It’s the small things at Google that impress

I visited the Googleplex for the third time yesterday. I’m still thinking through what I learned that was different from prior trips. More later (they didn’t have me sign an NDA, so I can share whatever I learned with you, although one conversation with a friend who works there started out with me asking what he was working on and he answered “that’s sorta confidential.” Heheh, Google still does like keeping quiet about what’s coming next). 

But I was even more impressed this visit than last because of the small things that they do on their campus. One is that the lobby in building 41 had these hanging slivers of frosted glass. You’re looking at one of them. On the glass were Google searches that constantly scrolled up (each word is displayed only for a few seconds as it scrolls up). I hear this is a randomly-selected set of searches with “naughty” searches pulled out.

It’s these small things that makes Google cool. Not to mention the organic food market in the courtyard. The snack bars that are every few yards. The cafeteria that has — by far — the best food of any large company I’ve been in, and it’s all free.

But beyond that, every interaction I had with Googlers this time was different than the last time I was on campus. They seemed more humble. More comfortable. More inquisitive. And, when I gave them chances to say “you’re an idiot” they didn’t take it (and I gave them many opportunities). This is a different Google than I was used to. And it’s the small things that I noticed.

One other small thing I noticed? A lot more blog listening behavior. Carl Sjogreen, who runs the Google Calendar team, told me that the first thing he does every morning is do this search on Google’s Blogsearch service: “Google Calendar.” He says he answers everyone’s questions, even if you’re a kid in another country with only four readers.

Bing. Small things. They are gonna prove to be dramatically important over time.

84 thoughts on “It’s the small things at Google that impress

  1. Good point, I felt the same thing on my last visit as well. The company has matured in many ways, I think being held accountable to the stock market may have helped.

  2. Good point, I felt the same thing on my last visit as well. The company has matured in many ways, I think being held accountable to the stock market may have helped.

  3. Al: it works just fine with IE 7 here. It warns you it won’t work, but if you click “cancel” instead of “OK” then it’ll let you into the calendar and it seems to work just fine.

  4. Al: it works just fine with IE 7 here. It warns you it won’t work, but if you click “cancel” instead of “OK” then it’ll let you into the calendar and it seems to work just fine.

  5. I still have my Google visitor pass and pictures of their HDTV that had a visual representation of the volume of searches that were occurring. I couldn’t take a picture of their whiteboards, but reading the notes was awesome. Cool place!

    Doug

  6. I still have my Google visitor pass and pictures of their HDTV that had a visual representation of the volume of searches that were occurring. I couldn’t take a picture of their whiteboards, but reading the notes was awesome. Cool place!

    Doug

  7. I was at Google the day before and I remember that when you sign in you fill out the form then sign that you’ve read the NDA. So I think that you’re signature is executing their standard NDA. If you didn’t sign in then I think that you’re clear :-)

  8. I was at Google the day before and I remember that when you sign in you fill out the form then sign that you’ve read the NDA. So I think that you’re signature is executing their standard NDA. If you didn’t sign in then I think that you’re clear :-)

  9. I’m wondering if Mark Jen would have joined Google now, if they wouldn’t have terminated him him so quickly. Perhaps times are a changing? His blog could have evolved into a friendly face to Google. I don’t know any friendlier face that Google could have than Mark =)… except maybe you Robert =) heh heh…

    I leave with a quote from Mark:
    “i think blogging is the next big thing on the internet. the web gave people revolutionary access to information; email and instant messaging disrupted the way people communicate with each other; blogging empowers everyone to create new information and connect in a community.”

  10. I’m wondering if Mark Jen would have joined Google now, if they wouldn’t have terminated him him so quickly. Perhaps times are a changing? His blog could have evolved into a friendly face to Google. I don’t know any friendlier face that Google could have than Mark =)… except maybe you Robert =) heh heh…

    I leave with a quote from Mark:
    “i think blogging is the next big thing on the internet. the web gave people revolutionary access to information; email and instant messaging disrupted the way people communicate with each other; blogging empowers everyone to create new information and connect in a community.”

  11. Phil, I’m not sure. It’s just anecdotal anyway. Either way it’s a good trend and one that should be encouraged.

    Rick: no, meals at MS are not free. And the selection of food isn’t even close.

  12. Phil, I’m not sure. It’s just anecdotal anyway. Either way it’s a good trend and one that should be encouraged.

    Rick: no, meals at MS are not free. And the selection of food isn’t even close.

  13. Hello Robert: I am a rookie blogger. I finally checked out your site after seeing it on several blogrolls. I like your style. I’ll keep reading.
    Have a good one!

  14. Hello Robert: I am a rookie blogger. I finally checked out your site after seeing it on several blogrolls. I like your style. I’ll keep reading.
    Have a good one!

  15. The search scrollbar has been there for a long time. I remember reading about it on Xooglers a while ago.

    Robert – regarding the perception change by the Googlers, did you feel that this was because of an acknowledged increase in competition?

  16. The search scrollbar has been there for a long time. I remember reading about it on Xooglers a while ago.

    Robert – regarding the perception change by the Googlers, did you feel that this was because of an acknowledged increase in competition?

