Archives for October 2007

Engineering grouplets at Google

Google engineer Bharat Mediratta discussed some Google engineering customs in the New York Times yesterday. Bharat goes beyond 20% time to talk about some different aspects of being an engineer at Google:

  • Grouplets bring together like-minded engineers who care about things like documentation, improving our build system, or testing. It’s an informal process lets engineers contribute on the topics that they care about the most.
  • Sometimes we have “Fixit days” where every Google engineer is encouraged to tackle a specific topic. From the article:

    Or my favorite: the Customer Happiness Fixit, when we fix all those little things that bug our users and make them sad — for example, when the hotkeys aren’t just right on mobile phones. Many of these events come with special T-shirts and gifts to reward the engineers who take a little time out to work on them.

    That particular fixit day was one of my favorites too.

  • Bharat also discusses the best way for an engineer to have an impact at Google:

    Google works from the bottom up. If you have a great technical idea, you don’t have your V.P. send out a memo telling everybody to use it. Instead, you take it to your fellow engineers and convince them that it’s good. Good ideas spread fast, and this approach keeps us from making technical mistakes. But it also means that the burden falls upon you to spread your idea.

I’d completely agree with that. I’ve noticed that a good way to accomplish something at Google is to convince other engineers and build consensus from there. Google’s culture also rewards those who take the initiative on their ideas.

Bharat also talks about how his testing grouplet hit on the idea of posting one-page stories about testing in the bathrooms. Just like that, “Testing on the Toilet” was born. 🙂 Now that the tradition has been discussed publicly, I don’t feel bad about linking to this picture that Niall Kennedy snapped while visiting Google a while ago. 🙂

Tips on your Google Reader subscriber numbers

On Friday, Google Operating System noticed that Google Reader will tell you Google Reader subscriber numbers for a blog when you search to add a new feed. It didn’t take long for different folks to start collecting subscriber numbers for different blogs. I haven’t asked the Reader team about this, but it looks like this is just the counts for Google Reader subscribers. Before charging off to compute a bunch of stats, you should know a few things:

1. A blog can have multiple feeds, and you may want to add up the subscribers for the most important feeds.

For example, here are subscriber numbers for my blog:

Google Reader subscribers

I got that data by going to Google Reader, clicking on “Add subscription” and then searching for the string “mattcutts”. If you have a unique string in your domain name, that’s a good way to see the top feeds for your site.

I’ve used orange letters to highlight that I have a feed at FeedBurner, a MyBrand feed (served by FeedBurner, but with a CNAME from my domain so I control the feed with DNS), an Atom Feed, and an RSS feed. If you add all those up together, you get 9980 subscribers. So I’m 20 readers short of ten thousand Google Reader subscribers. 🙂 By the way, I think that MyBrand is one of the least-used but greatest features from FeedBurner (which was acquired by Google earlier this year). With MyBrand, your feed is served by FeedBurner, but you keep the control of the feed url in case you decide to leave FeedBurner some day. The best write-up on MyBrand that I’ve seen is this tutorial by Danny Sullivan.

2. You may have more users than your top few feeds suggest.

Modern blogging software such as WordPress can generate lots of different feeds. For example, for any post on my blog, you can subscribe to a separate feed for the comments on that post. All those little feeds can add up, so you might have a lot more subscribers than even the top few feeds on your site suggest. Which leads me right to:

3. FeedBurner can aggregate all your different Google Reader subscribers into one number.

If you just want a nice summary number, or to see the breakdown of feed readers, I recommend FeedBurner. It’s free and gives you useful stats for any day you want. Here’s a recent Monday’s stats for my blog:

Feedburner pie chart

Of course, FeedBurner will only give you stats for your own site. That’s why everyone is having a good time looking at the Google Reader subscriber counts. 🙂 Just remember that Google Reader subscriber stats will skew toward Google users. That’s probably why some Google-focused blogs do better in Google Reader’s stats when compared to some other metrics.

Just as an aside, how cool is it that on Firefox with the Google search box, if you start typing in math, the auto-suggest will give you the running answer as a suggestion — without even hitting return? Here’s what it looks like:

Firefox + Google = cool calculator!


Anyway, if you want to lift my Google Reader subscribers above 10,000, just add my RSS feed or my Atom feed. I’m in a multi-week blogging lull as I work on a non-webspam project at the Googleplex, but I’ll be blogging more in 3-4 weeks.

Suggested schwag: triple-tap AC adapters

I’m still crunching on my non-webspam logistical project, plus I’m about 400 emails behind. I’m also going to fly up to Kirkland on Tuesday and Wednesday to say hello to the Webmaster Central team and check in with them. I feel bad for not posting much recently, so I rummaged around and found this gadget post. If you want an SEO fix, check out this interview with Eric Enge that I did last week Sept. 24th (time flies!). If you still want more SEO, you may not have seen this interview with Dan Keen that I did several weeks ago.

Okay, back to the gadget post. 🙂 Conference schwag is mostly lame. Here’s an idea for some killer schwag that people would actually use.

At SES San Jose, the wifi worked really well, but power outlets were few and far between. I snagged one and sat by it during one of the panels. At one point, someone came up and said “Mind if we share this power outlet?” and whipped out a “triple-tap” adapter that converts one AC plug into three. Here’s what they look like:

Triple tap adapters

(The one on the left has all the AC plugs in a row, while the one on the right is a compact cube that also has three plugs.)

“Wow, what a wonderful idea!” I told the other fellow at the session.

“Yup, they’re great at conferences and airports where everyone wants extra power outlets,” he said. (I didn’t get the guy’s name.) You can pick up these AC adapters at any hardware store for a few bucks.

You can see where this is going, right? Rebrand these adapters as “Airport/Conference adapters” or some other cool/hip name. By the way, if you don’t think AC adapters can be branded, I’ll politely remind you about the PowerSquid.

Anyway, once these little items are hot then you give away branded units at conferences. Here’s my proof-of-concept:

Branded AC adapters

I gots teh mad Paint.NET skillz. 🙂 Anyway, this schwag would beat yet another retractable modem cord by a mile. That is, at least until everybody going to conferences had 5-6 of these. 🙂