I've come to this discovery rather late. It was first discussed in March 2011 when Steven Levy's new book In the Plex came out, but it's still worth a mention. I've written before about the importance of watery imagery in the internet industry and this is a great example.
Matt Rosoff explains in a post for Business Insider that Google is 'supernervous' about the threat from Facebook, to the point that 'Last year, Google engineer Urs Holzle — who was one of Google's first ten employees — sent around an urgent internal memo warning that Google would be crushed if it didn't figure out its social strategy.The team named their social project "Emerald Sea" after this painting of a wave knocking a ship over — Google was the ship — and then recreated that painting outside the elevators where they worked.'
Steven Levy provides more detail in a piece for Wired: 'To grasp the significance of this for Google, you must get past a corporate quarantine and catch a glimpse of the giant hand-painted mural that greets those very few visitors granted access to enter the fourth floor of Building 2000 on the Google campus, which was an early hub of the initiative.
The mural has been there for a year now. On first glance, the artwork, on a wall facing the two elevators, is a frightening mash up of a J.M.W. Turner painting and a storyboard for a scene from The Perfect Storm. It depicts a tumescent oceanscape, dominated by a wall of surf that is about to upturn a pitiful sailing ship.
‘We needed a code name that captured the fact that either there was a great opportunity to sail to new horizons and new things, or that we were going to drown by this wave.’ — Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of social for Google
The image was discovered by Google VP of product management Bradley Horowitz when he opened Google Image Search and typed “Emerald Sea” — which had just been chosen as the project code name. The first result, a depiction of an 1878 painting created by German immigrant artist Albert Bierstadt, so impressed Horowitz that he commissioned a pair of art students to copy it on the wall facing the fourth floor elevators. That way, the hundreds of workers contributing to Emerald Sea would draw inspiration as they headed to their computers to remake Google into a major social networking force.
The massive wave symbolizes the ways Google views the increasingly prominent social aspect of the web — as a possible tsunami poised to engulf it, or a maverick surge that it will ride to glory. Beirstadt’s turbulent vision is the perfect illustration. “We needed a code name that captured the fact that either there was a great opportunity to sail to new horizons and new things, or that we were going to drown by this wave,” Gundotra said last August, when Google first showed me a prototype.'
Fascinating. Google got well and truly dunked by Wave, so let's see if it can keep its head above water with Google+