  17. Were snacks and meals not free at MS? And I was under the impression that MS cafeterias were quite high quality, but there’s yet another level? Or is it just variety?

  18. Were snacks and meals not free at MS? And I was under the impression that MS cafeterias were quite high quality, but there’s yet another level? Or is it just variety?

  19. Hey man,
    Is this a news ? This search queries display in lobby, traffic graph from all over Earth and Moon, food and a lot of other cool things was in Google for a years.

    Give us something new !

  20. Hey man,
    Is this a news ? This search queries display in lobby, traffic graph from all over Earth and Moon, food and a lot of other cool things was in Google for a years.

    Give us something new !

  21. “Small is the new big” seems to be the big trend, similar to “God is in the details.” I wonder if companies will begin making this sort a thing part of customer service: checking the blogs each day like Carl Sjogreen does in order to respond to customer issues. So many companies do everything they can to downplay the need to help customers, I don’t think many companies will be searching out more problems to help solve. Of course, to your point, they should. I wonder how long Carl spends on this each day. That is adding a potentially huge task to not just respond, but then track an issue until completed.

  22. “Small is the new big” seems to be the big trend, similar to “God is in the details.” I wonder if companies will begin making this sort a thing part of customer service: checking the blogs each day like Carl Sjogreen does in order to respond to customer issues. So many companies do everything they can to downplay the need to help customers, I don’t think many companies will be searching out more problems to help solve. Of course, to your point, they should. I wonder how long Carl spends on this each day. That is adding a potentially huge task to not just respond, but then track an issue until completed.

  23. Matt – thank you for chiming in! Please send me your e-mail to (myfirstname.lastname@gmail.com) and I’ll do that this weekend and I’ll put together everything in one post send you the link, good?

    Robert – I don’t expect every senior person to respond directly! I expect the senior people to delegate responsibility to those who can – to not get one serious reponse out of the thirty is kinda weak. That is one of the problems I’ve seen at conferences I go to many Google people do not have enough power delegated to them to satify customer issues – especially involving B2B issues. You alluded to secrecy in your post, it creates a lack of transparency.

  24. Matt – thank you for chiming in! Please send me your e-mail to (myfirstname.lastname@gmail.com) and I’ll do that this weekend and I’ll put together everything in one post send you the link, good?

    Robert – I don’t expect every senior person to respond directly! I expect the senior people to delegate responsibility to those who can – to not get one serious reponse out of the thirty is kinda weak. That is one of the problems I’ve seen at conferences I go to many Google people do not have enough power delegated to them to satify customer issues – especially involving B2B issues. You alluded to secrecy in your post, it creates a lack of transparency.

  25. David: I’m not answering my email, either. When you’re a senior guy you just get so much flow there’s no way to keep up with it.

    And, yeah, not everyone listens. But we gotta start somewhere and it’s good to see that SOME parts of the company are listening.

  26. David, do you want to do a master blog post pointing to your blog posts where you wanted Google to do something better, and I’ll pass that link around within Google? I saw that your site has a Google category and I could pass that on, but it sounds like you might want to make a few specific points..

  27. David: I’m not answering my email, either. When you’re a senior guy you just get so much flow there’s no way to keep up with it.

    And, yeah, not everyone listens. But we gotta start somewhere and it’s good to see that SOME parts of the company are listening.

  28. David, do you want to do a master blog post pointing to your blog posts where you wanted Google to do something better, and I’ll pass that link around within Google? I saw that your site has a Google category and I could pass that on, but it sounds like you might want to make a few specific points..

  29. I dunno, I’ve blogged about a lot of Google issues and I have yet to see action on most of them. To my knowledge only one thing was listened to and I can’t even be sure about that as the issue bothered many other people.

    Then again, I met Eric Schmidt at SES and I gave him my card. I had a recent blog post predicting that Google Video would move to the front page soon. The next day it happened! Coincidence? I don’t know.

    I do know David Krane asked me to e-mail him some information that we discussed and he has not responded in any way.

    Additionally, I recently sent 30 old fashioned real letters to senior people at Google and only 2 got any sort of reply. None addressed the issue in the letter.

    I’d like to believe you’re right, but I just don’t see it yet.

  30. I dunno, I’ve blogged about a lot of Google issues and I have yet to see action on most of them. To my knowledge only one thing was listened to and I can’t even be sure about that as the issue bothered many other people.

    Then again, I met Eric Schmidt at SES and I gave him my card. I had a recent blog post predicting that Google Video would move to the front page soon. The next day it happened! Coincidence? I don’t know.

    I do know David Krane asked me to e-mail him some information that we discussed and he has not responded in any way.

    Additionally, I recently sent 30 old fashioned real letters to senior people at Google and only 2 got any sort of reply. None addressed the issue in the letter.

    I’d like to believe you’re right, but I just don’t see it yet.

  31. “Bing. Small things. They are gonna prove to be dramatically important over time.”

    This last sentence could have been taken from a famous book:

    “The Tipping Point; How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”

  32. “Bing. Small things. They are gonna prove to be dramatically important over time.”

    This last sentence could have been taken from a famous book:

    “The Tipping Point; How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”

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