The New Google: Internet Giant Opens Up About Real-Time and Local Search, Cloud Computing, and Data Liberation

12/21/09Follow @gthuang

When it comes to product and business strategy, Google is one of the most secretive companies around. So I was pleased when the Internet giant agreed to grant me a series of interviews last week, most of them with senior product managers from its Mountain View, CA, headquarters.

I touched on elements of Google’s technology and engineering strategy in a Q&A I did last week with Google senior vice president Alan Eustace. Here I’m drilling down into topics that should be of great interest to readers in all tech sectors and geographies—including those who follow key Google [NASDAQ: GOOG) competitors like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, EMC, and Akamai, not to mention the legion of startups around the world who need to account for the giant’s every step in a particular area.

In four separate interviews, Google delved into some of the most important topics of the day, from its advances in real-time and local search to cloud computing and a “data liberation” effort to help consumers export their files and digital information from Google products (should they want to do so).

And here’s the real secret: Google managers are pretty boring. And they’d like to keep it that way, thank you very much (at least when flanked by their PR folks). They don’t talk about competitors. They don’t make predictions about the industry. And they don’t say exactly who works on what where, within Google. They just focus on making their own products better and more user-friendly. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Perhaps Jack Menzel, a senior product manager, said it best when he joked about the “thankless job” of working on Web search at Google: “You demo [a new search feature] for people, and they say, ‘Yeah, so it works. So what?” (How quickly we all forget what it was like to search for information online just a few years ago.)

So without further ado, here are my highlights from various corners of the Google machine:

Real-time search. This is the increasing effort to update search results to include new information on the Web—including data from social media like Twitter and Facebook—almost as fast as it’s published.

Menzel, an ex-Microsoftie who studied computer science at the University of Washington, leads a product group on this front. He says Google has been working on indexing and ranking content more frequently for years—first, it was once a month, then it became once a day to keep up with news and blogs, and then in the past year as Twitter grew popular, updates on the order of minutes and now seconds have become crucial. “We’ve been looking at getting faster and faster for quite a long time,” Menzel says. “We already had a trajectory to rank content faster and faster. Every step in that process had lot of challenges. Getting fresh information has been one of the tenets of what we believe makes Google successful.” (The other tenets of search would be relevance, speed, and comprehensiveness of content.)

Menzel says the biggest challenge is not just the speed—it’s the … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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