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Inside Google, data drives 'everything'

Ex-Microsoft Startup Whisperer speaks from Chocolate Factory

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Newly-appointed Google evangelist Don Dodge has confirmed that inside the Mountain View Chocolate Factory, decisions - big and small - are driven almost entirely by data analysis.

"Everything is data driven," reads a recent blog post from Dodge, the former Microsoft Startup Whisperer who entered the Chocolate Factory last month after the Redmond borg laid him off.

"Decisions are made based on data that has been analyzed, and going forward everything is monitored and measured based on the data. Opinions and 'gut feel' are considered too, but in the end, results are measured by data. Even things like travel expense caps for airfares and hotels are data driven. They keep track of every trip taken and the actual costs for airfares and hotels, then establish the caps based on the data."

Famously, Google's bread-and-butter search and online ad platforms shun subjective human judgment in favor of unfettered data analysis. At least, that's the general idea. And it's no secret that the company believes this model can be applied to, yes, everything. "All [existing subjective] models are wrong," Google research director Peter Norvig has said, "and increasingly you can succeed without them."

Earlier this year, the company said it had developed a human resources algorithm that attempts to predict when its employees are on the verge of quitting. "[The algorithm helps Google] get inside people's heads even before they know they might leave," says human resource head Laszlo Bock.

And as Dodge makes perfectly clear, that's just a start. His words are worth remembering the next time Google says its latest decision is based on some sort of angelic need to make the world a better place. The truth is that data drives the decisions, and more often than not, a decision is made in an effort to collect more data.

Earlier this month, Google said it had allowed ad blockers onto its Chrome browser because of an idealistic belief that most netizens will end up convincing themselves that online advertising is nothing but a good thing. But you can bet the decision was based on reams of data indicating that most people are too lazy to take the time or the effort needed to install an ad blocker.

Google says its new DNS service is a way of making the web faster. But it's also a way of collecting more data.

Dodge's take on Google's data-driven ways is merely one observation in a lengthy post meant to tell the world how great life is inside the Chocolate Factory. Of course, when reading the post, you should be wary of any, well, subjective human judgments. While at Microsoft, Dodge did nothing but praise the Redmond borg. Then he seemed to undergo a brain transplant the moment Google phoned to discuss his new job, 90 minutes after he was laid off.

Dodge begins by praising the Google "vibe," which includes lots of bicycles. "The Google campus is beautiful, funky, and efficient. There are bicycles everywhere for people to use to get between buildings. In some ways it feels like a college campus, but the intensity level is much higher. Most people sit in open cubes with four or more people in a pod. Offices with doors typically have 2 or 3 people in them. People work in groups and there is a real sense of teamwork everywhere you look."

Naturally, he also mentions the food - and all those other perks designed to keep you inside the Chocolate Factory walls for as long as possible. "Free breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the gourmet cafes in each building. The food is awesome!!," he says. "Google really caters to employees needs. Onsite dry cleaning service, car washes, Oil changes, ATM, Fitness Centers, Haircuts, Massage, and Concierge services."

But Dodge's main mission as Google evangelist is to talk up Google Apps. Post brain transplant, he's convinced that Google's so-called cloud services put Microsoftware to shame. "Threaded conversations are a HUGE time saver and help keep things organized," he continues. "I didn’t really appreciate that feature until my departure from Microsoft when my email inbox was flooded with messages, many with the same subject line. Gmail made it easy to manage. Links, not attachments, also ensure that you are always working with the latest version of a file."

We would argue that Gmail threads also make it terribly easy to overlook important messages. But that's not something you'll hear from Dodge. He does make a shock admission, however, that Microsoft offers the better health plan.

Then he's right back on message. "I think 2010 will be the year that enterprises of all sizes start their transition to Gmail and Google Apps, and take their first steps towards the vision of the future. The move towards Cloud Computing is obvious," he says.

"Gmail and Google Apps are the easy first steps in that direction. The cost savings are enormous, over $500 per user per year. Compare that to buying software licenses and maintenance from the old style software giants, and add the costs of server hardware, and IT managers to run them."

He does not point out that Gmail and Google Apps are also a means of collecting your data. ®

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