If Google Were a Restaurant

had a fascinating conversation the other day with Jon Orwant, who was O’Reilly’s first CTO, and is now an engineer working on Google’s Book Search team.

Jon noted that one of the most fascinating things he’s learned since starting at Google is its pervasive culture of measurement. He illustrated this graphically by saying something like this: “When I go to a restaurant, and look at leftovers on my plate, I don’t see food, I see information. If the restaurant were Google, they wouldn’t just take that plate and scrape it off into the trash. There would be a camera in the kitchen, photographing every plate coming back, with analysis of what people liked and disliked, and what portions were too big, helping to optimize future servings.”

leftover food:  http://www.kimberlyblessing.com/photos/v/drive05/IMG_0744.jpg (via Google Image Search)

Now, as Steve Talbott points out, our increasing quantitative sophistication shouldn’t blind us to what we can’t quantify. (Nothing in Jon’s restaurant analysis will tell the difference between an adequate meal and a great one, though it might tell us the difference between an adequate meal and an awful one.) Nonetheless, this is a thought-provoking reminder of how much Web 2.0 (or “Live Software”, as Microsoft has so insightfully called it) depends on creating information feedback loops. This is the practical plumbing that makes possible Web 2.0 systems that get better the more people use them.