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Google Maps’ Satellite view was almost called ‘Bird Mode’

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The Google Street View application is on a portable device in this photo illustration on December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The Google Street View application is on a portable device in this photo illustration on December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Image: NurPhoto via Getty Images

There’s more evidence that just ignoring your eccentric boss’ bad ideas is the best way to deal with them.

The co-creator of Google Maps and current Salesforce president Bret Taylor decided that Feb. 23, 2019 was a perfectly good time to blow all our damn minds.

On Saturday morning, Taylor dropped what he innocently described as a “silly Google Maps origin story” in a Twitter thread. It included the tale of how one popular feature was almost called… Bird Mode?!

Apparently, back in 2005, there was what Taylor described as a “geeky holy war” occurring on the Google Maps team. 

Google Maps was set to include the feature that we now know as “Satellite” view — the one that displays an aerial, real-world view of the map area. The problem was that the images that comprised that view weren’t actually captured by satellites. Instead, they were products of aerial photography (airplanes that fly over land capturing images).

At the same time, the Google execs were apparently using their executive meetings to run kooky experiments relating to management and decision making (clearly, every employee’s dream). They had come up with a method where items would be under discussion for the duration of a huge countdown clock — like a shot clock in basketball. The idea that ended the discussion before the buzzer would be the final word. 

(Side note: Google is now one of the most powerful companies in the world, and we’re paying for decisions they made in the early days today!!!!)

One of the decisions that became subject to the Buzzer Method™ was what to name “aerial” or “satellite” view. No one could agree, and — much to the engineers’ frustration — execs were throwing around product names willy nilly. 

Finally, Taylor believes Google co-founder Sergey Brin spoke up — proposing “Bird Mode.” 

And just like that, the buzzer buzzed. Decision, apparently, made.

Taylor and his team were flummoxed. He wrote that, whether employees were on team “Satellite” or team “Aerial photography,” everyone agreed that “Bird Mode” was a terrible name — and that the decision had been made “in the most insane way possible.” 

So what was team Google Maps to do? They went with the tried and true method of just ignoring the advice of the higher ups. And banking on the concept that bosses were probably so busy and removed from the day-to-day that they wouldn’t notice. 

So Taylor just named the feature “Satellite” anyway. And it’s thankfully been that way ever since — even if it is a lie, a damn lie, about where those map photos come from. Bless 🙌.

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