Googlers using '20 percent time' to help Japan

Employees around the world are spending time--some working around the clock--on technology to assist those in Japan affected by the disasters there.

Damian Koh
2 min read
Google has set up a Crisis Response page in response to the disaster in Japan. Google/Screenshot by Anne Dujmovic/CNET

Many Googlers are spending time working on technology to help Japan in the aftermath of last week's devastating earthquake, tsunami, and developing nuclear crisis. One of the tools being used in the crisis response is Fusion Tables, according to Riku Inoue, product manager at Google and lead for Google Labs. The application is a service that manages large collections of tabular data in the cloud.

In response to the disaster in Japan, Google has set up a multilingual Crisis Response page with resources on emergency hotlines, relief organizations, shelter information, blackout status, donation channels and maps, as well as a service to locate missing people. "Googlers in Japan and elsewhere around the world have been working around the clock to try and help improve the flow of information," Nobu Makida, Google's product manager, said in a blog post yesterday.

"We are trying to find a way to help people in a way we are good at," said Inoue during a conference call with CNET Asia.

As part of the company's philosophy, Google has long allowed its employees to spend 20 percent of their time to work on projects that are not listed in their job descriptions. For one day each week, Google engineers can spend their time developing something new or fix something that's broken.

"There are many people who have actually used much more than 20 percent on this crisis response. People have been working 500 percent on that, day and night, for a few days already," Myriam Boubill, head of communications and public affairs for Google Southeast Asia, said.

Fusion Tables is one of the 18 applications that have "graduated" from Google Labs--a melting pot of early experimental products. Other examples include Google Maps, iGoogle, Google Reader, and Google Trends.

Some of the applications that were developed in Asia Pacific include <="" a="" rel="noopener nofollow" class="c-regularLink" target="_blank"> (India), Google Transliteration (Beijing, India, Japan), and Google Indic Music Search (India). In December, six products were launched on Google Labs. These include Google Body, an interactive 3D model of the human body, and Google Books Ngram Viewer, which lets you see how often phrases have occurred in books over the years.

According to Inoue, Google Books Ngram Viewer was developed from scratch in a fortnight, which he said is an example of getting experimental ideas out the door very quickly. The number of people working on a single product varies depending on how big the idea is. For example, the Google Books Ngram Viewer involved about three people, while Google Body had a team of about six. Typically, there are between two and five people working on each product, although Google doesn't determine or limit the number of people involved.

"We have this long history at Google of trialing products internally on other Googlers, and we see Google Labs as an extension of that process to get early feedback from a much broader audience," Mamie Rheingold, program manager for Innovation in Engineering at Google, added.

(Source: Crave Asia)