Applied Mechanics News

Thursday, April 13, 2006

What can mechanics community learn from the success of Google?

A cartoon in The New Yorker magazine shows a boy asking his dad a question. The dad, reading a book, replies, “Go ask your search engine.” The cartoon was published in Feb. 2000, three months before Google officially became the world's largest search engine with its introduction of a billion-page index — the first time so much of the web's content was made searchable. If the boy asks again today, his dad will say, “Go ask Google.”

At $6 billion a year in revenue and $7.6 billion in cash, Google is a success. What’s more important to the rest of us, Google is running its business in a way that may change the world. Through its never-about-average products (i.e., Google search, Google Earth (and Mars too), Google Map, and more recently, Writely), Google is radically redefining the ways we obtain, organize, use, store, and share information.

So what’s Google’s secret to success? Quentin Hardy, of Forbes, interviewed Google CEO, Eric Schmidt and several VPs for answers. Here are excerpts from Hardy’s article:
  • “The mission overall: to collect ‘all the world's information’ and make it accessible to everyone."
  • “One true god rules at Google: data. The more you collect, the more you know and the more certain your decisions can be."
  • “…this company loves to talk it out, jettison hierarchy, business silos and layers of management for a flatter, ‘networked’ structure where the guy with the best data wins.”
  • “It shares all the information it can with as many employees as possible, encouraging debate but insisting on like-minded cooperation.”
  • “Tackles most big projects in small, tightly focused teams.”
In a recent entry, Zhigang Suo brought up the possibility of Internet-Based Mechanics (or iMech). Here I’d like to ask, what can our mechanics community learn from the secrets of Google’s success?

The information world Google is dealing with is, of course, many scales larger than the knowledge we mechanicians possess. The subject of mechanics, as part of the information world, however, shares many self-similarities with its matrix, such as
  • “…accumulated over millennia has remarkable depth and richness. This large quantity of knowledge has made it hard for any individual to master (and to add to) the subject.” as described in Suo’s post.
  • the knowledge in different disciplines of mechanics are largely scattered, instead of networked.
  • an effective platform to exchange knowledge and stimulate interactions among mechanicians is desired.
The Internet provides powerful tools to enable everyone’s knowledge and ideas accessible to the world, easily and at almost no cost. We mechanicians should also take advantage of the Internet, sharing the knowledge of mechanics, interacting among mechanicians, and broadening the reach of mechanics. For example:
  • A startpage with Applied Mechanics News and its sister blogs keeps us updated with recent progress and latest events in our community;
  • Applied Mechanics Discuss Group provides mechanicians a platform for information exchange and in-depth discussion;
  • The Wikimechanics Project, when it is launched, will allow every mechanician to contribute in organizing the subject of mechanics.
We can also learn from another secret of Google’s success: Every Google employee starts the week writing five lines on what he or she did the week before. They are posted on an internal website for all to see. New product ideas circulate among thousands of engineers (comparable in number with the mechanicians in our community!) on an "ideas mailing list."

Since these engineers at Google may change the world by exchanging ideas on weekly basis, we mechanicians may revitalize our community if everyone makes a contribution to the Internet-Based Mechanics (or iMech) project on a monthly basis. Not hard at all, right? It’s our community, let’s just do it.

My daughter is now at her curious-about-everything age. Why can she blow out bubbles from soap water but not from tap water? Why can Curious George ride his bicycle with just rear wheel on ground? You can imagine my difficulty in rephrasing surface tension and gyroscope effects in kid's language. I hope, if she raises similar questions in several years, I can just tell her, "Go ask iMech."


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