Review: I’m Feeling Lucky – The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59I’m Feeling Lucky is an entertaining look at Google’s start-up days by Douglas Edwards, a marketing professional who was Google’s 59th employee. Edwards tells a story about being brand manager in a company where marketing wasn’t much valued. This could be described as unenviable, if not for the value of the stock options he received which should have made even the worst of his experiences bearable in retrospect.

Edwards portrays himself as a hapless naive soul in over his head, which makes for a fun narrative. There are plenty of good anecdotes, like the time when Matt Cutts’s wife had the idea of baking free “porn cookies” as a reward for everyone who helped test the new Google porn filter – “Search for porn, get a cookie” was the unmissable incentive. There’s also an account of the challenges of establishing Google in China, when Edwards is sent there to find a new Chinese name for the brand because “while Yahoo’s name translated as ‘elegant tiger,’ ours was rendered with characters that meant ‘old dog.’”

The section about how the company reacted on and after September 11th is really fascinating. I remember at the time wondering what the decision-making process was behind the content which appeared then on the Google homepage and it’s interesting to see this explained.

Since the story ends over six years ago, when the author left Google in April 2005, it doesn’t provide an up-to-date insider’s view of how Google operates today. However, there’s still a lot here which is helpful for understanding the issues the company now faces. There’s a vivid picture of the culture clash between engineering and marketing in an engineering-lead environment and some memorable vignettes of bosses Larry Page and Sergey Brin – such as the following anecdote, where Sergey sets out his ambitions for Google’s future:

“Speed is an issue for me,” [Sergey] said, “… If search engines were faster and better, they could be integrated into your thought process.” He saw Google becoming an invisible component in every user’s decision-making, not just a tool for finding a particular fact. Apparently “brain-integration” was one of our hitherto undisclosed corporate goals.

Sergey’s stated aims for Google becoming an “invisible component” in every user’s decision making is revealing – given that recent critiques like Siva Vaidhyanathan’s “The Googlization of Everything” and Eli Pariser’s “The Filter Bubble” have lamented the effects of Google’s “invisible” personalisation and default options in shaping the way people are now receiving news and other information.

Another fascinating section for current concerns about the company comes from the discussion of attitudes towards privacy issues. Now that governments across Europe are legislating on providing explicit opt-outs for tracking cookies, it’s interesting to see the stated reasoning behind Google’s initial cookies policy. Edwards writes:

What if we let users opt out of accepting our cookies altogether? I liked that idea, but Marissa [Mayer] raised an interesting point. We would clearly want to set the default as “accept Google’s cookies.” If we fully explained what that meant to most users, however, they would probably prefer not to to accept our cookie. So our default setting would go against users’ wishes.

…so it was better not to open the issue up at all. The vehemence of management insistence that there were no privacy issues with Google indicates that they were very aware that privacy concerns could be a serious problem – such as in the following account of Sergey’s reaction to early PR problems with Gmail:

Sergey paced the office like a tiger in a tiny cage, commanding us to set up a war room to deal with the problem, demanding we put up more information on the site, and insisting that we tell everyone, “There is no privacy issue.”

The conflict between Google’s need as a company to make money out of mining user-supplied data for ad personalisation and it’s desire to portray itself as a friend of user privacy is obviously something which continues to this day.

There’s also an interesting account of how Google’s original social network “Orkut” got set up, in a section called “The Antisocial Network”, which shows how Google lost out on an opportunity to compete with Facebook early on.

Edward’s narrative overall is undeniably rose-tinted, but he doesn’t avoid criticism of Google where it’s due – as in this part of his closing analysis:

Is Google secretive? No question. Arrogant? Maybe. Tone-deaf to the concerns of the very users it claims to serve? Occasionally. But evil? I don’t think so.

This is a fun read for a business/tech book and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone’s who’s interested in Google, search or the history of the web.

I’m Feeling Lucky – The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 is written by Douglas Edwards and published by Allen Lane.

