Simon Willison’s Weblog

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Design Docs at Google. Useful description of the format used for software design docs at Google—informal documents of between 3 and 20 pages that outline the proposed design of a new project, discuss trade-offs that were considered and solicit feedback before the code starts to be written. # 7th August 2020, 4:31 pm

The unofficial Google Cloud Run FAQ. This is really useful: a no-fluff, content rich explanation of Google Cloud Run hosted as a GitHub repo that actively accepts pull requests from the community. It’s maintained by Ahmet Alp Balkan, a Cloud Run engineer who states “Googlers: If you find this repo useful, you should recognize the work internally, as I actively fight for alternative forms of content like this”. One of the hardest parts of working with AWS and GCP is digging through the marketing materials to figure out what the product actually does, so the more alternative forms of documentation like this the better. # 22nd July 2020, 5:20 pm

Why Google invested in providing Google Fonts for free. Fascinating comment from former Google Fonts team member Raph Levien. In short: text rendered as PNGs hurt a Google Search, fonts were a delay in the transition from Flash, Google Docs needed them to better compete with Office and anything that helps create better ads is easy to find funding for. # 23rd February 2020, 2:13 pm

Portable Cloud Functions with the Python Functions Framework (via) The new functions-framework library on PyPI lets you run Google Cloud Functions written in Python in other environments—on your local developer machine or bundled in a Docker container for example. I have real trouble trusting serverless platforms that lock you into a single provider (AWS Lambda makes me very uncomfortable) so this is a breath of fresh air. # 10th January 2020, 4:58 am

In general, reviewers should favor approving a CL [code review] once it is in a state where it definitely improves the overall code health of the system being worked on, even if the CL isn’t perfect.

Google Standard of Code Review # 28th November 2019, 5:40 am

Cloud Run Button: Click-to-deploy your git repos to Google Cloud (via) Google Cloud Run now has its own version of the Heroku deploy button: you can add a button to a GitHub repository which, when clicked, will provide an interface for deploying your repo to the user’s own Google Cloud account using Cloud Run. # 4th November 2019, 4:57 am

Evolving “nofollow” – new ways to identify the nature of links (via) Slightly confusing announcement from Google: they’re introducing rel=ugc and rel=sponsored in addition to rel=nofollow, and will be treating all three values as “hints” for their indexing system. They’re very unclear as to what the concrete effects of these hints will be, presumably because they will become part of the secret sauce of their ranking algorithm. # 10th September 2019, 9:16 pm

Discussion about Altavista on Hacker News. Fascinating thread on Hacker News where Bryant Durrell, a former Director from Altavista provides some insider thoughts on how they lost against Google. # 16th February 2019, 6:57 pm

The Friendship That Made Google Huge. The New Yorker profiles Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat, Google’s first and only level 11 Senior Fellows. This is some of the best writing on complex software engineering topics (map-reduce, Tensor Flow and the like) aimed at a general audience that I’ve ever seen. Also a very compelling case study in pair programming. # 31st December 2018, 3:56 am

Tech Notes: TypeScript at Google (via) In which Evan Martin provides some fascinating colour on the state of JavaScript tooling within Google, which has some unique challenges given that Gmail is 14 years old now and Google have evolved their own internal JavaScript stack which differs widely from the rest of the industry (mainly because it predates most of the successful open source tools). “Which leads me to the middle path, which my little team has been pursuing: incrementally adopt some external tooling where it makes sense, by figuring out how to make it interoperate with our existing code base.” # 2nd September 2018, 7:08 pm

Googlebot’s Javascript random() function is deterministic. random() as executed by Googlebot returns the same predicable sequence. More interestingly, Googlebot runs a much faster timer for setTimeout and setInterval—as Tom Anthony points out, “Why actually wait 5 seconds when you are a bot?” # 7th February 2018, 2:41 am

Cloud SQL for PostgreSQL adds high availability and replication. Google Cloud Platform now offers PostgreSQL with automatic asynchronous disk-level replication to a separate instance in a different availability zone, via their new “Regional Disks“ feature. Between this, Heroku, Citus and Amazon RDS the appeal of a self-maintained PostgreSQL instance continues to fall. # 7th November 2017, 1:49 pm

