Patrice Riemens on Wed, 18 Mar 2009 06:37:33 -0400 (EDT)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective: The Dark Side of Google (Chapter 2, second part)

NB this book and translation are published under Creative Commons license 2.0
(Attribution, Non Commercial, Share Alike).
Commercial distribution requires the authorisation of the copyright holders:
Ippolita Collective and Feltrinelli Editore, Milano (.it)

Ippolita Collective

The Dark Side of Google (continued)

Chapter 2  BeGoogle! (part 2)

(End of part 1:
So let's us now have a look at the weapons that are deployed in this very
real war for the control of the networks.)

Exhibit # 1: the Googleplex, or nimble Capitalism at work

The customary panegyric of Google tells with glee the saga of the firm's
impressive growth, which saw Brin and Page move from their dorm in
Stanford to the Menlo Park garage sublet by a friend to the newly founded
Google Inc., and then on to the offices on University Avenue, Palo Alto,
to culminate with them taking possession of the Mountain View, California
Googleplex, where the firms is now headquartered. Between 1998 and 2000
the pair fleshed up their formula through a company philosophy based on
innovation, creativity, and sacrifice. The sort of commitment you see in
science, but then applied to commerce, is their key to success. Right from
its beginnings, the Googleplex attracted droves of eager collaborators:
here they find back the environment typical of an American campus, where
study, commitment, sport and games mesh in a whole. The idea being that if
a comfortable and relaxing environment stimulates the students'
creativity, it obviously will also boost the productivity of workers.  The
spirit of fraternity like at the university, the academic elite mentality
of working with total commitment for the very best results, all seem to
form the bread and butter of stories concerning the Googleplex. The rumor
goes that large swatches of the car parks are  earmarked twice a week for
roller-skates hockey. masses of gadgets and gizmo's cramp the offices,
with multi-coloured lava-lamps being favourite. A chummy easy-going
atmosphere has been made the norm, with 'Larry and 'Sergei' chairing the
weekly 'TGIF' (Thanks God It's Friday) meetings with dozens of employees
assembling in an open space created by pushing the office furniture aside.

{Right from the beginning,} Such an informal atmosphere was intended to
build-up a community spirit and encourage the sharing of ideas. Indeed,
the Googleplex looks like a place to celebrate one's passion for research
rather than an everyday workplace { - what it of course is}. But not an
ordinary workplace, despite its by now gigantic dimensions. Granted, the
'campus style' organisation of work had been widespread in the USA for the
past thirty years at least: Microsoft and Apple, to take but two examples,
have always worked that way. Silicon Valley's mythology is replete with
stories illustrating the paramount role assigned to creativity, and stress
the importance of collaboration between co-workers. No better boost to
productivity than happy employees happy to work for a company whose
objectives they hold equal to their own, as opposed to workers oppressed
by a rigid hierarchy, enslaved by rules and inflexible schedules in a
dreadful environment. Perhaps that the novelty of the Googleplex then
resides in having promoted, deliberately and right from the beginning, the
idea of a 'different' 'new-fashioned', 'made for the best /brains/' place
{of work}. You can't come in the Googleplex unless you know someone
working there. And once in, photography is forbidden - in theory at least.
As if to shield it from the mean world outside, full of finance sharks and
other malevolent IT predators out to pry on the talents of the

Everybody wants to work in the Googleplex. An unofficial survey of all the
fantasies out there would for sure list: company work-out room, swimming
pool, free food in the four staff restaurants (one of which vegetarian)
free drinks and snacks everywhere (who needs vending machines? Google
picks up the tab!), volleyball and basket ball fields and other outdoor
sport facilities, buggies to dart from one building in the campus to the
next {, and so on}. But that's all nothing compared to the kiddies day-
care, kindergarten, and primary school run by the company - free of costs
of course, and [don't forget} the dental surgery, actually a mobile dental
lab in a van, also completely free of costs. In a country like the USA,
where education and health care come with a huge price tag, and leave so
many people out, these are truly unbelievable perks.

