My first five months at Google, by the numbers

Clarification: The first version of the post talked about my first six months at Google. Apparently my math skills haven’t improved since I took the job, however, as there are actually only five months between June and January. I regret the error.

Today marks six five months since I joined Google on my birthday on January 7. It’s been an interesting, busy time for me.

Having never worked for a big company (where I define “big” as having more than 100 employees), working for Google is a lot like moving from the suburbs into a big city — I’m just constantly meeting new people and finding out about stuff I had no idea was going on.

Still, to put things in perspective, Google only has about 20,000 employees, whereas, Microsoft has nearly 100,000 and HP has a whopping 300,000. Those numbers boggle my mind, but are useful to keep in mind when Googlers call their employer a “startup”, unironically.

Speaking of big numbers, Eric Schmidt threw some big numbers around recently about the amount of data being created relative today to the sum total of all data that’s been create thus far. Essentially, since the beginning of time and 2003, five exabytes of information were created; since then, we’ve been creating something like five exabytes every two days (skip to 19:43 in this video to see the actual quote; it of course also makes sense that Google would need to rev its indexing approach to accommodate this influx of data).

With all that data, it occurred to me that I should figure out what my contribution is — not in gigabytes, but in terms of other social media metrics. And given how data-focused Google tends to be, I figured I’d focus on areas of growth.

So in the last six five months, here’s my data:

Also, based on my Fitbit weekly averages, I’ve also walked about 1,000,000 steps over the past 152 days (though it’d be so much cooler if they hurried up and offered an API!).

So, not completely exhaustive — and some data was more elusive than other figures to track down — but there’s a snapshot of various metrics from my first six five months at Google.

Up and to the Right

I highly expect things to only increase their “up and to the right” trajectory from here on out.

Happy birthday to me! I’m joining Google

Google Birthday

Yes friends, I’m turning 29 and I’ve decided to go work for The Man.

;)

In all actuality, I’ve been mulling over such a move for some time, considering a number of compelling opportunities for my next step. After reviewing my options — in light of the progress I’ve made so far and my familiarity and existing relationships with the new team at Google that I’ll be working with — I came to the conclusion that Google offers me the best possible opportunity to continue my work in an environment and culture that is compatible with my outlook, goals, and work habits.

I was trained as a designer, but I’ve been involved with the tech scene since I arrived in Silicon Valley just over five years ago. In some ways, technology has reshaped the way I approach and solve problems — forcing me to think in terms of adoption strategies first, rather than always trying to find the simplest, cleanest design, because of the disadvantaged position I occupied as a non-coder. I can see the consequences of these effects on my approaches first to OAuth, and then to Activity Streams, as well as with OpenID, with positive and negative results. In some ways I’ve had to temper my designer training and put technology first in order to grow an audience. But now I’m ready for new challenges that will expand my ideas and tactics, force me to attack problems from new perspectives, and dip into my design thinking repertoire to operate at a whole new level.

Though I consistently aim high, I want more success in turning my ideas into tangible outcomes, and in doing so, prove the power that I see in open, interoperable standards that can make the web a richer and more intricately spun space.

In some ways, I’m still just getting started with my work.  In joining Google, I see the chance to have a greater impact than I might otherwise on my own. That said, I won’t lose track of what intrinsically motivates me — that I’ve always been about spreading the benefits of the web by creating technology that  fosters innovation and choice. And there’s where I see alignment with what I’ve been doing, and what Google needs to succeed. In fact, my new title at Google? The same one I independently gave myself a year ago: “Open Web Advocate”.

In this role, I’ll still be an active community board member of the OpenID and Open Web Foundations; I hope to help push the Activity Streams project forward with a 1.0 release of the spec soon. And I’m still hopeful about the future of my our semi-neglected and half dormant Diso Project! I’ll also soon be publishing the results of my collaboration with Mozilla Labs, which will provide some insight into what social networking in the browser might look like, and how OpenID Connect might play a role in it.

For good measure, I should also point out that my good friend and colleague Joseph Smarr also made a similar decision recently  — unbeknownst to me at the time! —  and announced that he’ll be joining Google later this month as well.

So, net-net, I’m stoked to be joining The Man Google, and very thankful to have had as much support from the many, many people with whom I’ve connected through the synapses of the social web over these past several years. This is of course a very happy birthday present for me, and I’m eagerly anticipating what’s next for the open social web in 2010…! This can all still be made better. Ready? Begin.

