Monday, September 26, 2005

BusinessWeek series on Google

BusinessWeek is running a series of articles on Google, "The Mind of Google's Resident Muse", "Managing Google's Idea Factory" (plus don't miss the related graphic on innovation), and "Google's Search for Simplicity".

The articles focus most of their time on Google's Marissa Mayer, innovation, and managing Google's rapid growth.

First, some excerpts on innovation:
One of the key reasons for Google's success is a belief that good ideas can, and should, come from anywhere. Page and Brin insist that all engineers in the company have one day a week to work on their own pet projects. An ideas mailing list is open to anyone at Google who wants to post a proposal.

What Mayer does is help figure out how to make sure good ideas bubble to the surface and get the attention they need. The task is becoming more complex as Google grows.

At times, [Google's ideas mailing list] more resembles a form of techie Darwinism. Google newcomers who proffer an especially obvious suggestion ("Why don't we search blogs?"), or something off-topic like how to arrange the cafeteria tables, often suffer withering rebukes.

It's all part of a culture not for the faint of heart. Google oozes with what one ex-employee calls "geek machismo." Intellectual sparring can get heated.

What Mayer thinks will be essential for continued innovation is for Google to keep its sense of fearlessness. "I like to launch [products] early and often. That has become my mantra," she says.
This sounds about right. To innovate, you have to let ideas come from everywhere. Let a thousand flowers bloom. However, time is finite. You have to be ruthless, cutting many projects off early, focusing your efforts on the most promising, building on the most successful, iterating and learning as you go.

The articles also say that Google is seeing organizational growth problems not unlike what I talked about over a year ago in "Kill Google, Vol. 1". Marissa Mayer clearly realizes how serious these problems are and appears to be devoting much effort to them:
Some formulas that spawned great ideas with several dozen engineers simply collapse when applied to several hundred, or even thousands of techies. Moreover, indoctrinating a large number of employees with the same sense of opportunity and ethos is a challenge. "As we grow, scale is an issue," she concedes.

Some of the strain is beginning to show .... Without ample guidance or support, some engineers can end up feeling lost in Google's sea of techies. "Things have gotten unwieldy over there," says a former Google engineer.

As Google's ranks swell, convincing techies that they can have just as big of an impact will take work. "It's hard to imagine what it would be like to walk in and start at Google today," Mayer says. "How can you convey that sense of empowerment?"

Google is redoubling its commitment to very small teams. Usually, groups of three engineers will work on even some of the most important projects at the company. By keeping team sizes small -- and teams often share the same office -- Google aims to maintain its nimbleness.
Finally, a tidbit from one of the articles on personalized search at Google:
One of the final groups marches in to discuss a personalized search product. Many pundits describe personalization as the Holy Grail in search. An engine that knows your preferences and interests intimately could tailor the information delivered to improve results. Google has been offering rudimentary personalization for a year, but more is expected in the future.
While MSN and Yahoo talk ([1] [2] [3] [4] [5]) about personalized search, Google is busy delivering it with more to come soon.

Update: Also don't miss this NYT article on Google's internal predictive markets (which appear to be similar to the Iowa Electronic Markets). The teaser for this article on the front page of the NYT business section was "$10 for World Domination". Heh, heh.

1 comment:

Elroy Jetson said...

I like the ideas Google have come up with. Obviously the star of the show is their mapping product. The problem with the approach they are taking has to do with the very fact that they believe that they are offering "products", but everything they have, outside of their ad offering, are really more aptly called "give aways".

I am excited about the personalized searching, but I am cautious to wait and see if it ever makes it to a non-beta state.