Exploring Google at Mountain View

Few enterprises have become so embedded in the everyday life of people around the world as Google. From search engine to email service, from map for directions to text and spreadsheet editor, Google is perhaps the most important supplier of services in the digital age. By offering its services for free, as well as by providing an user experience that many people can understand and a robust system, this company has rapidly expanded both online and offline. Millions of people from all nationalities use its services, and relate to Google as a verb, a tool, and a platform.

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Google is perhaps the most powerful corporation of an era of networks, information, screens, gps navigation, computers, and artificial intelligence. Given the popularity of its services and tools across nations, Google has become almost like a global nation-state that is seeing everywhere, establishing relationships among the citizens who want to be connected and networked. Its ability to collect data from all kind of interactions that users make when using Google tools and platforms, as well as data from the public world wide web and the physical world (e.g. books, street pictures), has made it a giant of the information society. Google sees as if it were a global nation-state, through all the big data that collects and is able to process with the power of algorithms, artificial intelligence, an computer power.

Despite appearing to be everywhere and ubiquitous, Google can also be found. Its servers and offices are at different places around the world, including creative cities like London and Sao Paulo, and even the ocean. Its headquarters, however, are at Mountain View, California. I had the opportunity to explore them last week after attending the LRNG summit at Microsoft, another giant of the digital age who also has its headquarters in the same town.

Together with other two friends who were also at the summit we decided to drift Google as a sort of derive in hybrid public space, both in the physical space of the city of Mountain View, and the virtual space of the GPS network. We also wanted to get a better feeling of how Sillicon Valley, the core of the digital world, looked like when you walk its streets or when you ride a bike. I present below some photographs of what we saw with a brief commentary or reflection.

Google headquarters are spread across all the city of Mountain View. There are several Google buildings in different parts of the city that form clusters surrounded by parking lots. The closer we encounter during our walk gave us access to the G-Bikes, a technology for navigating Google in physical space.

The G-Bikes are colorful, have baskets, and are parked at racks infront of all Google buildings. Sometime, where they are near parking lots, they are parked beside electric-car chargeable stations.

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Other times the bikes are found in random places across Mountain View. Despite the signs on their baskets that say they have to be at Google, they also can be found in the middle of side walk, or near the trails that communicate different cities in Silicon Valley.

Although the G-Bikes are supposed to be used by Google employers only, and have stickers that say they are property of Google, other people in the city can also use them. All the G-Bikes are unlocked, and they look the same. One can see tech workers, most of them young, riding them around the Google neighborhoods in Mountain View.

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We decided to ride the bikes to do our exploration. Like other Google services, the G-Bikes seemed to be like public and free tools. However, these bikes were perhaps one of the few services that do not collect data from the users. I thought the idea of public bikes worked very well and contributed to create a sort of playful and youthful environment.

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Their bright colors were also align with the aesthetic that the corporation has embraced. Google’s services and products look like candy. Colorful invitations to users avid of connecting, finding information, communicating. Their interfaces are clean and easy to use, and million of people around the world has tasted them.

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It is not a coincidence that in one of the Google building clusters there was a mini thematic playground with candy inspired sculptures represnting the names of the different Android operating systems. We also found other public sculptures like the one of a dinosaur and a shark fin.

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Finally, I also have to share the GPX trace I recorded with my phone during our exploration to provide some clues about the urban layout and the location of some of the Google buildings in Mountain View. Although the trace does not reveal it, we experienced a little bit of disorientation effect during the exploration. Given the similarity of all the streets, and the maze created by massive parking lots we had to use navigation aids to find our way back to our starting point.

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