Related posts

Review of Googling Security: How Much Does Google Know About You?

Passing the Google Analytics Individual Qualification

Last week I finally got around to taking the Google Analytics Individual Qualification and passed with 94%.  See my test records and certificate.

I reckon the test should be reasonably straightforward for anyone who uses Google Analytics regularly. The trickiest part for me were the multiple choice questions where you need to select “all that apply” and aren’t sure how many you have to tick. I think these were probably where I lost my 6%. :(

Tips for passing are:

  • Make sure you carefully watch the video lessons in Google’s Conversion University. Nearly all the questions I was asked could have been answered from the information there.
  • Pay especial attention to the sections on e-commerce tracking and AdWords integration if you don’t use these features yourself, as you’ll definitely be asked questions about them.
  • Also read an up-to-date Google Analytics book, as there were a few questions I wouldn’t have known the answers to just from the Conversion University videos. I read Justin Cutroni’s Google Analytics from O’Reilly during the week before the exam. This was only published in August, so doesn’t contain outdated information, and packs a lot of content in a concise form. (O’Reilly books also have an advantage at the moment of being available really cheaply in the iPhone App Store – if you can bear the finger-strain of all the page swiping.) Alternatively, you could try the second edition of Brian Clifton’s Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics. (See this review of the previous edition which I wrote a couple of years ago.)  The Google Analytics Channel videos and anything written by Avinash Kaushik are also very worthwhile for additional background study.

Below are a few links to “exam tips” posts in other blogs which I found helpful when preparing for the test:

Review: Search Engine Optimization Secrets – SEO for 2011

Search Engine Optimization Secrets is a good introductory read for business owners who want to get up to speed with SEO quickly. Compared to some of the weightier tomes on offer about the subject, this is a manageable size and presented in a practical way, with useful checklists for many of the topics covered. The author’s scepticism about paid-for SEO tools is particularly refreshing in an SEO ebook, since many similar works exist to exclusively promote particular services.

One of the title’s main selling points is its currency. This is the 2010 edition of the book, which is updated annually to take account of new developments. (However, the ‘SEO for 2011′ part of the title is a bit optimistic for a book published in the first half of 2010.) There’s a special report on how to optimize your site for better ratings with Bing, coverage of Google Caffeine and up-to-date screenshots of the various online tools and services covered.

The worst aspect of the book for me was that the version that’s on sale is plainly unfinished. The copy I bought from Amazon a month ago still had editor’s comments included in the text. Being up to date is great in an SEO book, but it would still be nice to get a properly finished product.

Search Engine Optimization Secrets: SEO for 2011 is written by Mike Monahan and published as a Kindle ebook by MediaWorks Publishing.

Related posts

See other SEO-related reviews: Building Findable Websites, Where Search Meets Web Usability and The Truth about Search Engine Optimization.

Content audits and inventories

Auditing your website content can seem an interminable task, but it’s long been regarded as an essential part of pre-redesign planning and content inventories are increasingly recognised as vital long-term tools for the effective management of web content.

If you’re just beginning to grapple with a content audit, below are some articles, books and example spreadsheets which you should find helpful.

Articles

Doing a Content Inventory, (Or, a Mind-Numbingly Detailed Odyssey through your Web Site)
This short 2002 article by Jeffrey Veen is a good starting place for learning about content audits.

The Content Inventory: Roadmap to a Successful CMS Implementation
Article by Kassia Krozser which depicts content auditing as an essential part of a CMS implementation process. Helpfully points out that content inventories ‘almost always take longer than anticipated’.

Doing a Content Audit or Inventory
This blog post by Scott Baldwin includes some useful suggestions for applications which can speed up the auditing process by automating some of the listing process.

How to do a Content Audit
Hilary Marsh provides practical tips on content auditing, including advice to start at the highest levels of the site before working downwards and to be careful when ordering columns in Excel that you don’t just change the order of a single column.

