Google Plus Technical Lead Answers Questions from Users

Google is betting big and risking a lot on its latest social network, Google Plus. According to unconfirmed and fairly imaginative estimations by Paul Allen, Plus might have already crossed ten million users, but Google has been carefully controlling the number of people allowed in. Google Plus is currently in field-testing phase (beta phase). However, Google is actually taking the field-testing bit seriously. Learning from the mistakes committed with Wave and Buzz, Google has been iterating rapidly. Within just three weeks of launch, Google has tweaked several minor aspects of the product, such as gender visibility, with bigger changes in the pipe. We have seen everyone from Engineering SVP Vic Gundotra to general Google Plus developers collecting feedback by engaging with the users. In another such attempt, Joseph Smarr, the technical lead on Google Plus, created a “Ask me anything” thread on AnyAsq. He has already answered hundreds of queries, and is not yet done. Some of the more interesting revelations are:


  • Google+ uses Java servlets for its server code and JavaScript for the browser-side of the UI, largely built with the (open-source) Closure framework, including Closure’s JavaScript compiler and template system.
    Our backends are built mostly on top of BigTable and Colossus/GFS, and we use a lot of other common Google technologies such as MapReduce (again, like many other Google apps do).
  • Smarter ranking/collapsing/filtering in the stream and notifications, integration with more Google products (e.g. an easy way to share articles from Google Reader to G+), and an API are things that Smarr wants to see soon in Google Plus.
  • While discussing the significance of the ability to add non-Google+ users to your circles he said, Personally, I think it’s a crucial feature to empower targeted sharing, esp. in the early days of the product when many of the people you want to share with aren’t yet using Google+ or checking it regularly. After all, a lot of “targeted sharing” happens over email today.
  • Smarr believes that while he is personally happy with the core circles/sharing/etc model, there’s just a lot to do in terms of UI tweaks, making the stream and notifications smarter, improving new-user sign up, and so on.
  • No Google+ integration with Google Calendar or Docs is currently planned. The Plus team isn’t reusing any code from Wave.
  • Multiple Google Account integration with a single Plus profile is something Smarr has been lobbying for internally.
  • Searching and Tagging are also being actively discussed internally.
  • It should be possible in the future to create circles from your Gmail contact groups.
  • Currently Google isn’t sure about what to do with Buzz, but for now, it will continue to exist as an independent product.
  • By Google’s standards, the Google Plus team is surprisingly small.
  • While answering several questions on the development process and engineering behind Google Plus, Smarr shared a few interesting tidbits.
    • “We built and re-built many aspects of the UI many times based on user studies and dogfood feedback. And of course we’re “standing on the shoulders of giants” in many ways, learning both from our previous social products and the industry at large. For instance, Andy Hertzfeld was working on a prototype “next-generation contact manager” before Google+ got started, and many of the ideas in that prototype formed the core of the “circle editor” UI we shipped, but we made numerous changes and revisions to the UI along the way, and we’re clearly going to need to keep doing that going forward (for all aspects of the product).”
    • “We put extra emphasis on engineering speed/agility–we try to release code updates on a daily basis while still keeping quality/stability/latency as high as you’d expect from google.”
    • “Trading off consistency vs. availability is always challenging, and even more so in social applications where your actions affect other users, often in other data centers.”
    • “Also, pretty much everything about hangouts is technically challenging. I don’t know much about the details; I just know those guys are wicked smart. :)”

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Pallab De

Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .