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How Google+ is built

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If you’re curious about all things Google+, you’re in luck. The project’s technical lead, Google (s GOOG) engineer Joseph Smarr, is currently hosting an online question and answer session about the service — and he has already shared a number of details about Google+’s development, technology, and plans for the future.

On Monday, Smarr opened himself up for questions on Q&A website, a Y-Combinator-backed site reminiscent of where users can invite others to “ask me anything.” People sign in to post questions on AnyAsq through their Twitter accounts, but a host’s responses can be longer than 140 characters.

Smarr has already answered 270 queries, and as of press time, his AnyAsq page is still open for questions. Here’s some of what he has revealed so far:

  • Google+ fast tracked its development from the start
    “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.”
  • New features are absolutely on the way
    “…Personally I’m eager for many of the features other Google+ users have asked for recently: smarter ranking/collapsing/filtering in the stream and notifications… integration with more Google products… and an API so I can start hacking on cool uses of circles, etc.”
  • Hashtags are on Google+’s radar
    In response to a question about adding hashtags to help filter Google+ posts, Smarr responded: “Personally, I want this too.”
  • There was some fancy footwork on the programming front
    “A couple nifty tricks we do: we use the HTML5 History API to maintain pretty-looking URLs even though it’s an AJAX app (falling back on hash-fragments for older browsers); and we often render our Closure templates server-side so the page renders before any JavaScript is loaded, then the JavaScript finds the right DOM nodes and hooks up event handlers, etc. to make it responsive.”

Although none of Smarr’s responses have been shockingly revealing, the AnyAsq activity is just the latest example of how Google has worked hard to project an air of openness throughout the entire Google+ launch. Where the now-defunct Google Wave was developed with an air of secrecy that ultimately confused users as to its purpose, Google’s strategy with the Plus project has been one of transparency and agility — a “done is better than perfect” attitude. So far, it’s been a refreshing approach. The challenge for the future will be maintaining that flexibility as Google+ grows.

48 Responses to “How Google+ is built”

  1. Ian D. Samson

    I want Google to guarantee that Google+ data will not be indexed and made available world-wide for anyone to search on and find; it goes to individual preference and PRIVACY!

  2. Erik Poortvliet

    Himanshu. Thank you for the invite. I’ve seen these circles before. Don’t remember the name of the application anymore.

    Before I can use it on my phone, I’ll have to charge it. Woke up this morning with a flat battery. ;-)

  3. So, is the backend primarily written in Python, Java, or C++? What database engine do they use, MySQL? What operating system, Linux (what distro)? What about the web server, is it GWS?

  4. I am on Google+. I still need to see Google+ in action. As of now, it looks empty with friends invited and action to come.

    I want to see Venn diagrams (a person in more than one circle). I am really not sure of the purpose of these circles. Once I know, I may change my mind.

  5. Mike Mueller

    Haven’t used it yet, havent gotten an invite (Mueller.Mike) for it yet

    I am interested to see how this all pans out with the circles. Someday someone will map a way to throw them all into a monster Venn Diagram. From what I read otherwise, it looks like FB could be in serious trouble; and as long as it doesn’t change layout and methods on a weekly basis, I do not see any problems in surpassing

  6. Steven

    “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.”

    Latency? Wouldn’t you want that to be really low?

  7. I think Google is right on track in keeping its plans for Google+ open and transparent. Keeping the communication lines open would help Google market the new social networking site better and come up with solutions as the needs arise.

    That being said, Google should continue to focus on the integration and aesthetics, if I may say, of Google+ for it to compete with Facebook. We’ve seen the likes of Wave, Orkut, and others go down unnoticed.

  8. Sherifee

    Agree that the assessment is misleading and in my opinion flawed – that there was secrecy behind google Wave and it was a factor in its failure.
    Google Wave didn’t really give all that compelling reasons to its users to join and not sure Google+ does either. What gaps in facebook is Google trying to address ? and are they compelling enough ?

  9. I see 100 questions (determined by search for word “tweet” which appears with each Q&A pair) and no “next” page. Perhaps the “270” number quoted was the number of times the thread was voted up? Or I’m missing hundreds of Q&A. Either way good stuff! Thanks for the heads up!


  10. Now, if only they could make the desktop site (?fd=1) work on iPad. It displays, but you cannot interract with it The mobile site which comes up with the redirect works but is really awful. Facebook has one up here as their full site works well on iPad. Shame as I like the Google+ desktop site and the product. This just gives me a reason to you use it.

  11. > Google Wave was developed with an air of secrecy that ultimately confused users as to its purpose

    Objection! Not only is the above statement factually incorrect about the ‘air of secrecy’ around Google Wave development, it is also quite misleading in its assertion that such alleged secrecy led to the confusion in users to its purpose. EXTREMELY disappointed to read this statement on Gigaom!

    • Colleen Taylor

      Thanks for the feedback A S.

      In my opinion, Google did not provide as much straightforward information about Wave as they have about other products. Wave’s marketing strategy seemed to rely partly on using mystery (aka, secrecy) to build hype. For now, Google+ seems to be taking a different tack.

      Happy to hear more of your opinion, though.

      • I’d have to agree with A S on this. With Wave, Google published the Google Wave Federation Protocol and even open sourced significant portions of their implementation of the Wave servers. It doesn’t get any more open than that.

        Google+ has had a much more public launch yet the APIs are not ready.