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The Wu-Tang saga continues at YouTube

July 2, 2008 |  6:00 am

Fun is a corporate bylaw in Silicon Valley. Four square is the official sport at instant messaging service Meebo. Conference rooms are named after board games and video games at professional networking site LinkedIn. Guitar Hero rules at start-ups from San Francisco to San Jose. And parties at TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington's house go on until all hours (when he's in town).

Wu-Tang printer at YouTubeBoring may suit corporate America, but it's practically a prosecutable offense here. After all, this is the place that gave you the real Steve Jobs and the fake one.

A popular pastime to show off the collective creativity: naming conference rooms. In Google's new San Francisco office, they pay homage to television shows and movies set in San Francisco, including "Charmed," "Suddenly Susan" and "X-Men." In Washington, D.C., the Internet giant has "The Secret, Undisclosed Location" room.

In Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, you can go from Addis Ababa to Valencia without leaving the building. That was the brainstorm of co-founder Sergey Brin, who wanted Googlers to know exactly where in a building a room is -- based on its name. Each building covers a different region of the world. Cities beginning with the letters A through L are on the first floor, and the M through Z cities are on the second floor.

At the YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, conference room names follow the Google tradition.  Founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen chose video games. "When a videoconference screen shows that 'Resident Evil' has just joined the meeting, you can bet that a YouTuber is on the other side," YouTube spokeswoman Elizabeth Linder said.

ODB printer at YouTubeApparently no pursuit is too trivial when it comes to witty riffs on the status quo. In Google's Santa Monica offices, printers and bathrooms are named after characters on the old sitcom "Three's Company."

In December, YouTube field technician Joe Shockman, who is responsible for desktop support (he's also a former Googler who moved over to YouTube after Google bought it), suggested that the video-sharing site retire its old practice of naming its office printers after video formats such as QuickTime. He asked for nominations and was so quickly overloaded (95 in one day) that he had to enlist a friend at the Googleplex to set up a special "name the printer" page that would allow YouTubers to vote for their favorite. In 15 minutes the page was up and YouTubers could either submit a new idea or vote for one already submitted.

Front-runners in the early voting: San Francisco music venues and Transformers (the latter was scrapped because Google already had claimed the animated robot franchise for printers).

But an underground campaign soon emerged for Wu-Tang Clan, the hard-core hip-hop group whose popularity has spanned decades thanks to ...

... its rugged street rhymes, kung fu mythology and innovative entrepreneurial streak. With members sporting stage names such as Ghostface Killah, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (ODB) and RZA, Wu-Tang has become even more infamous with Internet fandom and the advent of YouTube.

RZA printer at YouTube"Wu-Tang Clan has a lot of fans around here," said Glenn Brown, YouTube's strategic partner manager, who forges music partnerships. Brown admits he was an instigator. He sent out an e-mail to YouTubers: "How about members of the wu-tang clan? rza, ghostface, odb, etc." One response read: "+1. They have enough 'cousins' to keep us going to 80+ printers."

Concluded Brown in perfect geek speak: "I think the beauty of the wu tang namespace is its near infinite extensibility." 

He urged: "Vote wu-tang."

YouTubers did.

His name aside, Shockman says he wasn't shocked by the unusual pop-culture pick for the printers, even though he personally wasn't that familiar with Wu-Tang. This is YouTube, after all. And he was pleased that, with all the members, albums and side projects Wu-Tang had produced over the years, YouTube was unlikely to ever run out of printer names.

Now mobiles with the clan members' names and pictures hang above printers. Eleven are in use so far: ODB, Bronzenazareth, Ghostface, RZA, 36chambers, Methodman, Ironflag, GZA, Raekwon, Inspectahdeck and Wutang.

In six months, YouTubers have grown very accustomed to printing their documents on Method Man, filling Raekwon with paper or notifying Shockman when GZA is on the fritz.

The special request Shockman fielded most: "Three people wanted the printer closest to them to be named after ODB," he said.

ODB (real name Russell Jones), one of the clan's most colorful rappers, died of a heart attack in 2004.

Wu-Tang Forever. At least at YouTube.

-- Jessica Guynn

Photos of Wu-Tang printers courtesy of YouTube