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Step inside Google Zurich: when it comes to Zurich's most playful workplace, Google's Engineering Hub may well top the list as the zaniest office in town. We've taken a look inside and met with Andreas Schonenberger, manager of Google Switzerland.


Located in the vibrant area of the former Hurlimann Brewery, where trendy shops, restaurants and businesses form a colourful mix, the Google offices are the pinnacle of innovative design. The reception with its red, purple and blue balloon chairs looks like a child's paradise.

In the blue zone, there is a lounge with aquariums to aid relaxation, and retired mountain gondolas have been brought in to serve as intimate meeting rooms. The mock antique library with its painted-on books and fireplace serves as a cafeteria.

Velvet burgundy curtains frame the view of the Hurlimann Castle perched on a nearby hill. The heavy crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling moves slightly as we sit down. This definitely feels like Google Middle Europe.

So, is this work or play?

For Swiss-born Andreas Schonenberger, 42, the country manager of Google Switzerland, the question is an obsolete one. The boundaries between business and leisure have melted, he says.

Google believes the best ideas are created while playing, and work does not stop at the front door. As if to illustrate the corporate credo, we see two employees in cycling gear at Google's entrance who are still fully immersed in today's latest challenges. Helmets on, one foot on the pedal, they do not seem to notice it is way past office hours.


Most of the over 400 Zooglers--as the Zurich Google employees are fondly referred to--work in development-related functions. Aside from engineering, employees also concentrate on developing Google Switzerland's business. At the helm since November 2006, Schonenberger has a tough market in which to operate, as only a mere two per cent of business in Switzerland is done via the Internet.

Renske Heddema, Swiss News: How important is the Swiss market for Google?

Andreas Schonenberger: The Swiss market is of vital importance, because it still has a long way to go. Whereas online business in Germany amounts to ten per cent and that of the UK to 16 per cent, the Swiss number of online sales does not exceed two per cent. The rethinking from offline into online marketing has only just started in the Swiss advertising world.

By contrast, considering that 53 per cent of Swiss consumers enjoy broadband access at home--with 'normal' domestic Internet access being 68 per cent--there is an enormous gap between offer and demand. Swiss Internet consumption is amongst the highest worldwide. Companies haven't figured out how to generate business from Internet presence. Needless to say, Google Switzerland has enormous potential.

How do you convince such an apparently conservative market to use Google's platforms?

To promote the Internet approach to doing business, Google works with both advertising agencies and directly with Swiss companies. Some tenacity is needed. Google organises workshops where we demonstrate how our platforms are best used. We especially promote our tool Google AdWords, where businesses create their own ads choosing keywords related to their business. These are likely to generate the most traffic from an audience that is already interested.

How does Google make money from this traffic?

We design technology for businesses to obtain the best presence on a particular search platform. We do not sell millimetres as in print or minutes as in television; the mechanism we use resembles an auction. Advertisers bid on a keyword, which is related to a text ad. If on a certain webpage, say the tourist board of the Maldives, Hotel A is ready to pay X amount for a keyword that leads to his hotel, and Hotel B offers more, Google sells the keyword to Hotel B. Google, however, only makes money when people click on the ad. The costs per click can vary from a few rappen to several francs.


There are other applications, such as AdSense. We work, for instance, with a variety of partners all over the world: news sites, all sorts of content providers. The contracts with them are based on a shared-revenue model. If a website reserves space for Google Ads, the publisher will get a part of the budget the advertiser is spending. It's a win-win situation, for Google, the content partner and for the consumer.


Moreover, we believe strongly in open source business models. Google has launched Open Social, an open developer's platform allowing users to move without frontiers between platforms. Community sites such as Facebook and MySpace benefit from Google's engagement in this field.


The Swiss business culture tends to be hierarchical, but Google seems to be less structured, Does the Swiss culture stop at Google's doors?

Of course we have managers, each and every department has, but our philosophy is based on ideas. It is the ideas that count and they can come from everywhere, not just top-down or bottom-up. Compassion is the key factor for Google employees. Every employee is involved in discussion and in finding solutions.

Individuality is important, but so is teamwork. People with ideas are encouraged to remain the project owner and to develop it further. That is the biggest difference between Google and conventional companies. We try to nurture innovation by creating a playful and relaxing environment. Ideas are often born in fun places. You find a lot of code on the whiteboards that are placed in the play areas.

Google does business in China--that does not seem compatible with your business culture of transparency and democracy.


We understand very well that there are people opposed to our decision. But China has a considerable chunk of the world population. And not working in China would have implied that the people would not have had any information at all through our search engine. So it is clearly a choice. Google, as well as other companies, find it important to be present in those markets so that there is at least a discussion on what information should be available. This, we expect, will ultimately lead to less censure in the near future.

Can you already see more openness since you started working with China in 2005?

The good thing is that we cannot simply import Google products in China, but have our own development centres there. Local influences, national languages and mentalities are tremendously important for the development of search engines. By doing additional programming in Chinese, you refine your technology even more and, by the same token, an increasing amount of content will become available to the Chinese.

How do you see Google evolving over the next five years?

We hope to see an increased opening of censured markets. The content available will grow and Google will be able to provide an increasing number of consumers with content so that we can fulfil our mission.

The Internet content doubles every five months; in China this number may even be higher. As for the Swiss market, online advertisements can only grow, given the poor two per cent it currently represents. On a global scale, the advertisement market is estimated to be some 700 to 800 billion dollars. With a turnover of 16 billion dollars in 2007, Google still has some potential for growth.

Google, in a nutshell

Goggle was founded in 1998 by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who met as computer science graduate students at Stanford in 1995. With an initial investment of $1 million, they developed Goggle over a ten-year period to become one of the most successful global companies.

After several rounds of investment and numerous awards, the company went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2004. Goggle launched popular features such as Goggle Deskbar and Goggle Earth and purchased YouTube for its consumers, while also launching AdWords and AdSense for business customers.

Goggle employs over 19,000 people worldwide, and is the most used search engine on the Internet with a market cap of over $155 billion.

Why Google chose Zurich for its European Development Centre

* For its high standard of living--an important asset when appealing to top employees worldwide

* For its international schools and cosmopolitan atmosphere

* For its setting, with the lake and beautiful surroundings

* For its central position within Europe and its excellent connections to other European destinations

* For the proximity of top engineering schools, such as the ETH Zurich


Google's playful side

In the spirit of keeping work fun, Goggle programmers have sprinkled their search engine with goofs, gags and 'Easter Eggs'--web-speak for an intentional hidden message or feature in a movie, book, CD, DVD, computer programme or video game.

We've listed just a few of the surprising discoveries you might run across when searching on Google's main page:

"Feet to smoot"--Search

"Answer to life the universe and everything"--Search

"Number of horns on a unicorn"--Search

"Once in a blue moon"--Search

"Goggle Easter egg"--I'm feeling lucky

"Find Chuck Norris"--I'm feeling lucky *

"Goggle Uncle Sam"--I'm feeling lucky

Specialty search engines:

"Goggle Fudd"--I'm feeling lucky

"Goggle Klingon"--I'm feeling lucky

"Goggle Piglatin"--I'm feeling lucky

"Goggle Swedish chef"--I'm feeling lucky

* Not all search results are affiliated with Goggle.

There is also a hidden flight simulator in Goggle Earth. You can try it out by opening the programme and pressing Ctrl-Alt-A if on a PC, or Command--Option--A on your Mac.
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Author:Heddema, Renske
Publication:Swiss News
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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