Sunday, March 13, 2011

Google does Dilbert

A couple of years ago, I posted a three-part explanation of how Google came to create a homepage Doodle with Scott Adams of Dilbert fame. I've edited it some and will repost the rest of story here over the next few days.


By 2002, assistant webmaster and doodler Dennis Hwang had established a perfect tone for our Google logos: friendly and accessible without being overly cutesy. Dennis, webmaster Karen White, Marissa Mayer, and I had formed a committee to ensure that we were commemorating an appropriately eclectic range of holidays and individuals. Sergey saw the many happy emails from users and said, “This is good.” But he still wasn’t entirely satisfied.

The logos weren’t edgy enough for him. He felt strongly that we needed to have guest cartoonists come in to spice things up. And we weren’t changing the logo often enough. We needed more doodles with stories unfolding day by day over a week or more. A friend of his sent some ideas based on Little Red Riding Hood. In the last panel, the woodsman cut open the wolf, with blood spilling everywhere. Sergey deemed it sufficiently far outside the expected, but even he agreed it wasn’t a perfect fit for a family-friendly site.

So we went shopping for a guest cartoonist. Susan Wojcicki had contacted Scott Adams in 2000 and he had politely referred us to his syndicate’s licensing agent. We tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes and Gary Larson of the Far Side. We deemed Garry Trudeau too political. Bill Amend of Foxtrot declined very apologetically. And we figured fat cats, guys who dug giant sandwiches, and little kids with guardian angels wouldn’t make the edginess cut.

I decided to give Scott Adams a try again. It was two years later and Google’s audience and reputation had grown considerably. I had worked with him on a project while I was at the Mercury News (he donated an autographed drawing we deemed “The Mona Lisa of cubicle art” for a trade show event) and I knew he was willing to engage in extra-curricular activities that interested him. This time, he said yes.

And of course, that turned out to be the easy part.

Back in 2006, Scott made fun of Larry and Sergey in a week-long Dilbert series. In the story, Scott depicts Larry and Sergey explaining the workings of their evil death ray to Eric and announcing their intent to crash the space station into Dilbert’s house so he can’t start a rival search engine.

The series demonstrated two things: Scott really is not a great caricaturist (Larry is kind of recognizable but Sergey looks like an anorexic Charlie Brown and Eric could pass for Tom DeLay) and you should never piss off a guy who has a daily comic strip that runs in 2,500 papers worldwide.

In my next post, I’ll explain why Scott might have wanted to tweak Google’s management and why no other cartoonist was invited to do a guest shot on Google’s home page for many, many years.

See you in the funny papers.

No comments: