Ricardo Geromel, Contributor
Covering global economic issues with a focus on Brazil
May 4, 2012, Forbes
What is Google Up To in Israel ?
I visited Google’s office in Tel Aviv where about 50 people work in Marketing & Sales and over 200 in the engineers department. Yes, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google founders, are Jewish. However, this post has no religious orientation. If you are looking for some sort of religious conspiracy theory go elsewhere, here you will learn only about what Google is really up to in Israel.
Google office in downtown Tel Aviv
Google first opened its office in Israel in 2006. I visited two of the four floors used by Google on the 21st and 22nd floors of the famous Levinstein Tower in downtown Tel Aviv. Although not as impressive as the famed Googleplex in Mountain View, California, the offices offer magnificent views of the Mediterranean sea. Each room has its own theme, with walls and furnishings of all colors. There is a meeting room filled with giant legos, a pinball machine, Nintendo Wii, Playstation and other games. There is also a fully equipped music room with guitars, drums, microphones, professional sound system, etc. Add to that a silent room, a 3D printer, and free food at each floor. The feeling of being in a kindergarten almost made me forget that I was in one of the world’s largest multinational companies.
Google also employs about 80 engineers in its second office in Israel located in Haifa, Israel’s technological center. The Haifa office is just 2 thousand meters away from the beach; I saw pictures but I did not visit that office. The second office also has toys in the lobby, game rooms, beanbag chairs, free food, and so on. Some affirm these Google methods do not enhance creativity. Personally, I believe that, at least, it incentives employees to spend more time together and create stronger personal bonds, which will pay off later by increasing team work. Here is a video about work-life balance at Google Israel.
After visiting the premises, Inna Weiner, a software engineer, presented products and services that have started and/or are being developed in Israel:
Live Results is being developed in Israel. It allows people to find data they are looking for directly in the Google webpage, without the need to click on a link that will direct visitors to a website. For instance, you search “Weather in Rio de Janeiro” and it directly shows the forecast instead of only links to websites (in case you are curious, it is 25 degrees Celsius in the Beautiful city today). I believe Live Results is an effort to make users spend more time in the Google page. By the way, in April, it was the first time people spent more time on Facebook than on Google in Brazil.
Person finder application. An app that was very useful during the Turkey Earthquake. Whenever a natural disaster takes place, the person finder application goes live, aiming to provide reliable and actual information about missing people. People basically have two buttons, “I am looking for someone” and “I have info about someone.”. I enjoy this kind of innovation; it makes me think of Chief Almir using Google Earth to fight deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. The person finder application was developed as part of the 20% of free time that engineers have at Google to work on any project of their choice, as long as that project has been approved by their superior. Bear in mind that whatever is developed during these 20% of “free time” is owned by Google, not by the employees. By the way, people in the Sales & Mktg department don’t have the 20% of free time privilege. However, in the Tel Aviv office they can still use the 3D printer and eat for free all day long.
Google Suggest – The Autocomplete Search Tool that let us “search faster than the speed of typing” was fully developed in Israel. Personally, I find this tool way too intrusive. I don’t like to have the impression that I am so dumb that an algorithm can predict what I am about to search for. I am afraid that tomorrow a machine will know what I am about to think.
Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Project. Google has digitized one of the oldest manuscript ever discovered and allows everyone to examine it online with high resolution. For instance, if you search for “And the world shall dwell with the lamb,” you can instantly find the exact location in the digital version of the original scroll. This project was such a success that in the first day it was live more people saw the dead sea scrolls than in the entire year before.
Inna was very excited to present the work Google has done with the Yad Vashem memorial, dedicated to victims of the Holocaust. This collaboration has created an online collaborative archive of photographs of the museum. Basically, Google uploaded thons of physical documents, such as photos. Anyone, anywhere can not only find information about each person and/or location in the pictures but also easily add information.
Google Insights for search started in Israel and now is being improved by Google engineers all over the world. It is a free tool to analyze search queries. However, only ratios and not the total number of queries are revealed. For instance, you can verify that the total amount of searches for the term “Pele” was about three times higher than ”Maradona” in the past 30 days.
In-Page Analytics was fully developed in Israel. Basically, it lets you quantify precise information about your website. For instance, you can measure the percentage of visitors who clicked on any clickable item in your website.
Receive emails through SMS in Ghana. Google Israel developed an app that allows people to receive emails in SMS format. In Ghana, just like in Guinea Conakry where I worked, broadband internet is not widespread. However, most people have cell phones. When you send an email to someone registered in this service, the person receives the email as a SMS. I hope Google has found a better way of filtering spams than in regular Gmail.
Interactive videos in youtube started in Israel and was taken to Mountain View to be fully developed.
Jonathan Riftin, Industry Analyst based in Tel Aviv, explained the Structure of the Marketing & Sales team in Israel:
In Tel Aviv, the Marketing & Sales team only supports big clients. Small and medium businesses are handled by the Mktg & Sales office in Dublin. The Mktg & Sales team is divided in small groups. Each group contains a client manager, account strategists and industry analysts. Client managers are responsible for meeting and handling large accounts, which can be the government, big Israeli companies, universities, and so on. Industry Analysts main tasks are to follow trends and complete market research. For instance, if an airline company wants to open a direct flight from Tel Aviv to Sao Paulo, the industry analyst will measure the amount of queries relating Israel and Brazil and come up with an estimated price of the related sponsored search terms. The estimative is then validated by the client manager who will present it to the prospective client. Account strategists are responsible for building and assisting online campaigns. If an agency builds the online campaign for a client, the account strategist will monitor it and suggest ways to improve the campaign, always focusing on maximizing ROI.
I have also visited Google’s office in the center of Paris. To my surprise, I found out that the Sales & marketing teams are designed in very similar manners worldwide. When Jonathan Riftin, Industry Analyst based in Tel Aviv, explained what the Sales & Marketing team does in Israel, it was like replaying the speech I heard a month ago from Christian Vigne, account strategist at Google Paris, explaining what he does in France.
When asked about the main differences between the Tel Aviv office and the Paris office or any other Google office worldwide regarding the Sales & Marketing teams, the answer was, “Besides cultural differences, the view in the office!” They quickly added that the special ingredient and main reason why Google has such an important R&D center in Israel is because of the quality of Israeli engineers.
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