The work spaces also are spectacular, the dreams of a IT ueber-geek come
true.  21' LCD plasma monitors are standard all over the place. Toys and
games galore (life-size Star Wars figures, a riot of hi-tech gadgets,
etc.). Fluo-coloured lava lamps as the omnipresent accessoires du jour.
Googleplex is a dreamland, a green workspace, with flexible hours, and
where everything appears possible. In one word, the Googleplex radiates
the Google philosophy, and unfolds the Google life-style - of course there
is a collection of all imaginable must-have enterprise gadgets, one can
shop on a dedicated merchandising site. Most are, as befits gadgets,
totally useless and/ or superfluous, but all contribute to impart a sense
of pride boosting the feeling of being part of the firm. Gone are the
{dull} sweaters and jackets with the firm's logo embossed: Googleplex's
conditioning is much more nimble than that! Google is anyway not the only
firm taking that road {but it has gone furthest along it}. Sure, Apple and
Yahoo! have been providing a catalogue of firm-related goodies, ranging
form a complete line of attires to all kinds of hi-tech accessories, MP3
readers and USB keys, all in the colours or with the logos and motto's of
the firm. But Google's trade shop is much more versatile: from foibles for
new-borns to 'Google Minium' the system that enables you to index your
data 'just like Google'.

The Googleplex is abundance capitalism in the informational era made
'flesh' [*N12]: all the world's information made available to all, for
free. The era of scarcity is over. The plenty and availability of goods
(in this case, of information) is simply limitless. But let us not forget
that, in the end, next to all this plenty comes from advertising, itself
mostly text links-based. All the remainder is free - as in free lunch.
{But} B/by the way: not everything works to perfection [*N13]. Mikie
Moritz, a Welshman who also has a stake in Yahoo!, and John Doerr, who's
also a major investor with Sun Microsystems and Netscape, are  amongst the
most influential 'apostles' of this abundance capitalism [*N13, *N14].

Exhibit #2: perfecting the strategy of accumulation

The reason for the 'flight of brains' towards the Googleplex, as was
hinted at at the beginning of this chapter, now becomes clearer. For an
average employee in the IT industry, and even more for an 'independent'
(read: precarious) IT worker, a job at Google's is a dream come true.  In
this branch of industry, exploited precarious workers are more and more
numerous. An exemplary figure is that of the independent coder who labours
on personal 'projects', maybe by publishing them on or [?], and who offers her/his competences on the market without
any kind of status or union protection, nor any of these other guarantees
that look like prehistoric remnants in our times of total flexibility. But
at the Googleplex {not only she/he will get all these, but}, she/he will
be even able to devote these famous 20% of her/his time to his personal
projects while being paid for it, and invited to do ever more his best.

To find life boring would be rather difficult amidst games of volley or
basket ball, dogs running all over the company campus and its corridors,
and casual meetings around a table tennis table. Since it is difficult to
find new recruits that would be able to improve further the prevailing
atmosphere, Google is resorting to rather novel hiring techniques. The
most curious being probably the riddle they splashed in July 2004 on
gigantic white billboards along the highway and in a few mass transit
stations in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They bore the following text:

	{First two digit prime in consecutive digits of e}.com

The natural logarithm meant here is the number 7427466391. Going to the
address one found a Google IP address asking one to
complete a sequence of numbers. Upon finding the number 5966290435 one had
to follow instructions, using that number as password to enter into a
section of the (!) site from where one was redirected
again to Google's site where one could
downloads one's CV. If you'd managed to resolve all these riddles, chance
was you'd make good Google material! But Google does not only attract the
best techies, hackers and assorted ueber-geeks. Quickly enough, the
highest rewarded It managers got wind of the Google's career potential and
vie with each other to enter into the company.

Google's accumulation strategy of both data to conduct searches and of
networked computers to stock all these data and back-ups follows closely
its brain accumulation equivalent. Semantic [?] machines, electronic
machines, biologic [?? bionic? ;-)] machines, all accumulate at the
Googleplex, in order to nurture a life-style, or maybe even a kind of cult
of excellence, incarnated in an 'evangelist'.

The person representing best the company's style, the one who is called
Google's 'Chief Evangelist', is not one of the many youngsters around, but
an true sea dog of the Web: Vinton G. Cerf, who invented the TCP/IP
protocol together with Robert Kahn. The particulars of his arrival at
Google are worth a little diversion: In February 2005 Google let know that
ICANN, the supervisory body of the Internet's domain names and numbers,
had allowed it to set shop in the domain registry trade. By next
September, Google announced that Vinton Cerf had become "senior
vice-president and Internet Chief Evangelist for Google, with the mission
to identify new technologies and strategic applications for the firm, on
the Internet and on any other platform" [*N16]. Till then, Vinton Cerf
was, among many other occupations, ICANN's board senior adviser. But
unlike CEO Eric Schmidt's and other top-level management who were
headhunted at Google's competitors, Vint Cerf's hire looks more like a PR
stunt. Amusing as it may sound, he is unlikely to be a regular at the

Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:

The Center for Internet and Society, Bangalore
The Tactical Technology Collective, Bangalore Office
Visthar, Dodda Gubbi post, Kothanyur-Bangalore

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