CXO

Play it loud: Google employee 59 on the Bob Dylan attitude of Google's early days

Interview: Doug Edwards, author of <em>I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59</em>...

...there are some things that cannot be quantified - for example, what is the quantifiable value of an April Fool's joke or of language that we would use to describe the products? The emotional connection people have with a brand is not something you can always reduce to a number," he said.

The need to validate every decision with data can also slow progress to a crawl. In 2009, ex-Google designer Douglas Bowman criticised the constraints of having to work for a company that, when trying to decide which shade of blue will work best on a web page, tests 41 variations of the two shades to see which one performs better.

Edwards believes it is Google's tendency to dance to the tune of the data that leads the company to occasionally make decisions without considering the wider repercussions, offering the example of how Google initially allowed the IM service Google Buzz to automatically import people's contacts from their Gmail account.

"The numbers will tell you we've saved years of human productivity by doing this but, of course, people object to having their contacts exposed to the entire world," he said.

Google Buzz

Saving man hours and causing annoyance: Google BuzzImage: Google

And the furore over Google's conduct over the years doesn't stop with its launch of Buzz. The company has repeatedly found itself embroiled in controversy - from the legal action prompted by its book-scanning project to the privacy outcry following the inadvertent collection of wi-fi traffic by its Google Streetview cars.

The data-driven mindset that leads Google to stumble into these brouhahas stems from Page and Brin creating Google in their own image, Edwards said, populating the Googleplex with "too many rational people and not enough irrational people, when the rest of the world is the reverse of that".

"I think they're puzzled by what they would view as an irrational response to their products," he said.

"Look at book-scanning. To Larry and Sergey, you're going to improve the world's understanding by scanning every book and making all of this knowledge accessible. You don't even need to ask permission because clearly everybody's going to view this as a good thing - we're increasing the sum total of human knowledge," he said.

For Edwards, one of the biggest sources of job frustration in the early days of Google came down to...

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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