Screenwriter, Choreographer, Game Developer

Visiting Google, and how we behave if something is free and plentiful

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The last couple of days I've been teaching a training course to some Google employees at Google's London office. It was an interesting experience because of the various information that I had already heard about working at Google, some of which was confirmed by my experience and some of which was not.

It all started poorly, with a surly receptionist and a requirement to agree to an NDA just to get into the office. I can't remember what was in the NDA because I didn't receive a copy, but I'll avoid mentioning any Google projects just in case. This post is just about the atmosphere I found at the offices and among the staff.

Once I'd negotiated the front desks (two - building reception and Google reception), everything was sweetness and light. I can fully understand if few Google employees ever want to leave. Offices are spacious, equipment is plentiful and well maintained, and everyone seemed to be very happy. All the people I met were welcoming, and those I was training were appreciative of my knowledge and my sharing it with them. I had a great two days and am looking forward to going back next week. If you want to work for a large organisation this feels like one of the good guys.

And there's the free food, which is notorious. It wasn't as good as the food at Ubiq's training centre, which is extraordinarily good, but it was by far the best food I've eaten at any large organisation's offices. Free, plentiful, high quality, and mostly healthy food (there's more fresh fruit than chocolate, and even the chocolate bars are organic) means everyone eats well.

I can confirm that the Google 15 (the fifteen pounds that new Google employees supposedly gain in their first year at Google from gorging on the omnipresent free food) is a myth. Staff looked healthy and I would estimate they have an average weight significantly below the national average.

I suspect this has something to do with basic human nature. If a restaurant offers a special, today only, free, all you can eat buffet then people will gorge themselves at this temporary bowl of plenty. However, at Google the food is free today, tomorrow and every day thereafter so there's no incentive to be greedy - that extra portion of food will still be there tomorrow, when you'll actually be hungry again, so why eat it now. Just as we don't hoard air, despite our fundamental need for it, because it's free, plentiful, and always there when we need it.

Which makes me wonder about other things that are free and always available. Like the majority of web content.

I have a bookmarks folder called 'to look at later' which contains more links than the rest of my bookmarks put together. Why? Because the content is free and will still be there tomorrow, so there's no urgency to check it out today.

Also, I rarely play games online because they'll still be there tomorrow when I may have more time to spend on this 'research' ;-).

Is there a way to make users greedy about your web content? To make them rush to your site to read your blog, play your games, or use your software because there's a sense that now is the time to seize the opportunity and tomorrow may be too late? In the same way that people rush home to watch a television programme because it's on a specific channel at a specific time and so now is the time to see it.

Or is your website destined to be a perpetual, free, all you can eat buffet that users visit when they're hungry and ignore at other times?

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