Posted September 25, 2008 9:53 am by with 12 comments

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By allowing its engineers to spend 20% of their work week on projects that interest them, Google is able to tap into the many talents of its employees. The latest “20% project” to get released into the wild is Google Moderator.

While Matt Cutts didn’t work on the project, he does offer a simple explanation of what Google Moderator does:

What does Google Moderator do? When we have tech talks or company-wide meetings, it lets anyone ask a question and then people can vote up the questions that they’d like answered.

You can see a screenshot below.

OK, so this is kind of cool. I could see where this might come in handy–like once a year, or something. What concerns me is this.

Marissa Mayer suggests there’s a long, long way to go in perfecting Google’s search engine. Right? So, why are Google engineers focusing their free time on projects that don’t serve that goal? Are they bored with search? Is this a sentiment that is pervasive among Google’s top talent?

I’m a big fan of Google and, admittedly, use many of its products that would not exist if not for 20% time. That said, I’d much rather Google focus that 20% on making search a better experience for everyone, instead of becoming the jack of all trades, and the master of none.

Am I being too harsh? Chime in!

  • I don’t think that they’re bored. I think Google gives them the 20% time because it prevents exhaustion. I might be great at search development, but as a person, I have other interests too, so I probably have some good ideas there.

    Just consider how the likes of gmail and chrome probably came out of someone’s 20% time, and have actually enhanced search.

    Besides, Google moderator could very well create an addition crowd source for Google by brining more corporate info into the online (i.e. Google) world.

    CT Moore’s last blog post..My Workshop at Nokia Open Lab in Helsinki

  • IF you sit tyhere and bang your head upon the wall, over and over and over, you rarely break through the wall, you only damage your skull.

    Likewise, in figuring something out, sometimes you just have to DO SOMETHING ELSE and come back to it.

    How many times have you tried to beat a level on a video game and after the 20th time, you say, “F*** it.” Go play another game for a bit, then when you come back you pass that level, easier..

    20% of time to rest your brain on a task, on somehting you like, which incrases morale and decreases frustration.

    your 80% just became more productive, no?


    paisley’s last blog post..MySpace Music To Launch Tonight. Here’s What You’ll See (And Hear)

  • Pingback: 7 Ideas for Using Google Moderator In Business - Scott Clark()

  • geesh, sorry for the typos..

    paisley’s last blog post..MySpace Music To Launch Tonight. Here’s What You’ll See (And Hear)

  • i think its more a case of Google just releasing more tools – not that they’re bored with search

    as for better search – maybe you could use Moderator to suggest a few things 😉

  • Doing the same thing day in day out can get boring and lose your innovation, ideas and creative thinking. That’s why you tend to break up your job with other things. In solving other problems it can sometimes bring innovation into your main line of work.

    I’d be interested to know what some of the 37signals guys’ thoughts are on Google’s 20% time and whether 100% search time rather than 80% would be more beneficial.

    sheppy’s last blog post..The Eagle has landed…

  • @Sheppy – I agree, but if you’re passionate about search, wouldn’t you make that the focus of your 20% time? Google’s engineers are geniuses but what does it say about them, that they spend their 20% time on stuff other than search?

  • Dean

    @ Andy

    You’re being way to harsh. Do you spend 100% of your “work” time posting on Marketing Pilgrim? As passionate as you are I am sure you do little side projects that makes you better at your core or at least let you clear your head. At some point didn’t you wander off into the corner and develop Trakur when you should have been doing SEM posts?

    Frankly, I think you are just trying to hone in on my skepticism business, which, by the way, I do work diligently at 100% of the time 🙂

  • @Dean – you’re under the false impression that I have 20% time to spare. 😉

  • Dave


    I think you’re missing the whole point of the 20% time. The idea is to work on something OTHER than your mainstream projects. Google is not the only company to do this sort of thing; for example, it’s the source of a large number of 3M’s products (including Post-It notes, if I remember correctly).

    Very few people are so passionate about one thing that they can spend 100% of their time on it, day after day. From a corporate standpoint, Google might be passionate about search, but that doesn’t mean their employees are in lockstep with that way of thinking. Having a set amount of time to work on what they want to work on, rather than what they’re told to work on, (a) helps serve as a vacation on the job by recharging their brains, (b) results in higher-quality work, and (c) results in higher morale.

  • Thanks for all the comments. I love opening up a discussion and you guys always deliver!

  • Its good that they spend time on other things because if they focused all on the search engine, we wouldn’t have the great products we have now from Google.