Oxford Deep NLP 2017 course (via) Slides, course description and links to lecture videos for the 2017 Deep Natural Language Processing course at the University of Oxford presented by a team from Google DeepMind. # 31st October 2017, 8:39 pm

The Xi Text Engine CRDT (via) Xi is “a modern editor with a backend written in Rust”—an open-source text editor project from Google built on some very interesting computer science (Conflict-free Replicated Data Types). It’s a native editor with server-backed synchronization as a first-class concept. # 13th October 2017, 10:32 pm

Facets. New open source visualization and data exploration tool from Google (“Disclaimer: This is not an official Google product”, whatever that means). It’s intended for visualizing machine learning datasets but it’s obviously useful outside of ML as well—any time you need to understand a large dataset this looks like it could be extremely useful. Ships with example jupyter notebooks and an easy mechanism for embedding the Facets interactive UI directly inside a notebook cell. # 8th October 2017, 12:21 am

Aside from Google I/O, does Google organize any other conferences?

They run a whole bunch, but many of them aren’t widely advertised—they have a lot of invite-only events for customers of their advertising tools, for example, and there are things like the Google Analytics Summit.

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Why doesn’t Google use their resources to improve coding languages?

Google invest vast resources in to language improvements, and have been doing so for over a decade now. Just off the top of my head...

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What computers do Google engineers use when doing heavy programming?

Loads of people at Google use Macs. Google as a company is way too smart to stop using a good product just because it is produced by a competitor.

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What’s it like being an attendee at Google I/O?

It’s a fantastic opportunity to spend quality time with the Google employees who built the APIs you build software on top of—the core Android team, the Google Maps people, the Chrome engineers etc. it’s kind of like Apple’s WWDC in that regard—short of going to work for Google there is no better way to meet and interrogate that many expert Google engineers in one place.

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Can I pitch my app idea to google?

You could pitch it to Google Ventures, but you’ll need a lot more than just the idea.

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What has Google given out at I/O in the past years?

I/O 2013 was a Chromebook Pixel (with or without LTE) and 1 terabyte of Google Drive space for three years.

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Is GitHub looking to be acquired?

Raising $100 million at a rumoured valuation of $750 million is not the action of a company that wants to be acquired. http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/09...

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How can I sort a huge amount of numbers?

Sorting large amounts of data is one of the first exercises you’ll see described in any Hadoop or map/reduce tutorial—so I’d suggest taking a look at Hadoop.

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If you missed out on joining to work at Google and Facebook, what should you do?

Remind yourself that there will always be more opportunities, and obsessing over what might have been is a huge waste of your time.

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Why does Google use “Allow” in robots.txt, when the standard seems to be “Disallow?”

The Disallow command prevents search engines from crawling your site.

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Why is Google indexing & displaying www1 versions of my site and how might I stop this?

You should stop serving your site to the public on multiple subdomains. Configure your site to serve a 301 permanent redirect from www1-www4 to the equivalent page on www—also, make sure that your site accessed without the www redirects to the right place as well.

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What platform was YouTube using before they were acquired by Google?

It was written in Python—I don’t think they used any particular framework (they started the site in 2005).

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Does Google (company) have their own Audio Visual department for their large conferences, or do they contract another company?

I believe it’s their own in-house team—when we ran the first DjangoCon at Google’s Mountain View HQ a few years ago I understood that the video team were their own (the same team that records their internal Google Tech Talks). It might be an external company that they contract in, but it felt like they were permanent staff.

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We Need to Stop Google’s Exploitation of Open Communities. Mikel Maron from OpenStreetMap is justifiably angry about Google MapMaker, which copies OpenStreetMap’s model of crowdsourcing geographic data (even copying the OSM idea of Mapping Parties) but keeps the data under a much more restrictive license, and uses the Google brand to market itself to African governments. # 22nd April 2011, 10 am

Why Facebook open-sourced its datacenters. Jon Stokes speculates that Facebook plan to use open source hardware to compete with Google at datacenter efficiency . This isn’t a new pattern. Years ago when I worked at Yahoo! I was furiously jealous of the secret sauce technologies that allowed Google to build big applications faster than anyone else, such as BigTable and map/reduce. Today, the open source world has created better, free alternatives—sponsored in part by Facebook, Yahoo! and other Google competitors. # 9th April 2011, 7:54 am