Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Google comes to Cambridge

CAMBRIDGE - When lava lamps, massage chairs, Gymnastik fitness balls, and kiwi smoothie bars pop up in formerly pedestrian Kendall Square office space, it can mean only one thing:

Google is taking over the universe.
Google Inc. is growing in Greater Boston.

The giant Internet search company, which hired its first Beantown Googlers at the end of 2005 and had 50 people working out of the Cambridge Innovation Center just a year ago, has expanded to 175 local employees. They recently moved into new digs - 60,000 square feet on four floors at 5 Cambridge Center - done up in the company's extravagant, self-consciously quirky Silicon Valley style.

"We are committed to mirroring a lot of that culture here," Stephen Vinter, a veteran area software engineer and site director for Google's new Kendall Square office, told a group of wide-eyed visitors, including Governor Deval Patrick, at an open house yesterday.

In fact, the local office is working on several projects vital to Google's global strategy: building a platform where developers can write a myriad of applications for the mobile Internet; extending the reach of Google's video-sharing YouTube technology and analyzing the demographics of video viewers; compiling metadata and researching copyrights that could help convert books into searchable digital formats; and, letting more websites deploy social-networking features.

Android, the developers' platform that is key to Google's mobile Internet push, was designed in Massachusetts by a company Google acquired three years ago. Rich Miner, cofounder of Android, now works out of the Cambridge office as Google group manager for mobile platforms. The company last Friday awarded a $25,000 prize to four Massachusetts Institute of Technology undergraduates who were round one winners in the Android Developer Challenge for developing software that enables people to manage cellphone settings.

And the new Google Friend Connect, an Internet tool unveiled Monday that allows developers to embed social networking applications onto their own websites, emerged from the Google office in Cambridge. "It's not about making social networks more social," Vinter said. "It's about making the rest of the Web more social."

Vinter said his goal for the office "is to have a real diverse set of things to work on that can have a big impact." He said some of the Google engineers in Cambridge are immersed in infrastructure issues, such as Web crawling, that are invisible to consumers.

Google on the Charles, employing a mix of engineers and search-advertising salespeople, has many of the amenities found at the Googleplex headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., including a house band, open workstations decorated in Tiki jungle style, and microkitchens located within 150 feet of every employee.

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