So here's the thing. I went to ad:tech yesterday - it's an online marketing conference. It was also full of some very sad desperate companies as well; it was a bit like a throwback to the 70s with some stands employing semi-clad women or people pretending to be statues, then springing to life to hand out cards. It was truly that bad.
Anyway, when I signed up I saw this thing about the 'Google University', so I put my name down for it. Turns out that it was actually about Adsense, which was not quite what I wanted, but it was an interesting presentation. There were a LOT of Google people about - I knew this because they were all wearing 'Google' badges, which was a kind of giveaway. Oddly enough though, they weren't wearing name badges, so I had no idea who any of them actually were. This was a slight concern; does the company really think that its employees are not deserving of some recognition? However, I digress. There was a Doctors Surgery there as well, which I guess was being used by Adsense people talking to customers to see how they could earn more money, I'm not sure. Also lots of signs saying 'Ask Us Anything'.
I politely waited in line until I could talk to a Google Employee (GE). The conversation went like this:
Me: Hi - the sign there says I can ask you anything - I have a general question about Google, is that OK?
GE: Sure! (Warm smile)
Me: Can you tell me when Google is going to fix the Limit Search by date?
GE: I'm sorry? (Warm, slightly puzzled smile)
Me: Yes. When searching, that function doesn't work properly.
GE: Oh. You'd need to write to Google.com and ask them. (Warm end of discussion smile).
Me: Yeah, but you're here, and you said I could ask you anything.
GE: Yes, but about Adsense. (Smile, rather less warm now.)
Me: So I can't ask you about Google Search.
GE: No. (Smile wearing rather thin now)
Me: So, your sign 'Ask Us Anything' doesn't actually mean that does it? It actually only means 'Ask Us Anything' about Adsense.
GE: It means you can ask us anything about Adsense. (The smile had become a rather strained grimace by this point.)
Me: Yes, I'm sorry, but it doesn't actually say that does it? Is there anyone here that I can talk to about how Google works?
GE: Yes, you can talk to any of us. (No smile at all now).
Me: But only about Adsense?
GE: Only about Adsense. (The smile is returning, but this time in the form of a pursing of the lips.)
Me: So... all your colleagues here - they only know about Adsense, but nothing about search?
GE: This is the Adsense team, yes. (The smile starts to return, since the GE can start to get back onto the pre-recorded chatter.)
Me: So you're telling me that firstly I can ask you anything, but then it turns out that I can only ask you anything as long as it relates to Adsense, and secondly that none of your colleagues can answer any questions about search. Seems to me your sign isn't quite that accurate is it?
GE: Would you excuse me, I need to talk to some other people. (At which point the smile comes back as he turns his back on me to talk to someone else. Who presumably did want to ask him a question that he could answer.)
Maybe I'm just being petty, I don't know. But if they're going to have signs up saying 'Ask Us Anything' they should either mean that, or be rather more accurate in the signage. Secondly, if you're going to make an appearance at a conference, wouldn't it be just a teeny bit sensible to have at least one or two people on hand who could talk about other aspects of the company? So, when you next see Google parading under an 'Ask Us Anything' sign you will at least know that it means 'Ask Us Anything and we'll ignore any questions we don't want to answer'.