Let's meet in the ‘Smoke-Filled Room'

A popular pastime in Silicon Valley to show off its collective creativity: Companies encouraging employees to name conference rooms, computer gear, even bathrooms.

Nowhere is that more prevalent than at Internet giant Google Inc. Its office here pays homage to television shows and movies set in San Francisco, including “Charmed,” “Suddenly Susan” and “X-Men.” In Washington, D.C., Google holds meetings in rooms named after presidential haunts, including “The Situation Room,” “The Oval” and “Camp David.” You can also slip away to the “The Secret, Undisclosed Location” and the even more mysterious “Smoke-Filled Room.”

In its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, you can travel 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 a room was based on its name. Each building represents a different region. Cities beginning with the letters A through L are on the first floor, and M through Z cities are on the second floor.

YouTube Inc., the video-sharing site that Google bought in 2006, followed the tradition. Company founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen chose video games, amusing those who now receive videoconference calls from “Resident Evil.”

But Google did not stop at conference rooms. Everything is fair game for riffing on the status quo. Janitors in Santa Monica have an easier time figuring out which bathroom is on the blink because each one is named after a character on “Three's Company,” the old sitcom set in Santa Monica. Tech support staff can easily identify network-connected printers named after Disney characters such as Mickey and Goofy.

In December, YouTube field technician Joe Shockman suggested that the company, which is based in San Bruno, Calif., retire its practice of naming printers after video formats such as QuickTime.

He asked for nominations and was so quickly overloaded (95 in one day) that he enlisted a friend at Google to set up a “name the printer” Web page allowing YouTubers to vote for their favorites.

Themes that emerged as front-runners in the early voting included San Francisco music venues and Transformers characters (the latter was scrapped because Google already had claimed the animated robot franchise for its printers).

But an underground campaign soon emerged for Wu-Tang Clan, the hard-core hip-hop group that's popular for 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.

“Wu-Tang Clan has a lot of fans around here,” said Glenn Brown, YouTube's strategic partner manager, who forges music partnerships.

Brown admits that 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: “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.” And YouTubers did.

His name aside, Shockman says he wasn't shocked by the pop-culture pick for the printers, even though he wasn't that familiar with Wu-Tang himself.

This is YouTube, after all.

And he was pleased that, with all the members, albums and side projects Wu-Tang had produced, YouTube was unlikely to ever run out of printer names. Now mobiles with the clan members' names and pictures hang above 11 printers.