as an all-hands-on-deck emergency. 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.
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. Certainly not easily at any rate — ask anyone who worked on platformizing MS Office. Or anyone who worked on platformizing Amazon. If you delay it, it’ll be ten times as much work as just doing it correctly up front. You can’t cheat. You can’t have secret back doors for internal apps to get special priority access, not for ANY reason. You need to solve the hard problems up front.
I’m not saying it’s too late for us, but the longer we wait, the closer we get to being Too Late.
One could – if one was a Google hater – misconstrue this message as evidence of Google sucking as a company, being doomed to fail. But that would be the wrong way to read it. Yegge isn’t saying that Google is clueless and the rest of the big five (Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon) are not. He’s saying that this is one really important thing that they understand and Google still doesn’t.
However, there are major things that the other companies don’t get either. For starters:
- Facebook doesn’t get privacy, even though that’s what they built their business on.
- Microsoft doesn’t really get consumers as customers, though it gets corporations as customers (especially a kind of bland, one-corporate-culture-fits-all mentality that’s pretty common once companies reach a certain size).
- Amazon, apparently, doesn’t get benefits or internal culture. (Yegge worked there for six years.) That means they're sacrificing the ability to secure top candidates.
What doesn’t Apple get? I’m not sure – Apple annoys the piss out of me but they’ve figured out how to cultivate an extremely devoted fan base who keep repurchasing its overpriced products whether they need new ones or not. So you tell me, what don’t they get? I’m sure there’s something. (They’re often picked on for not being open enough.)
But first, and more importantly, you should ask yourself what your company doesn’t get. Undoubtedly, if you exist at all, there is something you do really well. But what are you missing? What’s the blind spot preventing you from real (or bigger) success?
This is often an easier question to answer if you’re not at the top of the food chain. Sometimes it's hard to see or admit fault when you're the one in charge, so the big guns at your company might need an "intervention" too. Would they listen to you? From where you are, can you do anything about it?
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Have a good weekend!