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Building From The Inside Out

Google is building a new Googleplex, and worked bottom-up, crunching numbers to figure out what might work best.

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Paul Goldberger, Exclusive Preview: Google’s New Built-from-Scratch Googleplex

What is really striking about this project, however, isn’t what the architecture will look like, about which renderings can show only so much anyway. It’s the way in which Google decided what it wanted and how it conveyed this to its architects. Google is, as just about everyone in the world now knows, the most voracious accumulator of data on the planet. When it decided to build a building, it did what it did best, which was to gather data. Google studied, and tried to quantify, everything about how its employees work, about what kind of spaces they wanted, about how much it mattered for certain groups to be near certain other groups, and so forth.

The layout of bent rectangles, then, emerged out of the company’s insistence on a floor plan that would maximize what Radcliffe called “casual collisions of the work force.” No employee in the 1.1-million-square-foot complex will be more than a two-and-a-half-minute walk from any other, according to Radcliffe. “You can’t schedule innovation,” he said. “We want to create opportunities for people to have ideas and be able to turn to others right there and say, ‘What do you think of this?’”

What may be most significant is that the company’s research led to a design that isn’t substantially different from the existing Google buildings, just more so. The older buildings have a mix of private, quiet work spaces (though no private offices) and social and communal work spaces; so will the new one. The older buildings are full of cafés; the new complex will be, too. Radcliffe said that “the cafés were validated” in Google’s studies, as if anyone were surprised. The existing buildings have a relaxed and casual, even whimsical, quality to their interiors, as if to say that pleasure is a part of efficiency; I’m not sure how Google quantifies this except by seeing how many workers like it, but here, too, the plan is to continue on the same track, even if the new buildings aren’t likely to feel quite as improvised. And as the existing buildings have been retrofitted to conserve energy, the new ones will be even greener. And so on.

A lot of this seems like a statement of the obvious, but then again, lots of data is. And architecture, which is so often form-driven, doesn’t necessarily suffer from a bit more attention to factors other than shapes. “We started not with an architectural vision but with a vision of the work experience,” Radcliffe said. “And so we designed this from the inside out.”

Twisty buildings that subtly shape the contours of sociality? It will be interesting to hear if Google measures later on to see if they can actually influence coincidensity — the likelihood of serenditity — this way. 

Note that I am not an advocate of isolated ‘plexes like these, designed almost without regard for the surrounds except as a backdrop to be viewed out the windows. It would have been much more radical for Google to build in an integrated way in a more urban space, and reject the strip mall sprawl that is inherent in this design.

Danny Sullivan gets to the heart of Facebook’s Graph Search: it depends on how connected you are, and who you are connected to.

Danny Sullivan, How The New Facebook Search Is Different & Unique From Google Search

When I’ve watched Facebook show me demos of Facebook Graph Search, and do some of the example searches I’ve itemized above, it’s impressive. But it’s also impressive because it’s a person from Facebook who makes heavy use on Facebook to connect to things and who is in turn tapping into the knowledge of many other Facebookers who are similarly hyper-connected. They are not, in a word, normal.

Consider me. Not only have I not liked my electrician, my plumber, my dentist, my doctor or my tax person on Facebook but I don’t even know if they have Facebook pages. I have nothing to offer to my Facebook friends in this regard.

Similarly, despite the huge number of books I read through my Kindle, I never go to like those books on Facebook, so books I love are more or less invisible on Facebook.

Facebook itself understands this challenge, but it’s hoping the promise of what search can provide will help encourage people to build the connections they may lack now.

“There are now new reasons to make these connections. We’re hoping the existence of that will encourage it,” said Tom Stocky, director of product management at Facebook, who has worked closely on the Facebook search product. “But absolutely, early on, that [your degree of connectedness] will make the experience you have with this vary.”

There is a problem here. People are generally *not* motivated to do things now that could prove useful in the future only if everyone else does it too. Generally, people are motivated by immediate needs, like figuring out where to have lunch, today. 

I like the weaker argument, that Facebook’s new search will make the Facebook experience slightly better — like allowing you to find all the pictures you’ve liked — instead of it becoming the social era replacement for Google search.  


Google teams up with New York City to offer free Wi-Fi in Chelsea neighborhood - Ben Popper via Verge
Google has teamed up with city government and the Chelsea Improvement Project, a local New York City non-profit, to provide free Wi-Fi to the hundreds of thousands of residents and tourists who travel through this lower Manhattan neighborhood each year. Chelsea is best known as a chic district, home to Google’s major NYC offices, the Apple store, and numerous high-end shops, but also contains a large number of low-income housing projects and public schools.

I want to start a non-profit in Beacon just so Google will provide us with free wifi.