Feel free to leave a comment here, or get in touch via email.

Update: here’s the latest theSocialWeb.tv episode where I make my announcement:

Losing my religion

Last January, writing on the problem of open source design, I said:

I’ve probably said it before, and will say it again, and I’m also sure that I’m not the first, or the last to make this point, but I have yet to see an example of an open source design process that has worked.

Indeed, I’d go so far as to wager that “open source design” is an oxymoron. Design is far too personal, and too subjective, to be given over to the whims and outrageous fancies of anyone with eyeballs in their head.

Lately, I’m feeling the acute reality of this sentiment.

In 2005, I wrote about how I wanted to take an “open source” approach to the design of Flock by posting my mockups to Flickr and soliciting feedback. But that’s more about transparency than “open source”. And I think there’s a big difference between the two that’s often missed, forgotten or ignored altogether: one refers to process, the other refers to governance.

Design can be executed using secretive or transparent processes; it really can’t be “open” because it can’t be evaluated in same way “open source” projects evaluate contributions, where solutions compete on the basis of meritocratic and objective measures. Design is sublime, primal, and intuitive and needs consistency to succeed. Open source code, in contrast, can have many authors and be improved incrementally. Design — visual, interactive or conceptual — requires unity; piecemeal solutions feel disjointed, uncomfortable and obvious when end up in shipping product.

Luke Wroblewski is an interaction designer. He recently made an observation about “openness” that really resonated with me:

I read this quote last week and realized it is symptomatic of a common assertion that in technology (and especially the Web) “completely open” is better than “controlled”.

“But we’ll all know exactly where Apple stands – jealously guarding control of their users […] And that’s not what Apple should be about.” -TechCrunch

Sorry but Apple makes their entire living by tightly controlling the experience of their customers. It’s why everyone praises their designs. From top to bottom, hardware to software -you get an integrated experience. Without this control, Apple could not be what it is today.

He followed up with a post on Facebook’s design process today that I also found exceedingly compelling.

I worry about Mozilla in this respect — and all open source projects that cater to the visible and vocal, ignoring the silent or unengaged majority.

I worry about OpenID similarly — an initiative that will be essential for the future of the social web and yet is hampered by user experience issues because of an attachment to fleeting principles like “freedom” and “individual choice”. Sigh.

I’m not alone in these concerns.

When it comes to open source and design, design — and human factors, more generally — cannot play second fiddle to engineering. But far too often it seems that that’s the case.

And it shouldn’t be.

More often there should be a design dictator that enters into a situation, takes stock of the set of problems that people (read: end users) are facing, and then addresses them through observation, skill, intuition, and drive. You can evaluate their output with surveys, heuristics, and user studies, but without their vision, execution, and insane devotion to see through making it happen, you’ll never see shit get done right.

As Luke says, Most people out there prefer a great experience over complete openness.

I concur. And I think it’s critical that “open source” advocates (myself included) keep that at top of mind.

. . .

I will say this: I’m an advocate for open source and open standards because I believe that open ecosystems — i.e. those with low barriers to entry (low startup costs; low friction to launch; public infrastructure for sustaining productivity) — are essential for competition at the level of user experience.

It may seem paradoxical, but open systems in which secretive design processes are used can result in better solutions, overall.

Thus when I talk about openness, I really mean openness from an economic/competitive perspective.

. . .

Early today I needed access to a client’s internal wiki. Having gone without access for a week, I decided to toss up a project on Basecamp to get things started.

When I presented my solution to the team, I was told that we needed to use something open source that could be hosted on their servers. Somewhat taken aback, I suggested Basecamp was the best tool for the job given our approaching deadline..

“No, no, that won’t do,” was the message I got. “Has to be open source. Self-hosted.”

I asked them for alternatives. “PHProjekt“. Double Choco Latte. I proposed Open Atrium.

Once again, as seems all too common lately, more time was devoted to picking a tool rather than producing solutions. More meta than meat. Worst of all, religion was in the driver’s seat, rather than reality. Where was that open source pragmatism I’d heard so much about?

Anyway, not how I want to begin a design process.

Ultimately, I got the access I needed — to MediaWiki. So, warts and all, we’ll be using that to collaborate. On a closed intranet.

In the back of my head, I can’t help but fear that the tools used for design collaboration bleed into the output. To my eyes, MediaWiki isn’t a flavor that I want stirred into the pot. And it begs the question once and for all: what good can “open source” bring to design if the only result is the product of committee dictate?