A Map-Based Approach to a Content Inventory
Interesting article by Patrick C. Walsh, describing how he used Microsoft Access and Visio to create a maintainable site map and content inventory at the same time.

Why you shouldn’t start IA with a Content Inventory
A heretical article by Leisa Reichelt suggesting that starting redesign projects with a content inventory can be undesirable in that it immerses the designer in the existing way of doing things and constrains their ability to take a fresh approach. This provoked several responses, including an interesting rebuttal from Donna Spencer and The Rolling Content Inventory by Louis Rosenfeld, who champions content inventories as an ongoing process rather than a one-off exercise for redesign projects.

Books

Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning by Daniel M. Brown (Peachpit Press, 2007)
Contains a chapter on content inventories, with some helpful suggestions on formatting, linking an inventory into other website documentation and presenting the results of an inventory at meetings.

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson (New Riders, 2009)
Has detailed practical advice about auditing content and tying the findings into an effective content strategy for your site.

Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy by Ann Rockley (New Riders, 2003)
A thorough treatment of all aspects of content management. The chapter that covers Performing a Content Audit is available free online.

Sample spreadsheets for content inventories

I’ve already mentioned Jeffrey Veen’s article Doing a Content Inventory, which has includes an Excel template for an inventory. It lists Page ID, Page Name, Link, Document Type, Topics, Owner,  ROT (Redundant, Outdated or Trivial?) and Notes. It uses colour coding and indentation to reflect hierarchy.

Donna Spencer provides a simple content inventory spreadsheet on her blog. It includes fields for Navigation Title, Page Title, Files, Last Updated, Owner, Comments and whether the content needs to be deleted. Again, there’s use of indentation to indicate hierarchy and an example of freezing the Navigation Title column in Excel, so that it’s always visible as you scroll to the right – a nice technique to use for presenting large inventories.

Finally, the Seneb Consulting site has an example content inventory by Sarah A. Rice. It includes use of Excel’s Group and Outline features to allow the reader to expand and collapse groups of content, as well as instructions for using the Split Screen feature when dealing with larger inventories.

Review: Social Media Marketing with Facebook and Twitter

I think I’ve mentioned before how useful I find the lynda.com online training library. It’s always been a great resource for learning web design applications, but it also has an ever-increasing number of titles on other software and broader web-related topics. I’ve recently been watching one of the more recent additions: Social Media Marketing with Facebook and Twitter by Anne-Marie Concepción.

The title provides a great introduction for complete newcomers to either social networking environment, but the course is sensibly structured so the starter videos on basic account set-up can be skipped by people who already have personal accounts. Setting up business accounts on Twitter and business pages on Facebook is then covered in full, with discussions and demonstrations of all the available functionality. Useful caveats are also provided when necessary. For example, you’re shown how to automatically import your blog into your Facebook page, but also warned why you probably don’t want to do this and given a sensible alternative.

The really valuable part of the title for many people will be its advice on using Twitter and Facebook strategically for business marketing, with special emphasis on increasing viral effects via ‘word of keyboard’.

For me some of the most interesting advice here included:

  • Ways to cross-promote blog posts, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.
  • Advice on measuring the impact of Twitter and Facebook use – vital in a lot of business environments where the tools can be regarded as time-wasters.
  • Tips on using Twitter, Facebook and companion tools like Tweetdeck to search for business opportunites and ideas.
  • A useful breakdown of all the differences between pages and groups in Facebook – something I’ve never very clearly understood.
  • Discussions of the terms of use for Twitter and Facebook. I hadn’t realised that Twitter forbids links in tweets to websites which are against its terms of service.

This is a fun title which is definitely worth a viewing if you’re a lynda.com subscriber with any interest in social marketing.

Social Media Marketing with Facebook and Twitter by Anne-Marie Concepción is available on the lynda.com training site.

Related posts

Review of WordPress.com Essential Training – another lynda.com title.

←Older