If you’ve ever driven down I-880 coming from points North toward San Jose, noticed the line of homes etched into the Eastern hills above Fremont, and wondered – “Who lives up there?” – the answer is Jakob Nielsen. Nielsen is a reknown user interface expert who’s written numerous books and articles on web design, and who was an early Google advisory board member. I drove up to see him yesterday on my way down to the Google holiday party (well, the Google holiday party for members of the press, anyway). Jakob’s house affords a sweeping view of the bay area from a more southern perspective, which is a bit disconcerting for someone who is used to seeing the bay from Mt. Tam or UC Berkeley.
Jakob has plenty to say about the state of search and design on the web. When I asked what was next in search, he said “Solving your problem, as opposed to finding you the best site.” An interesting insight. He believes search is a critical thinking skill that should be taught in the elementary school system, and I agree. It’s amazing how much smarter you can be online if you know a few basic search skills – use of quotes, and/or operators, a few basic syntax elements.
After Jakob I drove across the Valley to Google’s new building, this time for a holiday media mixer. Just about everyone who’s ever covered Google was there, from Dan Gillmor (SJMerc) to Fred Vogelstein (Fortune) to Kara Swisher (WSJ) to Stephanie Olsen (Cnet). And senior Google folks turned out in force, though some were obviously uncomfortable with being in a room teeming with journalists. I saw about ten folks I have interviewed for the book, it was good to reconnect. All in all a nice affair, and I had some interesting conversations with Craig Silverstein (employee #1), Krishna Bharat (created Google News and is now going to India to help start that project), Shona Brown (new at Google, running biz operations, wrote a good book back in the early bubble that may as well be a blueprint for Google right now), and many others. Larry, Sergey and Eric were there as well, they were predictably mobbed. I said hello and moved on. I hear Cory was in the house, though I didn’t see him, but Joi Ito was there, looking younger than when I first met him at Wired in 1993. How the hell did he do that?