Google Barge Conspiracy Theories: Zombies … Or Maybe a Single Dove

Published on October 31, 2013
by John Paczkowski


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Okay, first let’s rule a few things out: Those floating structures off the East and West coasts reportedly being built by Google are probably not self-driving barges or housing for interns.

Whatever their purpose — Google isn’t saying, nor is the Coast Guard, which had to sign a nondisclosure agreement when it visited the one in San Francisco Bay on Wednesday — they’re generating intense interest in the cities off which they’re docked. So, what might they be used for? There are two prevailing theories:

  • A seawater-cooled, water-based data center. Google has a patent on just such a facility, and a good rationale for building it. From the 2009 patent:
  • DasBoot“A military presence may be needed in an area, a natural disaster may bring a need for computing or telecommunication presence in an area until the natural infrastructure can be repaired or rebuilt, and certain events may draw thousands of people who may put a load on the local computing infrastructure. Often, such transient events occur near water, such as a river or an ocean. However, it can be expensive to build and locate data centers, and it is not always easy to find access to necessary (and inexpensive) electrical power, high-bandwidth data connections, and cooling water for such data centers.”

  • A floating retail store for Google Glass. Google’s first foray into wearable computing is nearing commercial launch, and the company has said it wants to sell Glass in a manner that enhances the experience of using it. What better way to do that than on some sort of floating store with sweeping ocean views? As Kelly Liang, director of business development for Glass, said last year, “The worst place to demo Glass is in a conference room.”
  • Those are the two most widely held theories, and the ones that seem the most plausible. But there are certainly others.

    Perhaps these barges are the next phase of Google’s core business: Amphibious Data Collection and Ad-Serving Vehicles.

    Or maybe they’re simply storage for those unsold, unshipped Nexus Q devices.

    An MMA fighting arena for employee off-sites? Windowless Google+ hangouts? Twenty-percent-time exile barges? Headquarters for Google’s America’s Cup entry in a longstanding plan to take Larry Ellison and Team Oracle to the mat? Storage for whatever was in Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase?

    An ark?

    A very savvy publicity stunt?

    Asked for his Google barge theory, Greylock partner John Lilly put forth perhaps the best one of all: “They’re full of zombies … Or maybe a single dove.”

    And here are a few more fantastic theories from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show:

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