10 Things I Didn’t Know About Google
Interesting stuff that didn't fit into our big cover story. By Harry McCracken @harrymccrackenSept. 21, 201329 Comments
For this week‟s TIME cover story on Google‟s “moon shot” projects — including Calico, a
new company that will research ways to extend human life — I spent a big chunk of time
hanging out at the company‟s Googleplex headquarters talking to Googlers, including co-founder and CEO Larry Page. I‟d visited Google often in the past, but never saw so
much or spoke to so many people in different parts of the organization. Much of what I learned made its way into the article. But I was also left with lots of interesting tidbits that didn‟t get mentioned, either for lack of space or because they
didn‟t quite fit the scope of the story, which I co-wrote with colleague Lev Grossman.
Here are ten of them that I think are worth sharing:
1. When Google was a startup, it had to change its phone number. Page told me
a good anecdote about early Google history, with a moral about the power of the web: We were in a small office on University Ave. in Palo Alto and we had maybe less than 30 people there, or something like that. And we already had millions of users. We’d accidentally published our phone number on our website, and our phone number was just unusable. We had to get a new one then, because people just started calling us.
And there’s only 30 of us. We couldn’t even answer the phone for millions of people. But we could run a website. And I think that shows you the incredible multiplication factors you can get with technology. You can easily run a website for millions of people with a small group. But you can’t run a phone number with that many people.
2. Google is a bicyclist’s paradise. The main Googleplex campus in Mountain View,
California, is quite large. It‟s surrounded by other other buildings that also house various parts of the company. And the most convenient way to get around is by pedaling — using
one of more than a thousand one-speed bikes, painted in the signature colors from Google‟s logo.
I rode the bikes myself to get from appointment to appointment while doing research for the story. (And was informed at one point by a passing Google employee that visitors aren‟t supposed to use them — oops.) They‟re beefy one-speeds that remind me of the
Schwinn I had when I was eight, and aren‟t always in tip-top condition: If you see one
with the seat removed and sitting in the handlebar basket, it means that a Googler is telling the bike-maintenance crew that the bike in question needs repair. I also drove my car around the sizable area of Mountain View dominated by Google facilities, and discovered that you need to proceed with caution: The roads are swarming with Googlers on bikes. None of them are wearing helmets, and at least some aren‟t into hand signals. It reminded me a bit of when I worked in an office park and needed to be careful about the geese who tended to wander out into the road.
3. Google holds a famous weekly meeting called TGIF on…Thursdays. It‟s an
all-hands event hosted by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and multiple Googlers brought it up as an important part of the company‟s culture. As its name suggests, it was long a Friday tradition, but it recently moved to Thursdays. Why? So staffers in Asia can attend during the work week.
4. At the Googleplex, snacks are strategically placed. They‟re everywhere, of
course. But the easier they are to reach, the more likely they are to be semi-healthy items such as granola bars. The out-and-out junk food, like candy, is on low shelves that require you to bend down, making it at least slightly less likely that you‟ll be tempted.
5. Google has an amazing restaurant named after a legendary Japanese
cartoon character. It‟s called Tetsuwan Atom, and it‟s a sprawling cafeteria with sushi
and other Japanese food. You may know Tetsuwan Atom, who was created by Osamu Tezuka — Japan‟s Walt Disney — better as Astro Boy. His image is everywhere in the
Calling the place a cafeteria is misleading, though: It‟s pretty swanky. I conducted one of my interviews in one of its tatami rooms, where we were all required to remove our shoes.
Harry McCracken / TIME
6. The Androids have taken over. I‟ve long known that Google marks the launch of
new versions of Android by commissioning and erecting a giant statue. But I somehow wasn‟t aware that all the statues are still there, from golden oldies such as Cupcake and Froyo to KitKat, which references the version whose name was announced the day before I snapped the photo to the right.
The statues loom in front of a Google building on Charlestown Road in Mountain View —
and are visible from the street, so you don‟t need to enter the Googleplex to enjoy them. They‟re worth a visit if you happen to be in the neighborhood.
