06:00 AM

Stuff you didn't know about Google---a report from the 2003 Googleplex Xmas party

by Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher.com

The Google media Christmas party is coming up next Thursday, which should be interesting. I'm not expecting much in terms of Google news items now that it's a public company, but there should be plenty of gossip to pick up from the assembled hacks [Brit. slang for journalists].

At the Xmas party last year, I met Wayne Rosing, VP of Engineering. Mr Rosing is the key to understanding Google: he is the one that built up the bulk of the Google engineering culture. He is a veteran of Apple Computer and Sun Microsystems, and was brought out of semi-retirement by Eric Schmidt, himself a top dog engineer, a former long-time CTO at Sun Microsystems.


Googleplex in Mountain View: Xmas with Larry, Sergey and Wayne Rosing is coming up

I arrived about half-way into the Xmas party. I was in the heart of the Googleplex, which is a familiar place because it was part of a campus built by Silicon Graphics (SGI). (SGI was once the toast of Wall Street and its shares climbed to a huge valuation on huge sales of its graphics workstations to Hollywood movie studios.) Back to the party: the Silicon Valley hack pack was following Sergey and Larry and Eric around, trying to look nonchalant while doing it. Jochen Siegle (from Der Spiegel---the top German magazine) and I happened on Mr. Rosing, who was unrecognized and thus ignored by the celebrity seeking hacks.

Mr. Rosing was happy to chat about a lot of things; and what he said gave me some insight into Google and its culture.

Interesting facts:

Did you know that Google stores a copy of every web page, except images, that it finds while spidering the web? "We put the data on tape and store it," Mr Rosing said. What will you do with it? "We don't know."

. . .

Did you really believe that Google does ALL its magic with just cheap PC servers and algorithms running on Linux? Google's data centers include a lot of the same equipment and software found in traditional IT data centers. For example, Google has a supercomputer based on hundreds of Intel's advanced 64-bit Itanium microprocessors. There are also a lot commercial IT solutions within Google, but vendors are not allowed to talk about it.

. . .

Google does cooperate with law enforcement requests for information on searches. Mr Rosing would not say how often that has occurred.

. . .

Engineers work in teams but he does not control or set their projects. There is no management of the engineers.

. . .

I asked Mr Rosing why Google News doesn't use a few full-time editors to clear out duplicated stories and clean up sometimes poorly aggregated pages. He looked at me as if I was crazy. Why would Google want to use people? Google News is an engineering solution, he said. It's true: Google News was set up as a side project by its top engineer. It's a decent news site and very popular; but it could be a lot better.

The trouble with applying an engineering solution to news aggregation is that you need to know what the answer should look like. Why not use a trained professional? A news editor, or let's call them a "media engineer." Maybe that would make it easier to understand value creation within Google.

The conversation with Mr Rosing was striking because it revealed how Google sees itself. It sees itself as a hard-core engineer culture that has virtually no managerial controls, and yet can toss out beta projects such as Google News for many years to come. That's fine, but Google is a media company isn't it? But no one seems to have told them that.

Google publishes pages of content and sells ads on those pages. That's a very traditional newspaper or magazine business model, except that Google uses machines to harvest and publish the content instead of using editors, reporters, copy editors, etc. Advertising is also harvested by machines, running a simple auction system between advertisers. And the distribution channel is the global computer network of the internet. It's a very efficient business process; but it is a media business process.


Yahoo, for example, clearly thinks of itself as a media company. It is full of media professionals, such as John Marcom from the FT, appointed senior VP of international operations in June last year. Terry Semel, the chief executive, is one of the media industry's top executives (he still lives in SoCal). Take a look at his profile:

Formerly: President, Theatrical Distribution divisions, CBS, and then Walt Disney; 24 years with Warner Bros. in positions including Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer.

Yahoo kicked the engineers aside quite some time ago. Co-founders Jerry Yang (does he still carry the title of "chief yahoo" on his business card?) and David Filo probably still do engineering type stuff; but the business is handled by people who know how to run a large media company.

Yet at Google, there are NO media professionals! They've done well so far, no one would disagree; but can computer engineers grow a media business? This could be Google's Achilles' heel.