10% of top Google product features are broken every week. Result of Google culture - Roll out cool features, not focus on quality?

by Hari K. Gottipati

My saga on problems with GMail continue. Despite of the -ve feedback ("GMail is working fine", "GMail is awesome', "Not sure why you are complaining GMail?" etc) to my posts, I continue to see the problems with GMail. I am not alone on the planet, lot of people are in the same boat(You can read the problems with GMail here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). The problems are frequent and particularly when they release new features. Some times I feel that Gmail is rushing to release the features without proper testing. May be they think that it is OK to roll out the features with bugs as it is in beta. Until now it was my guess only, but it turned out to be a fact. Sergey Solyanik who worked on GMail revealed some interesting facts on Google procuts and culture after leaving Google.
In the last year, and slick as it is, there's just too much of it that is regularly broken. It seems like every week 10% of all the features are broken in one or the other browser. And it's a different 10% every week - the old bugs are getting fixed, the new ones introduced. This across Blogger, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, and more.

It seems Google culture is focused on introducing the cool features, not focusing on quality. Does Google think that since it is free for the user to use, quality does not matter? Well, it may be free to use, but Google is making money off of it by placing ads.
The culture part is very important here - you can spend more time fixing bugs, you can introduce processes to improve things, but it is very, very hard to change the culture. And the culture at Google values "coolness" tremendously, and the quality of service not as much. At least in the places where I worked.

Incidentally his journey from Microsoft to Google was not as good as he thought and took U turn back to Microsoft. Also he explained why Microsoft is better than Google to progress in the career.
The Google Manager is a very interesting phenomenon. On one hand, they usually have a LOT of people from different businesses reporting to them, and are perennially very busy.
On the other hand, in my year at Google, I could not figure out what was it they were doing. The better manager that I had collected feedback from my peers and gave it to me. There was no other (observable by me) impact on Google. The worse manager that I had did not do even that, so for me as a manager he was a complete no-op. I asked quite a few other engineers from senior to senior staff levels that had spent far more time at Google than I, and they didn't know either. I am not making this up!
At Microsoft, the role of a manager is far more obvious. A dev lead is responsible for the success of the feature and the health of the feature team. A dev manager is responsible for the success of the product and the culture of the dev team. A PUM is responsible for the success of the business, and interoperation of the three teams that work on the product.

Isn't it bad for a company like Google not focusing on the quality?

Update: Slashdot is also discussing this from a different prospective "Some Developers Leaving Google For Microsoft" and on:
Everything is pretty much run by [engineering] — PMs and testers are conspicuously absent from the process. Google as an organization is not geared — culturally — to delivering enterprise class reliability to its user applications.


2008-06-30 16:52:56
"It seems like" does not mean it's true.

Google is certainly not perfect, but any large organization is going to have management issues. It's not like there are no bad products coming out of Microsoft.

2008-06-30 16:55:10
What's your counter example? Gmail and Google in general might have problems, but I challenge you to find better services than the ones they provide. The price of innovation is is that there's a level of trial and error.

I hate to be on the side of defending the Google behemoth, but I also think your assessment and the single source that you are citing are unfair. Give us some statistics or something to substantiate this argument. Otherwise, you have to expect that people will contest your view.

Erik Wilde
2008-06-30 17:36:53
maybe it's just me, but what does that have to do with XML?
Hari Gottipati
2008-06-30 21:26:34
It may be true or may not be true, I am just citing based on Sergey Solyanik blog post. I am not saying that there are no bad products coming from Microsoft, perhaps Vista is one of them.
Hari Gottipati
2008-06-30 21:49:18
I agree with you on finding better services. No doubt, Google is known for innovation. My only question - why do you worry about rolling new features without stablizing it. To substantiate my argument read:
Slashdot is also discussing this from a different angle. See my update.
Andrew Welch
2008-07-01 02:38:11

The quality of this article is poor, and completely unrelated to XML.

If you don't like the free software you are using - don't use it.

2008-07-01 05:55:54
It's weird. That description of the culture and the comments that follow read like a description of the current US political season. All cool; no quality. And they keep raking in money.

It is generational.

We've been working with a Google product here and lo and behold, the inability to keep it stable with respect to other open software is profound because of feature creep in the Google code. Apparently Google embraces, extends and extinguishes. Hmm? Where have I seen that before?

2008-07-01 20:09:25
Nope. Quality and all the other 'ilities' are mostly irrelevant outside enterprise use. It has been ever since windows 95 proved new features were profitable and performance and stability were irrelevant. M$, Apple, Google all push software out the door before it's ready and let Darwinism sort the faults out. What people complain about gets fixed and what they ignore can be dropped in future releases. Besides, anything in life is worth what you pay for it. How much do users pay for google apps? 3/8ths of jack all?
2008-07-03 11:45:19
It is funny to talk about Google not being interested in stability when it has one of the most redundant computing systems ever created.

Some of the products built on top of that infrastructure may have bugs, but I feel like we are talking about apples and oranges here.

Does the culture at Microsoft lead to more robust and stable offerings? I think we can all find plenty of examples of this not being true not the least of which was the latest service pack that killed AMD machines and caused constant reboots.

It sounds like the Microsoft Engineer left a highly structured organization whose culture ostensibly was about stability (and prides itself on such, despite easily found counter examples) and joined a less structured organization that prides itself on innovation and generally, though not completely, delivers.

2008-07-11 21:51:11
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2008-07-17 05:59:08
oye hari,

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2008-08-06 07:38:59
Deeply sorry to say so Hari but I am using lots of Google's services all at the same time as a daily routine. I rely on Google for a lot of things. I regularly have Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Notebook, iGoogle, Google Translate and a few other services open at the same time.

As my reply to your 2006 post about why 'gmail' was still in beta, I must strain that it all depends on each persons issues. Maybe you've had a bad time with it, maybe it caused you problems in the past, but in the end you've acquired a negative view on it. I have had no problems up to date (except one or two 'oops' message boxes in gmail).

The connection and the browser are all that matters. 2Mbps and Firefox do the trick.