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Learning about Google via Google

A visit to a neighbor’s house last week taught me something about Google’s demographic attack on the TV establishment. A 12-year-old had a laptop with YouTube.com videos and an instant messenger running. She also had a mobile phone and was watching text messages arrive from her friends with a quick glance. In the background, without the sound on, was a cable TV show.

I asked her if she could multitask. She told me, "No, I’m not multitasking yet. I will when I start my homework."Apparently YouTube (purchased by Google in late 2006) provides entertainment for millions of middle school kids. So that begs the question: What can one find on Google about Google, a service that seems to fit seamlessly into the lives of 12-year-old girls on a school night?

Quite a bit, it turns out. If you want to know about the latest ideas that Google employees are monitoring, look no farther than Google Video and YouTube. Here’s an example. Do you want to learn about Google’s BigTable technology? Click here: videoplay?docid=7278544055668715642. You can watch SuperGoogler Jeff Dean explain how Google approached traditional database problems. The answer, as it turns out, was to not use traditional database technology. Google invented BigTable, and you can download the Apache Foundation’s open source version of it here (http://hadoop.apache.org/hbase).

What if you want to hear Sergey Brin talking about search in August 2007? No problem. Click here (youtube.com/watch?v=Ka9IwHvkfU).

Do you want to sit in on Google’s on-campus lecture series? Again, the data are available. Just navigate to Google Video http://www.video.google.com and enter the search phrase "Google lecture series" or some variation and begin exploring.

Google makes an enormous amount of information about itself available. Let’s take a quick look at several sources of information. Please explore these links.

1. If you’re a Google application aficionado, here’s a resource for you. The Google Friends Newsletter (google.com/contact/newsletter.
html), delivered to your inbox monthly, gives you Google-specific info like new feature and update announcements, usage tips and Google company notes. For example, the September newsletter (http://groups.google.com/group/google-friends/browse_thread/thread/6452afbdd1707c0d) announced the Moderator program (http://moderator.appspot.com) and the launch of a charity project (project10tothe100.com); updates to the Picasa (http://picasa.google.com) photo album, the Chrome () browser, and Google Maps (http://maps.google.com); and a tidbit marking the GOOG’s 10-year anniversary that month.

You can even look back at old newsletters in the Google Friends archive (google.com/googlefriends/archive.html) to locate past release information and trace the evolution of Google products.

2. Want to know what Google knows? Take a look at Google Labs white papers (http://research.google.com/pubs/papers.html), technical papers written by their people. A partial list of topics: artificial intelligence and data mining; audio, video and image processing; human-computer interaction and visualization; machine learning; software engineering; and much, much more.

3. Google also offers video functions for businesses (google.com/apps/intl/en/business/collaboration.html). Companies can use that functionality to share videos in a secure environment hosted on Google servers rather than cramming files into their own computers. Sharing can be accessed by any employees through a standard browser. This video service would work for internal training or corporate announcements, and it keeps the e-mail server from overloading during distribution.

Here are some suggestions for making use of this wealth of information about Google that you can access using Google itself.

First, understand that Google has technology in its DNA. As a result, running a query for an obvious concept such as "search technology" won’t return useful information. The trick I use is to learn the Google lingo. Let me give you two examples.

If you want to understand how Google improves the performance of its search system, you have to learn Google jargon. To illustrate: Assume you want to know how Google prevents contention over database access. If you search "row locking," you won’t find the answer without a great deal of searching. Try searching Google.com with the query "chubby lock" and look at the results. You will see that the secret word is "chubby"—Google’s name for its breakthrough technology.

In another example, say you want to learn about Google’s automatic spawning of smart agents to resolve problems in content parsing. If you search Google for artificial intelligence, you will spend hours sifting through results. Instead, try searching for "janitors agents" and look at the results. Google is a math club with mathematicians’ sense of humor and its hottest technology has mundane names like "janitor." Ho ho snort snort.

The trick then is to learn the vocabulary to unlock Google’s secrets.

Second, Google provides a window to its future applications and services in its technical papers. Navigate to the aforementioned Google Labs page here (http://research.google.com/pubs/papers.html) and scan the bold face headings such as Distributed Systems and Parallel Computing. Note that each heading has a paper count. The 85 after Distributed Systems tells you that there are 85 papers available. To identify what’s hot, I keep a list of those headings and periodically visit the site to update the paper counts. When you get a big jump—such as in artificial intelligence and data mining a year ago, I know that the topic is getting some attention at Google. Conversely, when a topic’s paper count doesn’t change or decreases, I surmise that Google is not beavering away in this field.

Third, read what Google itself says about what it is doing. You can find this information in Google News. Here’s how to do it:

  • Navigate to Google News and enter a query such as "Eric Schmidt" or substitute your favorite Googler’s name.
  • Run the query.
  • Ignore the results and scroll to the bottom of the news results page. You will see this option: Click on the option to create an e-mail alert for Eric Schmidt. By doing so, you will be able to receive each day a list of articles in which top Googler Eric Schmidt is mentioned, quoted or discussed. I use one alert per Googler I want to monitor.

The Google Alerts (google.com/alerts) service is free and eliminates the need to pay attention to 4,500 individual news sources. I run queries on country-specific Google news services when a Googler is outside the United States. On my Web log Beyond Search (http://arnoldit.com/wordpress), I broke a story about Google’s research lab activity in Israel, which was reported to me by Google itself. I used Google Translate (http://translate.google.com/translate_t#) to make the Hebrew story easier for me to figure out.

To wrap up, Google tries to be secretive, but it spouts information itself like Old Faithful. Last year, I suggested to Google that it pay me to identify these and other sources of useful, strategic information and close them up to preserve what could be proprietary information. Google, true to form, ignored my suggestion. So you can take advantage of these tips.

However, I still have a couple of them up my sleeve. What was the name of Google’s top researcher in next-generation data management technology before he changed it in year 2000?

I’m not telling because that would tip you to one of Google’s most sensitive and important research efforts in the company history. Hint: You can find the answer by searching Google.com.

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