Google's free-wheeling research days wind down

It's no secret Google has been pinching pennies. While engineering still matters, revenue generation is in the driver's seat.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Stephen Shankland/CNET News

The Wall Street Journal has artfully assembled a collection of mostly public indicators that Google is trying to rein in its expenses, but there are a few nuggets of note about the near-mythic company coming down to earth.

The known factors include shutting down Lively and SearchMash, paring back the 10,000 contractor employees, dropping Google Page Creator in favor of Google Sites, shutting some regional offices, showing ads on Google Finance, and curtailing lavish perks such as abundant food. The more telling items in the piece, though, are that Google is requiring research projects be financially justified, expanding data centers more slowly, tying hiring to revenue, and seeking to diversify its revenue beyond search ads.

Programmers doubtless appreciate free food, but the more serious issue for a relatively engineer-centric outfit such as Google is the freedom to pursue in-house projects while on the clock--Google's famed 20 percent time. There's no indication that's falling by the wayside, but in practice, revenue-generating projects are getting the resources.

"To better manage projects in development, top executives asked engineering vice presidents to rank the 20 most promising projects within their units; those that made the lists were granted the bulk of the resources, say former Google product managers. Projects not on the lists were far less likely than before to get technical support," according to the report.

So perhaps some programmers will look for greener pastures. But with an ugly recession on, Google no doubt still looks to be a secure place to work for somebody seeking a technophiliac culture.