- 7 Jan 09, 15:55 GMT
It was only after I had driven three times round the Google campus without finding building 43 that I really got a sense of the scale of the place.
We had come to Mountain View to find out whether the search giant was still nimble enough to innovate and just getting to our appointment was a challenge which proved how big the company had grown.
Once inside, we were allowed to roam around virtually unfettered and get all those shots that have become something of a cliche in depictions of Google. The kitchens where employees come to make a skinny decaf latte and grab some of the free fruit or a chocolate bar.
The play area strewn with Lego - apparently the founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are huge fans. The pool table with its notice reminding players not to thump their pool cues on the floor - presumably to avoid disturbing any geniuses working below.
Despite the sheer scale of Google its headquarters still has the feel of a college rather than a company with groups of people strolling around holding a laptop (they each get to choose whether it's a Mac or a PC) and talking intensely.
But we'd come to see Matt Cutts, an engineer here since 2000, which in Google time makes him a real greybeard. He told me that when he arrived they had one building, the "Googleplex" and when they added another one for the sales team that became known as the "moneyplex". Now even he finds it difficult to navigate around the campus.
Google makes great play of the fact that it allows engineers to spend 20% of their times on blue-sky projects, personal hobby horses which may end up going nowhere but may produce a Google News.
Matt insisted that the early spirit of freedom and experimentation was still there in the culture. But when I pressed him on whether even Google could afford that luxury in harder times, he admitted that people like him now had perhaps to be a little more focussed on the bottom line. But he said the one day in five spent on personal projects was not being discarded.
Despite the ventures into new areas - the Chrome web browser, voice-activated search, Android - Google still lives and dies by the quality of its search engine. Matt Cutts told me 400 adjustments to search had been made last year. I'm sure the people over at the "moneyplex", watching anxiously to see whether the growth in online advertising spending falters, remind their colleagues daily of the need to keep focussed on the core business which has proved such a huge money-spinner.
Outside Building 43, we found the skeleton of a dinosaur, one of the artefacts adorning the campus. A reminder, perhaps to the engineers inside of what happens to those who stop innovating. But right now Google appears more likely to make its rivals extinct.
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