My 9/12/10 Missoulian column
After realizing there are many interesting “people” stories behind technology news stories, I decided a few weeks ago to do a few columns this fall on some of the people behind the news stories I come across.
To back up a bit, I recently went looking for recent news on the growth of data centers, which I covered last year. Built by many of the big boys of the Internet (such as Facebook and Google), data centers are big buildings stuffed with thousands of computers that quickly feed Internet users with their social networking profiles and search results.
Data centers need lots of electricity and cheap land, so they have been sprouting up in small towns on the Columbia River such as The Dalles, Ore., where hydropower is available.
One article I stumbled across in a little newspaper called The Dalles Chronicle got to the bottom of the difference in corporate secrecy and public relations between Facebook and Google: The Dalles Chronicle Local News – Two Data Centers Present a Study in Contrasts.
I was curious about the writer, Theodoric Meyer, because the article was linked all over the Internet. He turned out to be a 21-year-old history student at McGill University in Montreal, pursuing an honors degree in history with a minor in political economy. Meyer interned for the summer in the paper and is also the managing editor of The McGill Tribune.
He told me the “scoop” of the story dealt with a trove of Google’s business correspondence that was requested by the paper and local governments and finally released (and incompletely) by Google after years of waiting.
The town wanted to see if Google was complying with its local hiring obligations, in accordance with the tax breaks the company received as incentive to build in The Dalles. But Meyer’s article also pointed out the prevailing corporate culture of secrecy. Or not.
Google’s data center has double security gates and no signage to indicate what’s in the vast buildings. But Facebook, currently building a data center in Prineville, 125 miles south of The Dalles, isn’t quite so secretive.
The site sports several signs, and during Meyer’s interview, the mayor of Prineville called Facebook’s operation manager – in charge of the construction of the data center – and asked to borrow a golf club for an afternoon game. He got the club and a bag of Facebook “swag” to go with it.
But maybe Google is belatedly learning something: they do have a website for The Dalles Data Center, and part of it reads, “We appreciate your help and support, and feel privileged to be part of the Columbia Gorge community…”
This week in Mac Q & A: Something Other Than Photoshop?