Google's Ron Gorodetzky: Making YouTube more social
Ron Gorodetzky didn't aspire to work at Google, or any other tech giant for that matter.
Gorodetzky was a start-up man -- having worked at the news-sharing site Digg in its early days before going on to be a co-founder of the video site Revision3 and Fflick, a company that analyzed what people were saying about movies on Twitter to build a movie recommendation site.
Google may not have been on Gorodetzky's radar -- but he and Fflick were on Google's.
Just six months after Gorodetzky and three friends from Digg founded Fflick, the start-up sold itself to YouTube, which is owned by Google.
Now Gorodetzky is on a team of engineers (along with his three buddies from Fflick) helping to integrate YouTube into the ever expanding and crucially important Google+.
"Until working at Google I had only worked at start-ups and I never really wanted to work for a big company," he said. "But Google is a big company that is good at being a big company."
Google+ is the company's bid to take Google's top existing products and make them more social, easier to share and easier to consume. The effort has also brought an end to a number of products that haven't fit in with the company's new vision.
YouTube is one of Google's top products. What will a Google+ friendly YouTube look like? Gorodetzky wouldn't go into detail. But we have seen an early step in that integration with the recent launch of Hangouts (group video chats) which can be started directly from YouTube.
"What we're doing is taking our expertise with social networking and applying it to YouTube," Gorodetzky said. "There's a little bit of ramp-up when you get into Google. There's a decade worth of technology at YouTube that you have to ramp up to. But we've been prototyping ideas and were starting to apply our technology to YouTube."
What exactly is that technology?
Again, Gorodetzky wouldn't get too specific, but said that the focus, not surprisingly, is on sharing.
"We're playing with some ideas -- what sort of useful information can you extract from YouTube comments and how can we make things more social," he said. "Who are people who are like you and who are your friends and how can we make the experience more social... If your friends are sharing a video or your friends like a video, you may like it too. That's sort of a premise that seems to hold true. So we're finding a way to bring that video to you."
Making social easy for the end user is the goal, Gorodetzky said. And while that is a goal at YouTube and Google, that's been a theme across Gorodetzky's career, he said.
Back in late 2004, Gorodetzky, who had graduated a year earlier from UC San Diego with a degree in computer science, got on the start-up track after meeting serial entrepreneur Kevin Rose -- who was a founder of both Digg and Revision3.
"There was a station called Tech TV and they got bought by G4," Gorodetzky said. "They moved to L.A. and I interned there. And at Tech TV I was basically trying to teach people about how to use technology. That's where I met Kevin Rose, who was working on a couple of projects. The goal with Revision3 was to build an online video network, essentially tech tutorials.
"And at the same time Kevin was working on this little thing called Digg and he needed help with some server stuff, and so suddenly I was working with him."
Gorodetzky helped administer some of Digg's servers as its systems engineering manager. Digg skyrocketed but has recently stumbled as more people have moved to other social networks. After Digg, he was one of Revision 3's co-founders and its director of technology.
In August 2010, Gorodetzky along with his friends Dav Zimak, Marc Hemeon and Kurt Wilms united to found Fflick. Wilms, who served as Fflick's CEO and is now a project manager at YouTube, had also developed a movie recommendation site while studying at the University of Minnesota called Movie Lens, which provided an inspiration to the start-up as well.
"At Fflick there were four of us and we had all previously worked at Digg, so we all knew each other. And all I worked on was the back-end stuff, everything up until what the user sees," Gorodetzky said. "We all have an interest in movies and we saw what was going on with social media and how much information people were sharing. So we worked together to see how we could go about analyzing tweets and see what people were saying about movies and build a ratings website out of that data.
"There weren't too many people doing that sort of thing, so that was the approach we were taking."
Fflick, however, didn't last too long. "It was about maybe half a year roughly from launch to acquisition," he said.
Gorodetzky said his interest in movies has been around as long as he can remember, and he doesn't attribute that simply to growing up in Los Angeles. He graduated from Grover Cleveland High School.
"I've always had an interest in TV and movies in general. And my sister, she's a bit older than me, and she and her husband work in production, and I've always gotten to hear how movies and TV shows are made. Before I joined Digg, I actually got to work on a movie with her and it was interesting to see the back end of how movies are produced."
"Movies have a nice property in that there really aren't that many movies and they have very specific names, so it's easier to track what people are saying about them on social networks," Gorodetzky said. "From that perspective it was a good sort of first step into extracting information from real-time data."
The idea behind Fflick was to see if the four friends could build technology that could grab data from social networks to create interesting products from that data, such as a movie recommendation website.
"The way we all kind of work is we want to work on interesting problems, so the problem at the time was movies, but we eventually wanted to expand the model and tackle entertainment in general -- books, TV shows, music," Gorodetzky said. "These are all very specific categories and the products are often related, so entertainment was a nice field to get your feet wet in.
"And there's businesses that might find more detailed data interesting as well, because entertainment companies want to make movies, books, TV shows, music that people will like and buy."
Then YouTube came knocking, derailing Fflick's ambitious and independent plans but in a good way, he said.
"YouTube and Google in general, they work on interesting problems and they have a lot of resources, and the scale at which they work is something you don't see really anywhere else," Gorodetzky said. "It made sense to consider their offer very strongly. When Google makes an offer, you don't dismiss it offhand."
And while a start-up of four operates very differently that an international firm of more than 20,000 employees, the level of bureaucracy to turn around products at Google is much less than Gorodetzky said he expected.
"If we have an idea, we just build it, and if it's good it goes out," he said. "Building something from the ground up gives you a certain type of pride, but the problems that Google solves are much bigger and reach millions of people, and that gives you a different feeling, a different kind of pride."
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Ron Gorodetzky. Credit: Ron Gorodetzky