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October 30, 2006 » 10:18 am

The Google Gradient

Aaron Swartz wrote an interesting piece about the so-called Google bubble. He then proposed a way around the bubble, which he called the Google “gradient.” Having just wrapped up an event that Google sponsored, I can give some first-hand thoughts on Aaron’s piece. In short, the gradient already exists, and boy, is it a doozy.    (LG0)

Both Allen Gunn and I have worked with many, many generous companies on events like the FLOSS Usability Sprint, and we both agreed that Google was unquestionably the easiest, most accomodating company we’ve ever worked with. Here’s a snapshot of my experience:    (LG1)

  • Earlier this year at DCamp, I meet Rick Boardman, a user experience engineer at Google. We talk about the FLOSS Usability Sprints, and he says, “That’s pretty cool. If you ever want space for a sprint, we can do it at Google.”    (LG2)
  • Gunner and I decide it’s time to do another sprint. I email Rick. Rick says, “No problem. I’ll dig up food for you guys too.” I look down at my list of negotiation points when dealing with potential sponsors, reread Rick’s email, shrug my shoulders, and throw the list away.    (LG3)
  • I check out the space, and it’s outstanding. Wide open room that’s reconfigurable, lots of whiteboards, plenty of breakout space, open WiFi.    (LG4)
  • Rick introduces me to Leslie Hawthorn, who’s involved with Google’s Open Source programs and managed Summer of Code. Leslie is the epitome of a Yellow Thread. Here’s an example of a common exchange. Me: “Leslie, I know it’s last minute, but can you do [insert any number of requests here] for us?” Leslie: “Sure!”    (LG5)
  • I get to Google early on Friday. Leslie gives me a walkthrough. To my surprise, she has Google schwag bags for all of us. She also has special badges for us, so that participants don’t have to sign the usual visitor NDAs.    (LG6)
  • There are about six security guards surrounding our space throughout the whole event. This should have been unnerving, except they were all very friendly, they kept opening doors for the participants, and they made it safe for us to leave our computers lying around the entire weekend.    (LG7)
  • Leslie supplies us with snacks, beverages, and most importantly, coffee throughout the event. We eat lunch both days at Slices, one of the excellent cafeterias on campus. The food is local, organic, and delicious. (Gunner and I do our best to cancel out all this healthy food by bringing pizza and donuts and by taking the group out for adult beverages and more unhealthy food afterwards.)    (LG8)
  • Four Google employees participate, including Rick and Leslie. All of them kick butt. I didn’t know Leslie’s background beforehand, but as it turns out, she completely rocks out with the Drupal team, thus increasing my respect for her by another order of magnitude. More common exchanges with Leslie during the event. Me: “Leslie, can you help us with [insert many more requests here]?” Leslie: “Sure!”    (LG9)
  • Total number of pain-in-the-rear problems that the Google bureaucracy creates for us that are inevitable when working with large companies on open events like these: 0.    (LGA)

Perhaps this was an isolated experience. Perhaps the next time we work with Google, this so-called “bubble” will be in full effect, and we’ll curse and swear about how terrible the bureaucracy is there. All I can say is that I’ll be able to tell you all for sure soon, because I fully plan on there being a next time. Many thanks to Leslie and Rick for being such outstanding hosts!    (LGB)

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