7. It can be harder to do stuff that’s obviously adjacent to core Google
businesses than stuff that has nothing to do with them. One thing I heard from
multiple Googlers — including one ex-Googler I spoke with as a reality check — is that the
company is working a lot harder than it once did to impose consistency across its major products, and that it‟s a time-consuming challenge.
Eventually, Larry Page himself told me the same thing, and I think he had an interesting take on the matter:
In our core services — Gmail, Google+ and Search and Android and all these things — we do
want them to work pretty well together. You don’t want to have 25 different ways to share something or 18 different ways to have a photo of yourself, things like that. There’s some integration to do, which is difficult work. Really thinking about these products and how they interact. Making them work well and allowing us to innovate…that’s a conversation that can’t have infinite scale. I spend a lot of time doing that, my team spends a lot of time on that. On the other hand, I think there’s things we do that don’t require a lot of integration currently. Project Loon [Google's project to deliver broadband by balloon] doesn’t require a lot of
integration right now. The key thing is to have the right mix of projects and to think about “maybe I can take on more projects.”
It’s kind of counter-intuitive, but maybe you can actually do more projects that are less related to each other. Normally in a business, you think about, “What’s the adjacent thing that I can
do,” because that’s where you must have experts.
8. Sundar Pichai interviewed at Google on April 1st, 2004. The man who would
eventually run two of Google‟s most important businesses — Android and Chrome —
happened to be interviewing for a job there on the day that it announced Gmail. The e-mail service claimed to offer an almost literally unbelievable 1GB of storage, 500 times Hotmail‟s quota at the time, and it wasn‟t immediately clear that it wasn‟t a prank. “I remember people asking me about Gmail — „What do you think of it?‟ I had no idea if was
an April Fool‟s joke, or if it was real,” he told me.
9. Google loves to videoconference. High-quality, big-screen videoconferencing is
one of the company‟s primary collaborative tools. I conducted my interview with
YouTube‟s Robert Kyncl that way — me in a conference room in Mountain View, him
somewhere else unknown to me. (He might have simply been elsewhere on the campus: Googlers often attend meetings by video simply to save the time it would take to get from one part of the Googleplex to another.)
10. Twenty percent time isn’t dead, but it was never what some people
thought it was. Last month, Christopher Mims of Quartz wrote about “20 percent
time,” Google‟s famous perk that encourages employees to spend work hours on personal projects — some of which have gone on to become enormous deals, such as Gmail and AdSense. Mims declared that it was “as good as dead.” That seemed to lead to more than a few outsiders to think that 20 percent time was officially a thing of the past. And indeed, when I asked YouTube‟s Kyncl about it, he said that “I have not seen 20 percent time lately, but what I‟ve seen is people passionate about certain things. They simply develop them. We run incredibly fast. There‟s been less time for 20 percent.”
But then I talked about 20 percent time with Laszlo Bock, Google‟s senior vice president of people operations, who told me that 20 percent time is a philosophy more than a well-regulated, universal human-resources benefit: ”The awful secret of 20 percent time
is that there‟s never been a formal „Everybody gets 20 percent time.‟”
“It‟s funny,” he said, “even internally some people, particularly as we‟ve been hiring in the past few years, have come in and said „Where is it written in the handbook that I get eight hours a week, and da da da.‟ And it‟s just never, ever worked that way.”
Bock told me that it‟s been Google‟s engineering-related functions where 20 percent time
has been a tradition, and that it lives on, even though it doesn‟t involve 20 percent of time being formally set aside for personal experiments. Google Now, for instance — one of the
best things the company has introduced in the last couple of years — began as a 20
percent project by a couple of Googlers. Now it‟s on both Android and iOS, and is a significant component of the company‟s official vision of the future of search.
Hillary Clinton ‘Pragmatic and Realistic’ on Presidential Run
Hillary Clinton wrestles with the decision to run for president and is not in a hurry to announce her plans anytime soon, according to an interview in New York magazine
By Andy MeekSept. 22, 20134 Comments
Matt Rourke / AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauds delegates during the "Women in Public Service Project" leadership symposium, at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., in this July 9, 2013 file photo.
