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Saturday, June 24, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Big Google ideas generated here

Seattle Times business reporter

Google hasn't talked much about it until now, but its Seattle-area office has been quietly cranking out influential ideas and products in the less than two years since it opened.

In fact, roughly 60 percent of the products shown by Google co-founder Larry Page at the Consumer Electronics Show in January had their start in Kirkland.

The office Google calls its Seattle Engineering Center is on two floors of a nondescript office building in Kirkland. It has all the standard Google trappings, such as a massage room, Ikea furniture in bright primary colors, soft beanbag chairs and a cafeteria serving gourmet organic fare. There are wine-and-cheese receptions every Friday afternoon with Page and co-founder Sergei Brin on videoconference.

"This office wasn't started that long ago," said Alan Eustace, Google's senior vice president of engineering, who was visiting the office Friday. "The projects they've put together in that period of time have made a big impact on the company. This has been an amazingly productive office."

Developers in Kirkland are working on about 25 different products collaboratively with employees in other locations. At least six products were created here, including Google Talk, Google Maps, Google Video, Google Sitemaps, Google Pack and Google Gadgets.

Google Talk, the first project started in Kirkland, is an instant-messaging application that Google is building into other properties. Google Maps is a map database with satellite images of North America, Europe and Australia that Google is extending around the world.

Google Video's design and features were all created in Kirkland, where engineers are evaluating a new move to make paid content free by including ads.

Google Sitemaps is a tool to help Web sites be discovered on Google searches; it was a side project of Engineering Director Narayanan Shivakumar.

What's most exciting for Eustace these days is a vision for search technology that blends maps with many other kinds of information.

"There's some huge opportunities for us to put together information and geography in ways that are very interesting," he said.

"I'd like queries like 'welding class near Kirkland,' " he said. "I'd like that to be beautiful. I'd like that to show a perfect Web page that shows this community college has a class at 12:00 and you click on this link to get it."

Or a search that tells you the nearest shop where you can buy a certain camera and the price, or a search for a house that also shows you crime rates and the quality of schools.

"If I'm buying a house, I want to know about schools and crime and shopping," Eustace said. "Once we have information about locations, I think it's going to be possible for us to organize it."

These kinds of problems are exactly what engineers in Kirkland are tackling.

One thing Mountain View, Calif.-based Google says it must balance is the need to improve its core search and ad business while making time for all the other new projects.

The Kirkland office has grown to more than 150 employees since starting with 10 when it opened in September 2004. There are signs it will attract a lot more talent in the future.

Amanda Camp joined Google right after graduating from the University of Arizona.

"I love Google culture, but I don't like Mountain View," she said. "This is a much better place to live."

Employees, who across the company average 30 years old, said having a free hand to try new things is especially rewarding. "The culture is do great things rather than worry about making mistakes," said Rod Chavez, who works on Google Video. "Do lots of things hoping to find the good ones."

While the company has attracted some tech talent away from Microsoft, including Engineering Director Peter Wilson, a 10-year Microsoft veteran, the motivations for Googlers to work hard aren't so different from its competitor eight miles down the freeway.

"I'm doing something real, and it's going to impact millions of people," Wilson said.

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or kheim@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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