Google Shares its "Hybrid" Approach to Research

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Research has been a part of Google since its beginnings, and many of its products could even have been considered experimental when they were launched. Today Alfred Spector, vice president of research and special initiatives at Google, took to the Official Google Blog to preview a research paper that will be published in the July issue of Communications of the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery). The paper, titled "Google's Hybrid Approach to Research," describes Google's approach to integrating development into the research process. From the blog post:

Our model allows us to work at unparalleled scale and conduct research in vivo on real systems with millions of users, rather than on artificial prototypes. This yields not only innovative research results and new technologies, but valuable new capabilities for the compan - think of MapReduce, Voice Search or open source projects such as Android and Chrome.

The paper is authored by Spector, along with Google Director of Research Peter Norvig, and Google Senior Research Scientist Slav Petrov. It collects all of the ways in which Google integrates research into its other operations, instead of separating it out.

For example, Spector writes that breaking up long-term projects into short-term goals is often part of their methods. He cites Google Translate as a large, multi-year, and multi-step project that has come together through short-term goals as small as adding one new language at a time.

Spector believes Google's successes in many areas are a product of their hybrid approach, though he does acknowledge the fears that researchers might have about partnering with the development side of things. From the blog post:

While there are risks associated with the close integration of research and development activities—namely the concern that research will take a back seat in favor of shorter-term projects—we mitigate those by focusing on the user and empirical data, maintaining a flexible organizational structure, and engaging with the academic community.

It's clear that the authors of the paper are proud of the methods Google uses and want them to spread throughout their industry. Though corporate structures and traditions are often hard to break, the success of Google in such a short period of time should indicate that there is at least some benefit to their integrated approach. Listen below as Spector, Norvig, and Petrov discuss the goals of their paper over a Google+ Hangout:

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