Hillary Clinton wrestles with the decision to run for the presidency and is not in a hurry to announce her plans anytime soon.
Those are just some of the takeaways in New York magazine‟s substantial profile of the
former Secretary of State, online today, which represents her first extended interview since stepping down from her post at the State Department.
“I‟m both pragmatic and realistic,” she said when asked about a presidential run. “I think I have a pretty good idea of the political and governmental challenges that are facing our leaders, and I‟ll do whatever I can from whatever position I find myself in to advocate for
the values and the policies I think are right for the country. I will just continue to weigh what the factors are that would influence me making a decision one way or the other.”
We also learn in the piece that Hillary and former President Bill Clinton are finding joy at the moment in the simple pleasures of everyday life. For the first time in decades, neither Clinton holds an elected office or is campaigning for one, the New York piece reminds us.
Both are currently working at the nonprofit now known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, which holds its annual conference in New York next week. “We get to be at home together a lot more now than we used to in the last few years,” the former secretary of state told the magazine. “We have a great time; we laugh at our dogs; we watch stupid movies; we take long walks; we go for a swim.”
The influence of the Clinton‟s daughter Chelsea is growing as well, with Hillary telling the magazine that their daughter “is now the chief Bill Clinton gatekeeper.” She‟s even assisting with upcoming HBO documentary about the former president, directed by Martin Scorsese.
German Cliffhanger: Merkel Wins Big But Everyone Could Lose
In Germany's election, the voters have spoken. We just don't yet know exactly what they've said
By Catherine Mayer @catherine_mayerSept. 22, 20132 Comments
The voters have spoken. We just don‟t yet know exactly what they‟ve said. Exit polls and the evidence of the first results in Germany„s national parliamentary elections suggest
that two-term Chancellor Angela Merkel has won a significant victory, perhaps even a
truly historic one. Some projections suggest her conservative Christian Democratic Union and its sister party, the Christian Social Union, are on course for an overall majority, the first time since 1957 that Germans have given their mandate to a single party or bloc. And even if the final tally thwarts a Merkel miracle, it‟s clear that voters have given her a
resounding endorsement. They want Merkel to lead the country, as she has done for almost eight years. But they don‟t want her government back.
Her coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), have also notched up a potentially historic result: they may fail to reach the 5% threshold needed to enter the German parliament, the Bundestag. Rainer Brüderle, the party‟s lead candidate in the elections, described the result as a “dark hour” for his party, but the FDP‟s nightmare will almost certainly last a lot longer than an hour. The Greens, now touted as a possible alternative coalition partner for Merkel, have also performed below expectations, polling something over 8% of the vote. The leftwing splinter party, die Linke, the Left, seems to have done a bit better, but is unlikely to be invited to join a coalition. Like the Alternative für Deutschland, the Alternative for Germany, a euroskeptic party that on its first national outing appears to have outpolled the FDP, die Linke‟s biggest impact will have been to
take votes away from bigger parties.
The most likely outcome remains a grand coalition of Merkel‟s CDU/CSU and her largest rivals, the Social Democrats, SPD. Merkel helmed a grand coalition in her first term in which Peer Steinbrück, her main challenger for the role of Chancellor, served as Finance Minister. He has ruled out a return to government in a new grand coalition but that doesn‟t mean his colleagues will refuse an invitation to negotiate. Speaking after polls closed, Merkel indicated she wouldn‟t try to run a minority government if her bloc failed
to secure an outright win. At this stage in what looks set to be a long night, the smart euros must be on another grand coalition.
But Germany‟s intricate voting system, which seeks to make every vote count by creating
extra parliamentary seats over and above the 598 notional total of Bundestag members, could yet deliver shocks and surprises. The last parliament ended up with 22 extra seats or “overhang mandates.”
And it‟s too early to tell if Merkel may actually have squeaked a majority of one or two
seats. If she has, that might be the toughest result for her and the least satisfactory for everyone looking to Germany for leadership as the eurozone staggers from one crisis to
the next. A narrow victory, leaving Merkel in thrall to the machinations of party colleagues and damaging her ability to take tough decisions, could make us all losers.