Google teams up with New York City to offer free Wi-Fi in Chelsea neighborhood - Ben Popper via Verge

Google has teamed up with city government and the Chelsea Improvement Project, a local New York City non-profit, to provide free Wi-Fi to the hundreds of thousands of residents and tourists who travel through this lower Manhattan neighborhood each year. Chelsea is best known as a chic district, home to Google’s major NYC offices, the Apple store, and numerous high-end shops, but also contains a large number of low-income housing projects and public schools.

I want to start a non-profit in Beacon just so Google will provide us with free wifi.

(via thisistheverge)

Google Alerts From Reading My Email: Next Step, Calendar Integration?

I was looking at a Google search result and I saw this alert pop up, regarding a flight:

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I clicked on it and saw a second search page, where the search query was ‘My Flights’, and this popped to the top:

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And the link to the confirmation email — from which the information had been pulled — was offered up.

So, I can see that Google could build a search-based competitor to TripIt relatively easy. Instead of having to forward travel confirmations from airlines, hotels, etc. to TripIt, Google could simply index them in a smart way. And Google could correlate trips with travel dates on my Google calendar. So imagine if I had a trip to Southern California on calendar as a multiday event, Google could have pulled hotel and other information together with the two flights there and back, and used the name of the event as a tag, or folder, and the calendar event could have collated all the travel information together automatically.

Look out, TripIt!

Touchscreen Chrome OS hybrid tablet/laptop coming soon? - Richi Jennings

http://blogs.computerworld.com/cloud-computing/21391/touchscreen-chrome-os-hybrid-tabletlaptop-coming-soon-itbwcw

Jennings pulls together many rumors pointing toward a touchscreen Chrome OS hybrid tablet/laptop designed and developed by Google. 

If the Android/iOS one-two punch is a precedent, the emergence of a Chrome OS laptop/tablet is more of a threat to Microsoft’s push on Surface than Apple. And the Surface looks like it’s heading nowhere, according to Piper Jaffray’s Black Friday stats.

Why Google, Amazon, And Apple Might Build Cell Networks

An interesting rumor making the rounds, that Google is discussing building out a wireless netwrok in partnership with Dish:

Google Wireless: Could an Alliance with Dish Make It Happen? | TIME.com

According to “people familiar with the discussions,” Google has talked with Dish Network about the possibility of creating a new wireless service. Although Dish is known mainly for its satellite TV offerings, the company is sitting on some unused wireless spectrum and has openly talked about building a new network with a partner. Google is one of the companies who has showed interest.

The negotiations weren’t in advanced stages, the Journal reports, so this could turn out to be nothing. Still, the idea of a wireless service from Google is interesting to think about, and it would make sense both to the company and to users.

Wireless carriers need disruption. They slather their phones–particularly Android devices–in bloatware that you can’t remove. They invent new fees without good reason. They find ways to charge you extra to use the data you already pay for. They stick their logos in unsightly places presumably just to remind you who’s boss.

There’s no guarantee a Google wireless service would provide the opposite experience, but at least Google has different motivations. Instead of simply trying to juice average revenue per user, Google’s priority is to get people hooked on Android so that they’re always buying apps and media and relying heavily on Google search.

A more general and more persuasive argument could be the benefits of better user experience in integrated solutions. For example, Amazon’s provisioning of WhisperNet for its Kindle devices — provided free, by the way — is a great example. A user simply buys a device and a minute later is downloading their first book, and reading it a minute after that.

Leaving aside the basic argument of Whispernet immediacy, consider other capabilities. Imagine if Apple was running the network I am using at this moment, tethered through my iPhone (on a train headed to NYC) instead of AT&T. I bet Apple, Amazon, or Google could figure out how to give me more bandwidth, so that I could really watch streaming video, wherever I go. 

If the mobile device becomes as fast as it needs to to support full video, why would we need cable in our homes and offices? We wouldn’t. Everyone would have their internet access with them everywhere, all the time.

And if the mobile device becomes the primary connect to the internet, then Apple, Google, and Amazon could pull a complete end run on the wireless companies and the cable companies. They could go directly to the TV networks and the sports cartels (NBA, NFL, Premier League), and pipe them through this new distribution system. 

Get ready for a huge shift.

Microsoft Surface: Too Little To Late?

Microsoft is gambling a lot for a chance to fight with Apple, Amazon, and Google for the proximal (‘mobile’) device market. They are pissing off their historic partners, like Dell and HP, by making their first computers ever. The alternative might be to simply become an enterprise software company, milking Office, Sharepoint, and Yammer for the next decade.

I admit I like the keyboard cover idea, but I expect Apple will respond to that quickly.

But it may be too late, since the clients they want to attract with Surface and later products have already moved ahead with deployments of Apple and Android tablets:

With New Tablet, Microsoft Faces a Balancing Act - Nick Wingfield via NYTimes.com

Rich Adduci, chief information officer of Boston Scientific, a medical device company, has more than 20,000 PCs at his company using older Windows. But he has also deployed more than 5,500 iPads to sales representatives and other employees.

A day late and a dollar short?

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